University of Miami junior Juliana Staab recently had a chance to reflect on all the major stages of life during a single day of service.
Participating in a service project called Gather4Good, she and a group of participants in a college evangelization training program called the School of the New Evangelization (SNE) started on Aug. 8 praying for the unborn at Planned Parenthood in St. Paul, then served the elderly at the Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home, and then reflected on death and prayed for the souls in purgatory at Calvary Cemetery in St. Paul.
During a time of prayer and reflection with Little Sisters residents, the Greenwich, Conn., native also shared her experiences with the Eucharist and suffering.
“It was a powerful day,” she said.
A more holistic view of service that includes awareness of the spiritual and emotional needs of those being served is a goal of Gather4Good, sponsored by Catholic United Financial, said Nate Lamusga, youth liaison for the fraternal benefit organization, which offers life insurance and retirement preparation for 74,000 members in the five-state area.
“Some of those most impactful times are when we get into a conversation with somebody and [learn] about their struggle and things they’re going through, and that [has] a significant impact on the servant as well as those that are being served,” he said.
Along with Staab, about 200 other SNE participants and five Catholic United Financial volunteers took part in Gather4Good, a volunteer program started two years ago. At past Gather4Good events held around the state, volunteers assembled military care packages and personal care kits for the homeless and disaster victims, Lamusga said.
This service project was part of training for SNE participants — students, mission leaders and priests from around the country who met Aug. 3 to 11 at the 9th annual School of the New Evangelization at the University of St. Thomas for prayer, teaching and training to live and share their Catholic faith on their campuses.
SNE is a program of St. Paul’s Outreach, a West St. Paul-based Catholic ministry seeking to evangelize college students, bring them to maturity and train them to be leaders.
Gather4Good participants started the day with a talk on Catholic social teaching and then divided into groups that served the elderly, homeless and youth, prayed at an abortion clinic or worked with Habitat for Humanity. Afterward, they came together for Mass and dinner, where they shared their experiences.
Chris Vance, who was part of the same group as Staab, said he was struck by the contrast between the sadness at the abortion center and the joy of the nursing home residents.
At the cemetery he shared, “It’s good to be reminded not to rely on our life. We don’t have control as we think. We’re in the hands of someone more wise.” Vance is a parishioner at St. Joseph in West St. Paul who will attend Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., this fall.
During their Gather4Good service, Joe D’Amato and two mission partners went door-to-door in a St. Paul neighborhood collecting donations for an area food shelf. They turned onto a street where virtually every house showed support for same-sex marriage.
Wearing T-shirts that identified them as Catholics they explained that they were student missionaries participating in Gather4Good. Despite differences in views, D’Amato and his mission partners spent time sharing with residents, many of whom returned the good will by encouraging their efforts and giving generously.
“What struck me was that we were able to show these people — who knew that we knew they had different views from us because their front lawn had a rainbow gay flag and they had a ‘Vote No’ (on the proposed marriage amendment) banner — we still were able to relate to them, meet them personally,” said D’Amato a recent college graduate from Watchung, N.J., who will serve as a full-time missionary this fall at Benedictine College.
Evangelizing through service
While service has been part of SNE, organizers wanted to dedicate a day to experiential learning and encountering the Lord through service this year because it’s an important part of being Catholic and likewise of evangelization, said Elizabeth Gorecki, a SPO mission leader and a Gather4Good coordinator.
“We can bring Christ to [people] through speaking to them, through being friends with them, through listening to them in courses in college,” she said. “But one other way we can bring Christ to them is serving them.”
According to D’Amato, relationships, which can be developed during service, are a big part of evangelization. “Evangelism is ultimately loving others as God loves them.”
As much as service is for those being served, it benefits the servers, too, Vance said. “It showed how much joy there is in service when you’re doing it for Christ,” he said. “We were getting as much out of it as they were.”