March 31, 2006

Mission trip takes students to
hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast

By Sean Gallagher

Vacationing along the Gulf Coast over spring break has become an annual tradition for high school students.

During the first week in April, 110 high school students, teachers, youth ministers and campus ministers from in and around Indianapolis will make their own trek south in a trip sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

Only they won’t be lying on a beach getting a tan. Instead, they’ll be working up a sweat doing relief work along the hurricane-ravaged Mississippi coast.

Seminarian John Hollowell, who is in his second year of formation at Saint Meinrad School of Theology at St. Meinrad, worked with the archdiocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry to develop the trip idea.

Hollowell initially thought about going down by himself to stay with his brother Tony, who teaches at Resurrection High School in Pascagoula, Miss., in the Biloxi Diocese.

“My original plan was to bring a couple of chainsaws and some work gloves and just kind of pitch in,” John Hollowell said. “[But] as I started to realize how extensive the devastation was, I thought of ways to try and get more hands down there, more people to help out.”

He has since worked with Father Jonathan Meyer, director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, to expand the trip to include scores of youth from central Indiana.

The trip is being supported by a $25,000 grant from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis Hurricane Katrina Fund. The fund was created from second collections taken in parishes across the archdiocese, as well as other contributions received in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina.

In all, 90 students from 18 high schools in central Indiana will leave for Pascagoula on April 1. For a week, they will be sleeping and eating in Resurrection High School’s gymnasium.

Catholic high schools in the archdiocese sending students are Roncalli High School, Bishop Chatard High School, Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School and Cathedral High School, all in Indianapolis.

According to Father Meyer, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, the youth and their adult chaperones will help the families who send their children to Resurrection prepare their homes, which were battered by Hurricane Katrina more than six months ago, to be either repaired or totally rebuilt.

In addition to planning the trip’s logistics, Father Meyer, Hollowell and others involved in overseeing the effort are also preparing to cope with the emotional impact that seeing the devastation on the coast will likely have on the youth.

“[It’s] probably going to be pretty overwhelming for them,” Hollowell said. “We’ve been trying to prepare for that.”

The preparations include helping the youth view their ministry and the ravaged region from a spiritual perspective.

Mass will be celebrated each night. Eucharistic adoration will be offered. Catechetical sessions will occur, as well as nightly fun and games.

The fact that the trip will happen the week before Holy Week, according to Father Meyer, will also be important for its participants.

“I think that the time is not coincidental,” he said. “The time is providential, that we’re going down there so close to the celebration of our Lord’s Passion, and then looking forward to the Resurrection.”

Hollowell described the timing in devotional terms.

“What the kids are going to see is going to be a weeklong Stations of the Cross,” he said. “They’re going to see people who have fallen and who have been scourged and crowned with thorns, so to speak.

“[But] we are going to be Simon of Cyrene in some ways.”

Just as the Catholic faith does not end with Jesus being laid in the tomb, neither will this trip to Mississippi focus only on the tragedy wrought by Katrina.

Father Meyer spoke about the impact the faith of the people who bore the brunt of Katrina might have on the youth traveling to the coast.

“I think to see the faith in the people that are there is going to blow our mind,” he said. “I think that in itself is going to be a blessing for these young people to see.”

A verse from Revelation, “Behold, I make all things new,” (Rev 21:5) is the theme for the mission trip.

“From suffering, God brings forth his great life, his great power, his great mission,” Father Meyer said. “And that’s what this whole trip is about. It will be a great, great week of lives being changed.” †


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