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Home Ministry: Catholic youth spend summer helping community

NATCHEZ — Approximately 45 members of the St. Mary Basilica Catholic Youth Organization have given nearly two weeks of their summer vacation to help people in their community.

Youth Minister Carrie Lambert said a group of high school age students and adult chaperones would traditionally spend a couple of weeks in the summer away at a camp in which they would participate in worship, Bible studies, group activities and volunteer to help people in poverty-stricken areas.

This year, the group’s planned mission trip to Nashville was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the canceled trip didn’t stop them from having the camp at home, Lambert said.

“The camp is all about doing the work and being the hands and feet of Christ by helping people who need help,” Lambert said. “It’s also about a connection and fellowship for the youth and recognizing a deeper sense of our faith.”

The camp’s three main components are scripture, hard work and fun, Lambert said.

To fulfill the worship and Bible study aspect of the camp, CYO members participated in a virtual summer camp in June through Zoom. At the end of the virtual camp, Rev. Scott Thomas of St. Mary Basilica hosted a special mass service specifically for the youth.

“That replaced part of what we do, but we also wanted to implement the work part of it,” Lambert said.

For the past two weeks, the youth participated in several community service projects — cleaning and landscaping at Cathedral School, building houses with Habitat for Humanity and helping some church parishioners as a way of thanking them for their service to the church.

“They’ve really cleaned up my patio, which was full of leaves and birdseed, and cleared the weeds out of my flowerbeds,” said Barbara Kaiser as the youth worked outside her home last week. “They’ve done a great job. I am absolutely grateful. I needed it.”

The experience working from home is a bit different from going on an away mission trip, said Thomas Garrity, a church chaperone.

“It’s rewarding to work for people that you know in your own hometown,” Garrity said. “Last year we went to St. Croix to work in paradise but when you get there you realize that it’s not paradise for most of the people who live there. Giving back to people in very low-income areas like that is pretty awesome because you realize that we’re blessed.”

Some students who normally wouldn’t be able to participate in the camp because of summer sports were able to jump in and lend a helping hand during parts of the week.

“Normally I have football practice at this time but I didn’t today, so I thought I’d come help out to have something to do,” said Kaden Batieste, a CYO member. “It makes me feel like I’m doing something good for the community.”

After a week of sweating from manual labor, Lambert said the group celebrated with tacos and music and cooled off with super soakers for the final component of the camp — fun.

“We are grateful to the community for supporting us in all of the various things we do throughout the year and thank them for the opportunity to give back to them and for showing our kids what it means to be walking along the road to Emmaus accompanying one another,” Lambert said.