Nine seminarians, 15 teens and six chaperones from the Oakland Diocese embarked on a life-changing immersion in San Francisco's Tenderloin on July 21.
The week began with some participants feeling a bit anxious and fearful but ended leaving them with fond memories, a very different perspective, recognition of their ability to positively impact others and a renewed appreciation for their many blessings.
They learned the power of a smile, a kind word and a caring gesture. The immersion, referred to as BAM (Bay Area Mission), was designed to educate, engage and empower the participants to be Christ to others. Mornings started with interactive workshops and then participants went to various worksites that included senior day centers, St. Anthony's Dining Room and the free clothing center.
"It is hard to know that so many old people have nobody to visit them," one teen who served at the day center said.
At noon, many participants gathered at St. Boniface Church, where they were stunned to hear snoring as they entered the church and saw pews filled with sleeping homeless people. The Gubbio Project helps the church remain open during the day to provide a safe place for homeless people to sleep, since many cannot — or are afraid to — fall asleep on the streets during the night.
Several participants described a sense of being "on truly holy ground" when they were in the church. One teen participant wrestled with the idea that her parish, "put up a rod iron fence to keep homeless people out."
At lunch, participants waited in line for their meal and then engaged with the guests in the dining room while they ate. Many were surprised when the other guests offered to share their untouched desserts and fruit. Fear, stereotypes and preconceived ideas melted away as they engaged in friendly yet profound dialogue.
"This experience confirmed my vocation and reminded me that my ministry is to love and serve all of God's people, especially those on the margins," one seminarian said.
When participants reflected on BAM, they called the experience life-changing, eye-opening, transforming, unforgettable and empowering. Homelessness and poverty were no longer buzzwords — they represent real people with stories behind them.
"I became aware....now, the more that I know, the more that I can do," one said. They felt empowered to make a positive difference wherever they go. No doubt, those on BAM will ever pass by a person who appears to be in need without at least offering a smile and a kind word.
One teen participant summed it all up: "If we take time to help our neighbor on the journey, we can all walk forward into a better world."
Youths and adult leaders from the East Bay learned about seniors and the poor.
John Watkins/Courtesy photo
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