New Orleans, LA
Alternative Spring Break in New Orleans was one of the most spiritually fulfilling
experiences I've had with friends in a long time. I enjoyed serving the community
in a variety of different ways, including paining crypts in a cemetery, planting vegetables
in a community garden, helping dry-wall a house, and setting up for a local festival.
Not only did we see Christ in different places throughout the trip, but also in different
people. We saw Him in lonely people like Al from the local St. David's church. We
saw Him in the mentally handicapped like Cory at the ARC, a community for adults with
Down Syndrome and other disabilities. We saw Him in a juvenile prisoner who helped
us set up a stage at the festival. We saw Him in David, a man with a long beard who
looked disheveled and possibly without a home, but really was the owner of a non-profit
organization called CapStone. We saw Him in Johnny, a man who received food from the
community garden but did not respect the Church. We saw Him in the other Christian
volunteers who inquired about the Church and the election of Pope Francis. Overall,
I think we learned that people are different than us and we should not judge them,
but respect and love them. We physically helped these people with our words and actions,
and these people allowed us to spiritually encounter Jesus Christ in the community
of New Orleans.
Getting to know my friends while helping the people of NOLA was inspiring, uplifting,
and rewarding. I am so glad that we were able to talk to each other and bond on a
deep level. I absolutely loved talking about vocations: married life, the priesthood,
and religious life. We talked about the meaning of life and how God loves us so much.
The day Pope Francis was elected, we all celebrated and had a cookie cake that said
"Habemus Papam." We read bedtime stories in different accents. We even talked so much
in British accents, that people thought we were actually from England! Spending time
with these amazing people helped create such a tremendous community of love and faith.
I admire them all and they inspire me to be a better person. I see Christ in all of
my fellow NOLA ASBers.
"What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway." -Mother
We did it for Jesus! <3
ASB was a really great experience for me. Having the opportunity to serve others with
like-minded people and make close-bonded friendships out of our desire to serve Christ
was exceptional, and we had so much fun doing it. Painting the crypts allowed me to
really think about life and death in a way I hadn't before, and I was so glad to have
friends there to bounce my thoughts off of. I also loved hearing the life stories
of the people I was with, as well as getting to know the people we were ministering
to. The best part was the excitement of a new Pope, and sharing that excitement with
the Catholics in the parish where we attended Mass every morning. I love getting to
see the universality of our Church! The priest there, Father Oswald, was so awesome
and really encouraging of our future vocations.
Alternative Spring Break is awesome and I was able to grow a lot from it. Go Jesus!
For me, the most moving part of my Alternative Spring Break experience didn't take
place during the work at all. It took place at a little church called St. David's
where our team went to Mass every morning.
I grew up in a very small, predominantly white town in northern New York. I was raised
to believe that people were equal in dignity, regardless of their race, and since
I did not experience a lot of interactions between people of different races, I never
came face-to-face with racial tension, and the thought did not occur to me that there
were places where racial separation was still ingrained in the culture. As I got older,
I developed a vague sense that this was more of an issue in big cities and in stubborn
parts of the Deep South, but at no point did it ever become very real to me.
On our first day of ASB, we showed up at St. David's in New Orleans for daily Mass.
Daily Masses were said in the small rectory chapel, since ordinarily only three or
four people showed up, so we all piled into about two pews and dragged a few chairs
in for the regulars. The pastor, named Fr. Oswald as we later found out, was surprised
to see so many of us, but he was happy, and very welcoming. He asked if we would be
coming back the next day, and since we told him we would, he said that we would have
Mass in the main church.
The next day we arrived at the church before anyone else got there and filled in the
first two rows on the right-hand side. After a while, a few more people arrived and
sat down a few rows back and across the aisle from us. The separation between them
and us was not intentional, but it was noticeable, and I started to feel badly about
it. To my pleasant surprise however, at the Our Father, they all came across the aisle
and decisively reached out for our hands. The moment of joining hands with them felt
The next day, our group sat dispersed throughout the church, intermingled with the
parishioners, and afterwards hung around for a little while to chat with them, and
from then on, we were part of the family.
One of the parishioners told us that he had originally belonged to another parish,
but that it had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of the hurricane,
it had been decided that they were not going to rebuild it, so the bishop had instructed
the parishioners to join up to the next nearest parish, which for most was St. David's.
The church that was not rebuilt, however, was a white parish, and St. David's was
a black parish, so virtually everyone joined up to a white parish that was further
away instead. The separation by race, though most likely only a matter of comfort,
had left the two parishes with an unmistakable division that a few weak attempts at
combined events had failed to remedy.
And here we were, a predominantly white group of volunteers, becoming fast friends
with the pastor and the parishioners of the black parish of St. David's. Fr. Oswald
convinced us to come back on the last day for the Stations of the Cross in the evening,
where we got to meet even more members of the community, and all those we met, across
the board, went out of their way to say hello and welcome us. We even established
some running jokes with Fr. Oswald, and he hugged us all multiple times and sprinkled
us with holy water before we said goodbye.
That experience of transcending racial distinctions, being welcomed into the St. David's
family, and (hopefully) bringing a spark of young life and hope along with us, was
the most meaningful part of my ASB trip. In it, I saw what it means to be catholic
and to be community, and learned to appreciate how beautiful it is to share a faith
with people whose life experiences are so different from my own. I will never forget
what a special thing happened to us at St. David's.
Taking part in Campus Ministry's Alternative Spring Break this year was an amazing
privilege. I cherished the opportunity to get to know the students on my team, to
grow in my faith through prayer, especially daily mass and liturgy of the hours, and
celebrating the election of our new Holy Father Francis!
It was a blessing to get to serve the community in New Orleans. One of the first things
we did was repaint crypts in an historic cemetery. I had never performed that kind
of service before, but it was a beautiful chance to honor the faithful departed and
be reminded of our own mortality during the season of Lent, which was so appropriate.
Another day, we helped in the construction of a new gate in front of a center for
adults with Down Syndrome. I got to chat with one of the men who spends time in the
center. He was so friendly and had such a positive demeanor. With sorrow I recalled
the high percentage of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome who never get to see life
outside of their mother's womb. Praise God for the workers and volunteers at that
center for patiently and lovingly recognizing the dignity of each one of those men
and women who spend time there.
The week was just a wonderful opportunity to encounter new people and new situations,
where hopefully I was able to do a little good. However, whatever service I contributed
paled in comparison to the richness of blessings I received from others on this trip.
I was so blessed by this spring break experience. Thank you to all those who have
supported us with your prayers and resources.
Alternative Spring Break was a truly amazing adventure for me. I made so many great
memories with the beautiful people I went with and with each of the wonderful people
we met on our New Orleans adventure. I went on this trip to serve others, but I felt
like I was the one who was truly blessed by each person I encountered.
Going to New Orleans was an eye-opening experience for me. It is one thing to hear
about a tragic event such as Hurricane Katrina or any of the other storms that have
affected New Orleans, but it is entirely another thing to go to the place affected
and see the effects even years after the storm has passed. Realizing how high the
water rose and having even the smallest idea of what it must have been like when the
storm was there was a shocking experience for me. It was very saddening to realize
how many people's lives were dramatically changed as a result of the storm.
One of my favorite moments from the trip happened as we were working at Prince of
Peace. Prince of Peace is a church that has been mostly untouched since Katrina came
through and damaged it. An incredibly generous and selfless man named Emile has slowly
been rebuilding the buildings and caring for the property as best as he can. In the
middle of the week, we spent a day at Prince of Peace helping Emile pour cement for
a new gate. My friend Lili and I were walking back from the street to where our group's
vans were parked when we noticed a statue of Jesus. The statue was completely intact,
except for Jesus' hands, which were missing. We paused for a second and then Lili
said, "Oh, we have to be Jesus' hands."
That moment stands out to me because it was a perfect description of why we were in
New Orleans. Our purpose was and is to be Jesus' hands and feet. I also love that
moment because it reminds me of the numerous hearts of service that I met on our trip.
Many of the people we were volunteering alongside had dedicated their lives to helping
New Orleans rebuild. Their total gift of self was beautiful to witness.
I absolutely loved my ASB experience and will always cherish the memories I made,
the lessons I learned, the friendships that grew and the new friendships that were
Alternative spring break! After never having been on a mission trip before it was
unlike any other experience I've had in my life! I wrote in a journal and looking
back upon my reflections while on ASB, I would have to say the best way to describe
it was one of the first lines I wrote. "Well it's official, I am completely exhausted,
in the best kind of way."
I wasn't planning on going on ASB but I sure am glad I did. I had the best time in
New Orleans; we really got to enjoy the city, connecting with it and the people in
so many ways. We stayed at a place called Camp Hope, which gives housing to all the
volunteers that say in NOLA. Honestly I think it was the very first night back, after
painting crypts all day when it really hit me. I was talking to an older man, Mark,
who I had seen walking on crutches during dinner. Mark seemed a little out of place,
as most of the volunteers were around college student ages. He had seemed nice and
got my attention, and we talked. He had grown up in the area, not just the area but
attended the school that Camp Hope had been before it was turned into Camp Hope. He
had gone to grade school there; he had been in the building trying to save people
when Katrina hit. I honestly had the hardest time not crying right there in front
of him, from admiration at his courage, strength and just the sheer will to keep coming
back to a city that was, and still is, so broken. So, I asked him why he kept coming
back. He said that if people are willing to keep helping his city then it is his duty
to welcome them.
I have never had an experience like ASB, it is amazing and I would do it again in
a heartbeat! I am so blessed with many amazing memories – painting crypts, digging
trenches, finding out about Pope Francis, helping to build a house and a garden, and
all with my beautiful UD family, are among the many memories I will cherish as a part
of my ASB experience!