It was a parishwide effort when 22 members of the CYO, the Faith and Families and Social Concerns ministries at St. Pius X joined forces recently to better understand the idea of human dignity and offer direct assistance to the homeless.
St. Pius X’s director of youth Theresa Truxillo said the CYO was invited to join Faith and Families for supper while Father Patrick Williams, St. Pius X’s pastor, did an introduction and showed a movie about St. Frances Cabrini and her ministry in New Orleans.
The teens then broke off and walked to the CYO House on campus to hear archdiocesan CYO Young Adult ministry coordinator Sam Pitre discuss his experiences with young adults ministering to the homeless in the monthly “Magnify and Midnight Run.“
Lifeboat elimination test
As an ice breaker, Pitre presented an exercise about human dignity. Participants had to eliminate one member from a lifeboat – after being given scant information about each person – in order the save the others. Once choices were made, they learned the chilling consequences of the elimination.
“We continued discussing the dignity of people – old people, injured people, unborn people, religious people, sinners – while decorating the hope bags,” Truxillo said. “It was heartwarming to hear comments like, ‘That was so hard to decide who wouldn’t make it on the lifeboat! All lives matter!’ and ‘I’m so glad I’m not normally put in a position to decide the worth of someone else’s life. You just can’t know where their life will eventually lead. We are all worth it.’”
The St. Pius CYO members made 100 “Hope Bags” filled with bottled water, a prayer card and toiletry item for the homeless as part of the a “dignity of the person” activity. (This activity piggybacked on how the Social Concerns ministry had involved parishioners in voluntarily taking home and assembling hope bags several weeks earlier.)
“These bags are a perfect way to get teens thinking about our local homeless population and provide them with an opportunity to physically encounter those in need in our community,” Truxillo said.
The teens would keep these bags in their car and hand them out to homeless people they encounter.
“The bags came out great, Truxillo said. “We even signed our names to ‘hope tags’ on the back and challenged each other to not only hand a bag to a person in need, but smile at them, look them in the eye, and ask for their name so we can pray for the person by name.”
Meeting homeless up close
Truxillo said CYO members admitted that they had never before gotten so personal with the homeless by asking for a name to pray for.
“When I hand out hope bags to the homeless, it makes me feel like I’m at least doing something,” Mount Carmel Academy ninth grader Mae Mae Corcoran said. “When I ask them for their name, a smile comes on their face. It really makes me happy inside knowing I made a difference. When I watch them open their bags, I truly feel warmth inside my heart. No matter how small it is, it really makes a big difference.”
Truxillo helped teens understand that they, as individuals, could make a difference in others’ lives by focusing on a quote by Mother Teresa: “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
Even a gesture such as making eye contact and smiling at a person on the street is a “small thing” they could do with great love.
“It is one way we can acknowledge the dignity of that person,” she said, reinforcing Father Williams’ talk.
“It is certainly our desire to bring ‘hope’ to people who may not get messages of hope very often,” Truxillo said.
Having had success with the inter-mingling of several parish ministries, Truxillo is working on additional ways to involve teens in parish life and to share their fresh perspectives to complement what more seasoned ministry volunteers are doing.
“Teens are such a valuable part of our parish family, and they have so much energy, creativity and thoughtfulness to offer that I want to provide as many opportunities for them to plug into parish life as possible,” Truxillo said. “One of my hopes is that they will feel connected to the parish on a personal level – not just as children of parents who take them to church but as people who take ownership of their faith, so when they graduate from high school, they stay involved in the Catholic Church and hopefully their home parish.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.