A day of service, selfies and prayer


Photo by James A. McBride


Above left: Danny O’Shea, Aaron Belz and Jade Campbell take a photo with a cardboard cut-out Pope Francis, during Youth Congress event at Incarnation Parish in Mantua on April 13. Right, Brittany Oehler, Cecelia Shively, Bryanna Garcia and Abigail Ortiz prepare meals to be sent to Burkina Faso.

Youth of the Camden Diocese learned how to “know, love and serve” God at the annual Youth Congress with a day of prayer, liturgy and making meals for the hungry on April 13.
Coming together at Incarnation Parish in Mantua, the 260 youth and leaders, representing more than 30 parishes and schools in the diocese, participated in a meal-packaging event sponsored by two organizations: Catholic Relief Services and Stop Hunger Now.
Bishop Dennis Sullivan celebrated Mass for the group, and speakers discussed the importance of Christian service.
Guided by individuals of Stop Hunger Now, the youth packaged 27,000 meals of fortified rice and soy that will go to community homes, orphanages and other Catholic Relief Services programs in Burkina Faso. They will feed children; young girls who have run away from arranged marriages; widows; the elderly and sick; and individuals with disabilities.
Burkina Faso, located in West Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its constant cycles of drought and flooding have affected farming and caused a widespread food shortage.
Stop Hunger Now trucked in the food and supplies and organized the “Helping Hands” meal-packaging. Catholic Relief Services will deliver the meals to warehouses in Burkina Faso, to be distributed to its local partners that serve the most vulnerable populations in the country.
Consistent with the day’s intention to help youth better understand the importance of serving others, guest speakers Thomas Awiapo, of Catholic Relief Services in Ghana, and David Bisono, the Hispanic youth coordinator for the charismatic renewal and director and founder of Jovenes de Valor and Radio Clamor in Brooklyn, New York, shared thoughts on poverty and hunger, and on living lives as committed disciples of Jesus.
An orphan at the age of 10, Awiapo survived poverty and hunger in his small African Village before he was able to earn a master’s degree from California State University. Today, he trains community leaders throughout Ghana for Catholic Relief Services.
Awiapo was powerful in sharing his personal story of poverty, remarked Alie Smith, youth minister of Mary, Queen of All Saints Parish in Pennsauken.
“The speakers were excellent, the day had a good message, and the meal-making drove it home,” added Smith, who attended the event with seven youth from her parish.
During the day, youth also created their own Prayers for Hunger, and took “selfies” with a cardboard cut-out of Pope Francis.
Bishop Dennis Sullivan celebrated a 5 p.m. Mass with the youth at Incarnation Church and acknowledged their work throughout the day, noting that their sacrificing their day to make meals for their needy brothers and sisters was similar to the love of Jesus, who sacrificed himself for all men and women.
The day “was amazing, to see how the young people and the Catholic Church came together,” said Greg Coogan, director of Youth Ministries for the Diocese of Camden.
“These meals really do save lives.”