MADISON -- Many who work with the youth of the Church find Mother Teresa to be an engaging name to drop. Known for a life lived devoted to those in need, her name stirs up images of a woman small in stature, dressed in a humble habit of white and blue.
Beyond her physical appearance, her name brings to mind much bigger things, like her heart for service and the question: Why would someone choose to live in poverty?
Many youth are comfortable learning more about her and thinking of her as a model of holiness in the world. When it comes time to take her words to heart and make them a reality in their lives, they become more daunting, perhaps less appealing. However, her words resonate so deeply with the Gospel message that, while they are challenging, they often do bring about great response.While accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she spoke the following challenge, which is just as real today: "And so here I am talking with you -- I want you to find the poor right here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. Be that good news to your own people. And find out about your next-door neighbor -- do you know who they are?"
Successful in Salina
Taking these words to heart, the youth of our diocese are being given the opportunity to begin love here this coming summer. From June 21 to July 10, there will be three work camp weeks happening in the greater Madison area. Inspired by a similar program in the Diocese of Salina, Kansas, DREs and youth ministers, as well as other willing adults, will be able to join their youth in service to those in need within our own backyards.
In the summer of 2006, Seminarian Gale Hammer-schmidt of the Diocese of Salina teamed up with the Youth Ministry office to offer four weeks of their Mission Trip program, Prayer and Action, for the first time. In recalling that time of planning, he said, "I didn't know if it would actually work to set up mission sites in our own diocese. We are not particularly poor, but I was amazed at how many people in our communities were in real need of our help. It is true that we never need to look very far to find the poor among us."
Over the past few summers, the response among the youth in Salina has been huge. "They enjoy the companionship that comes from meeting other high school students from around the diocese. The friendships they have formed have then been kept over the years as they are able to keep in contact with each other considering they live relatively close to one another. They also love being able to take off their masks for a week and just be themselves, serving God and his people," Hammerschmidt noted.
Popularity and praise not only rings out among the youth, but also those who work with them: "They love seeing the kids grow in their faith, but they also remark that many times their own faith lives are bolstered just as much by the experience. A number of the adult leaders who come admit that they are happy to give up a week of their own vacation time to be with the kids and to serve the poor."
In Madison this summer
Three successful summers later, Hammerschmidt spread the idea of this program to the Madison seminarians he studies with in Denver, who in turn passed it along to Msgr. James Bartylla, Madison Diocese vocation director.
From there, the Madison diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis joined in on the project and recruited Lindsay Becher, local youth minister, to serve as the 2009 Mission Director. Salina's Prayer and Action project has evolved into Madison's summer mission project, Love Begins Here, inspired by the words of Mother Teresa.
This summer, adults of all ages who enjoy working with youth, including parish Youth Ministers and DREs, are welcome to experience Love Begins Here. The only requirements are that one adult come along with every six young people and that all should be open to a week dedicated to prayer and action, along with a good amount of fun. Youth and adults will be led through the week by a core team of four young adults who have experience and excitement working with young people in the Church.
Beginning the day with praying a rosary together and going to Mass, everyone gets fired up to break into teams and work primarily on home repair projects, painting, and yard work in the local community. Late in the afternoon, the group will come back together to get cleaned up and relax for a couple of minutes before dinner.
After dinner comes Collatio, Latin for "to come together," which has become a highlight of Salina's program. During Collatio, all gather together for Praise and Worship, skits, sharing about the day, and a testimony and talk from a Core Team member. From there, time is built in for parishes to connect and have some free time before bed.
While this busy schedule certainly seems like an out of the ordinary way to spend a week of one's summer, most find that, though they spend the week giving, they receive more than was ever expected. As one Kansas teen summarized, "This was one of my best experiences ever. To be able to serve people right here is amazing. I almost feel selfish because this trip helped me grow more than anything. The whole experience was awesome -- funny, prayerful, playful, and service oriented all at the same time."
How to get involved
If you are interested in taking a group of students on Love Begins Here, would like to financially support the work of Love Begins Here, or for more information on Love Begins Here 2009, visit www.madisondiocese.org/lovebeginshere or contact Lindsay Becher at lovebeginshere@ straphael.org or 608-356-5353.Lindsay Becher is the youth minister at St. Joseph Parish in Baraboo.