VINELAND — It was the perfect example of mercy in action.
One held the small plastic bag under the funnel, while others poured first soy flour, dehydrated vegetables, and finally rice into it. Next, a runner took the bag to the weighing station, where another carefully weighed its contents before heat-sealing the bag shut. Another person then grabbed the sealed bag, and boxed it up — with thousands of others like it.
All told, during the March 13 Diocesan Youth Congress here at the Sacred Heart Center at Christ the Good Shepherd Parish, 30,000 meals were packaged and boxed to be sent to hungry families around the world with the help of the Stop Hunger Now organization.
The food packing was the highlight of the all-day gathering of 366 youth from more than 20 parishes and high schools in the Diocese of Camden. They were challenged to show and know mercy throughout the day through making meals, hearing speakers and workshop facilitators, working in a food pantry, and remembering the words of Pope Francis to “rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.”
With the annual Youth Congress, the young Catholics in the diocese “connect with God on a deeper level, grow in holiness, and connect with other youth,” said Greg Coogan, the diocesan Director of Youth Ministry. “It’s an opportunity to evangelize, and be evangelized,” he continued.
Arriving in the early afternoon, the youth were first treated to an energetic talk by Brad Farmer and Gene Monterastelli from APEX Ministries, using physical comedy and storytelling to share the Gospel.
“You are kind of a big deal,” Farmer said to the youth, reminding them of their inherent dignity and worth God has given them.
Focus on mercy at Diocesan Youth Congress
“You are a unique, unrepeatable reality. You were made for greatness,” he said.
Youth helped sort clothing and stock the shelves of the nearby Saint Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, where they learned about the store’s mission in serving the needy in Vineland.
In breakout workshops, they heard from speakers on the lives of the saints, the mission of mercy, and living the Catholic faith in the world.
They also received mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation.
The day ended with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Dennis Sullivan in nearby Sacred Heart Church. “Mercy gives us all a fresh start,” he told youth.
Coogan said the day “put flesh and bone to the works of mercy,” as youth put their faith in action. The young church’s “gifts and talents are expected and needed. I am proud to walk with them. Our young faith community is alive,” he said.