2/27/2013 10:56:00 AM Teaching our children to respond to those in need
Catholic News Service
Sister Marie Veres, a member of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary and principal of the Village Montessori Center in Cleveland, works with a child at the center.
"Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will." We sing it, we say it and each day we try to live it -- the Gospel. In this case, the Lord's will is the Gospel message of taking care of the poor, "the least of these," those that will always be with us, as Jesus says.
The church encourages outreach in any number of ways, but it is the people in the parishes that carry out the work, the service to the poor and needy in a multitude of ways: soup kitchens, food pantries, resale shops and Societies of St. Vincent de Paul to name just a few.
Some parishes form "sister" relationships with parishes that may be in this country or outside the United States. Our diocese partners with parishes in a diocese in Guatemala, and a neighboring diocese partners with parishes in Haiti. The common denominator in those countries is poverty.
Our greatest gift to those in need may be securing future help for the poor by introducing our young people to the wonderful gifts of outreach: learning about individual families and communities where they can make a direct and lasting difference now and for the future. That's what we're trying to do, isn't it? Teach our children the Gospel and how to live it every day?
Many of our parishes make outreach an important educational component for children, whether it's through a Catholic school or a parish religious education program.
Nobody brings the simple honesty and joy to helping those less fortunate than young people. They do it without guile, without a hidden agenda. They just want to help. We can't pass up the opportunity to give them the experience of serving the poor.
A number of Catholic high schools make service a graduation requirement for seniors. They spend three weeks of their senior year away from their high school campuses in service to others. I've seen seniors create projects to help locally, nationally and internationally.
Members of a few classes have gone to Guatemala to build and maintain a school and to Honduras to help out at orphanages. When my son was a senior, he arranged with two other seniors to go to Queretaro, Mexico, to serve with the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ who work with indigenous women and children living on the streets.
These programs open eyes and hearts; they change lives, including the lives of those who serve.
Last summer, one of our parishes intended to take its young people on a mission trip to another state. When the trip was canceled, parish leaders and parents took the youth to another area of our diocese to serve. The youth were surprised so many poor people lived in their own diocese, just farther down the interstate.
So, they painted porches; they helped stock the shelves in a food pantry; they delivered groceries and other assistance to people who had no transportation. They met the poor, and they were changed by their experiences. When they returned to their parish, they said they wanted to stay in touch with the people.
The result: The young people returned to the community in December to deliver Christmas gifts to families and children, some they had met during the summer and others they had not. They were able to do this through the diocesan outreach agency in the area.
As parents and people of faith, we are not only serving the poor in today's world, but we are also training those who will serve the poor in coming generations. We will certainly always have the poor with us, and we must make whatever possible contributions we can to alleviate poverty.
And we must also teach our children to respond to those in need in whatever way they can. If given the chance, they will be the first in line to say: "Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will."
The writer is editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.