Local teens head to Mississippi for relief work

BOSTON — Almost 100 teens from the Archdiocese of Boston headed to Gulfport, Miss. July 30-Aug. 5 to assist in the ongoing cleanup after Hurricane Katrina.

The group of 125 Catholics from the archdiocese, 34 adults and college students and 91 teens, represents about 16 parishes. They will be helping with home repairs, roofing, painting, cleaning debris and serving food at a kitchen for local residents and relief workers. Each group raised their own money for the service trip and many of them also raised money that they will donate after they arrive in Mississippi.

The need for assistance in areas affected by the hurricane is still great, said Regina O’Connor, coordinator of the trip and youth minister at Most Precious Blood Parish in Dover.

“They have not even started major rebuilding yet. They’re still in the cleanup, removal of debris and repair of what they can repair down here,” she said. “Once that’s done, I think they’ll be ready to do some major rebuilding.”

Many of the hurricane victims who have received insurance money have enough to buy materials but not enough to pay for rebuilding, she added.

The idea for the service trip came at a monthly meeting of youth ministers from the archdiocese’s west region. Some had traveled to the areas affected by Katrina, and all had noticed the youth’s urge to help.

“We felt compelled to do something as adults, as youth ministers, but the kids were asking what they could do too,” said Karlene M. Duffy, director of religious education and youth ministry at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Westwood.

The youth ministers wanted to get the teens involved in a personal way, not just through holding food drives or collecting money. Everyone in the archdiocese was welcome to attend the service trip and fliers were sent out to all parishes.

O’Connor and other youth ministers had taken teens on service trips to Mississippi and Alabama in past years to do a myriad of home repairs through a program called Gospel Road. O’Connor called some of the contacts she had made in the area and was pointed to St. Ann Parish in Lizana, Miss.

The parish, headquarters of Project Hope and Compassion, will host the group and allow them to sleep in the basement chapel and religious education classrooms. Those from the archdiocese will also be working with the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Service, the United Methodist Church and an interdenominational faith group, she said.

O’Connor and others took a trip to Mississippi in March to set things up and found that a “massive” amount of work still needed to be done. The progress that had been made was only apparent after watching a video that captured the initial scene of devastation, said O’Connor.

“When we went in March, we drove around saying, ‘It looks like nothing has been done. How could it be seven months, and it looks like it just happened yesterday?’” she said. “The cleanup down here in the Gulfport and New Orleans areas will allow them to make many trips back.”

Each day of the weeklong trip, the teens will have Mass at 7 a.m., leave for their worksites at 8 a.m. and return at 6 p.m. Participants will be doing difficult physical work in heat and humidity. Each evening will conclude with prayer and reflection.

O’Connor said the teens will be encouraged to process their experiences during the day and bring them together with the Gospel reading and the Church’s teaching on social justice.

“We hope they understand the resurrection, the hope that they can provide for those in need. After this horrendous experience and the pain and suffering that’s happened, that there is truly new life,” she said.

O’Connor added that she wants the teens to assist those in a different but still American culture, she said.

“When we can offer experiences in the city of Boston, in our country and then beyond, the kids really get a better understanding and a better understanding of how universal our faith is,” she said.

Duffy added that her prayer for the teens is that they will gain an understanding of the difficulties faced by victims of Hurricane Katrina and turn to God in thanksgiving for all that they have.

“We want to make sure our kids are going down there as humble servants,” she said.