By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press
Teenagers frosted cupcakes for people who would be eating at the Mustard Seed soup kitchen in Worcester last Saturday.
They themselves hadn’t eaten, but they didn’t even lick their fingers, according to Carol DeAngelis, a catechist and youth group leader at St. Columba Parish in Paxton.
What prompted such self control?
They were fasting – for 24 hours straight.
The food fast is an annual Lenten retreat for religious education students in grades nine and 10 at St. Columba’s and St. Patrick Parish in Rutland, explained Theresa Nummelin, St. Columba’s religious education coordinator.
This year 46 students and nine leaders participated, she said. They spent most of their time at St. Columba’s, learning and praying about hunger and their responsibility to others.
Saturday afternoon they went to the Mustard Seed, where they prepared and served a meal, took a hunger quiz and did other activities. Sunday after Mass they broke their fast with a pancake breakfast open to the whole parish.
This year’s retreat theme was solidarity.
Jimmy Burton, a St. Patrick’s teenager, was apparently feeling that Saturday afternoon.
“I didn’t think I’d be this hungry,” he said. “I’m starving.”
That made him think: “A lot of people go through this every day. I shouldn’t take my food for granted. I know I’m going to have a big breakfast tomorrow.”
“I thought I could never go 24 hours without food,” Mrs. DeAngelis said. But, she said, “I’m never hungry during this retreat.” A health teacher in Worcester schools, she said she gets much nourishment in other ways from the retreat.
“It changed my life, so I want to do it every year,” she explained.
She said the fasting teenagers don’t complain, and added, “In our diocese, in our area, we have a tremendous resource in our youth.”
Marnie Fitzgerald, a St. Patrick’s teenager, highlighted the importance of young people as part of the Church. “I just think it’s good that the Church is taking some steps to help people with hunger,” she said. “It’s important that the Church recognizes hunger is an issue and sends people on missions.”
“We’ve learned that radical change needs to be made” to feed the hungry around the world, said David Witt, a St. Columba’s youth. He said change is possible – if people will do it.
“There is enough food on the earth,” added Catherine Dinsdale, a St. Patrick’s teenager. But people need to pay attention to it.
Patrick Stephens, a St. Columba’s youth, said that, in developing countries, a huge part of having a sustainable food source is having a stable, “non-corrupt” government.
“Something that I think that’s important about it is becoming aware of all the hunger in our world and even in our country,” youth leader Meghan Murphy said of the retreat. “Especially since food is disposable at our fingertips for everyone who is participating.… So I think it’s important that, as a group, we fast together, so we can feel what it’s like, and to also raise money.”
She said they raise money for Catholic Relief Services by getting sponsors for their participation in the retreat. (Father Manuel A. Clavijo, a Global Fellow for Catholic Relief Services and pastor of St. Mary of the Hills Parish in Boylston, told retreatants about the agency’s service to people in need.)
Meghan, a high school senior from St. Columba’s, said she was back for her fourth year at the retreat. She said she likes being there with a sibling. First she and her older brother were participants, then he became a leader. This is her younger brother’s second year as a participant and her second as a leader. Mrs. Nummelin said two other St. Columba’s 12th-graders – Anthony Riopel and Rachel Farley – were youth leaders as well.
She said she emailed Bishop McManus about the retreat, he emailed back and the youth were touched that the busy bishop promised to pray for them.
Prayer was emphasized throughout the retreat, she said. Repeatedly, upon learning about a problem they couldn’t solve, participants said they would pray for the people affected.
A speaker shared his own devotion to prayer, according to a write-up Mrs. Nummelin did for the parishes’ bulletins.
David Blais, of Framingham, told retreatants how in 2012 he and his wife, Alicia, set out to end hunger there, she wrote. They created Daniel’s Table, named for their son, who died at birth, and began serving meals from a food trailer in low-income neighborhoods. Today they serve more than 2,000 hot meals per month.
“We asked Mr. Blais what he thought the secret to his success was and he answered, ‘Prayer,’” Mrs. Nummelin wrote. “He said, ‘I do nothing without praying about it first.’” He sits on his porch to pray. So when his volunteers see him go there, they get a bit anxious, wondering what he’s praying for and how much more work it will mean for them!
Another speaker, lightweight boxing champion Jose Rivera of Worcester, told how his struggle with poverty, domestic violence and the death of his mother left him with little hope of ever becoming a professional boxer, Mrs. Nummelin wrote. Then God stepped in – through a volunteer boxing trainer he met at the Worcester Boys Club, who urged him to avoid bad choices. Now he has won boxing titles and works as a court officer at the Worcester Court House.
“The retreat gave us an opportunity, as we enter into Easter, to take a look at our prayer lives and our service to God and each other, as we remember, with great reverence, the sacrifice that He made for all of us and the miracle of His resurrection,” Mrs. Nummelin concluded.