Mon, June 06—Trip 2 Day 1: Blessed are the peacemakers,for they shall be called sons of God.
The first day of Philadelphia Urban Immersion Week 2 started with a family liturgy celebrated by Father Janton. Father’s homily inspired us to live this week to our fullest potential. After mass, some members of the group immediately got into the immersive experience by playing basketball at 10th and Bainbridge with some local neighborhood kids. The whole group then visited the National Liberty Museum at 3rd and Chestnut.
After leaving the museum and eating dinner at Paolo’s Pizza, Mr. Delaney, the father of a recent La Salle College High School graduate and a Deputy District Attorney in Philadelphia, talked about social situation of Philadelphia. He especially focused on young people and the pitfalls and obstacles they face on a daily basis. Being a deputy DA, Mr. Delaney had access to crime and education statistics in Philadelphia. He wrapped up his talk by stressing the importance of choices in our own lives. His talk certainly reminded us of the blessings in our lives.
Finally, all 40 of us had a reflection at the end of the day. We talked about what brought us to this week and what we wanted to gain from our experience. As a group, we are excited to bond, to serve, and to find out what being a peacemaker really is about.
Tue, June 07—Trip 2 Day 2: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Today was the first full day of our Urban Immersion trip. We woke up at 7:00AM and immediately learned what sites each of us would be visiting for the next two days. Some went to Project H.O.M.E., and others went to Saint John’s Hospice, Holy Innocence, or Visitation School.
A portion of us went to Saint Columba’s, a safe haven for chronically homeless men who suffer from addiction and mental illness. After an orientation at the Project H.O.M.E. headquarters, we arrived at Saint Columba’s in West Philly and were given a tour of the facility. Our main task was to serve lunch to the men lunch and converse with them. These are the same men that are ignored and belittled on the street, yet most of the men we spoke with were very friendly and amiable.
Another group of us went to Holy Innocence (a traditional K-8 grade school) and St. Lucy’s (a school for the deaf and visually impaired). We edged the gardens and prepared the gardens to be mulched tomorrow. The others went and painted a bathroom and a couple doors around the school and convent.
The most impactful part of the day was during lunch. We had the privilege of eating lunch with the kids from Saint Lucy’s. The whole group is looking forward to return to the institution with nice flowerbeds, freshly painted bathrooms and doors to continue working with the children, priests, nuns and teachers.
Wed, June 08—Trip 2, Day 3: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Today was the second full day of service on our Urban Immersion. Each group stayed at the same ministry site in order to get a better feel for the ministry, its leaders, and the people they serve. Two sites featured today will be Sarnelli House and Saint John’s Hospice.
Our group went to the Sarnelli House in Kensington. When we first arrived Father Kevin Murray greeted us and then proceeded to take us on a tour of Kensington. On the tour we saw the corner of Somerset and Kensington, which Father Kevin described as one of the largest drug dealing corners in the city. After that several people came up to us and told us their stories.
There, we met David, Louis, and Wyatt. First David told us to pay attention to our surroundings so we would see how hard life was on the streets and so we would not end up living on them. Next was Louis who was from Puerto Rico. He told us that he killed somebody when he was only a teenager and that he spent fifteen years in prison. He then told us how his wife was killed and how he had to take care of his young daughter while fighting an addiction. Finally Wyatt, who seemed to just be a normal bystander, but was actually actively, fighting a heroin addiction spoke to us about the choices that we make and how those choices affect our future. After Wyatt finished speaking we continued the tour; the one thing that we noticed was that all three of those men had kept extreme faith while fighting their addictions and surviving on the streets. To conclude our day at the Sarnelli house we prepared 108 burritos for those in need along with some for ourselves.
Another group continued to serve at St. John’s Hospice. We were first given the job to unload clothing, food, and toiletry items from their supply truck. Shortly after, we were assigned jobs to have while serving lunch to residents of the Hospice and other homeless men. Some of the jobs included handing out trays with utensils, serving the meals, filling up water jugs and clearing the tables. Another job included working in the mailroom. We sorted and handed mail to the over 2,000 homeless men who use the Hospice as their mailing address. At the onset of the opening of the doors at the Hospice, homeless and poor men of all ages, races, and religions poured into the facility for lunch. As the lunch ended, one of the workers told us all, that there were a total of 220 men who received food today. At this point, many of us faced reality and realized just how many people are suffering in today’s world.
Thu, June 09—Trip 2, Day 4: Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
This is our third day of service on the Philadelphia immersion. We woke up at seven thirty like always and began with morning prayer. Some of us went off to St. Charles senior center, which was a new site added today. Others continued work at Sarnelli House, St. John’s Hospice, Saint Columba’s (Project H.O.M.E.), and Holy innocence.
First we went grocery shopping for all the things we need for the trip. After preparing the foods we loaded up the vans and were ready to go. We drove to Love Park in Center City. As soon as we got out of the car the people who recognized our vans swarmed over. We set up various stations for the different foods and one extra station for the socks we brought with us. After the food was gone we started to interact with everyone.
Some of us were talking to a couple named Paula and Albert who looked like the type of people you would just put your head down and walk by, but they ended up to be a very interesting couple. They were deeply religious people who had no reason to be.Another fascinating person we met was a man named Willy. Willy told us the story of his life. He was addicted to drugs at a very young age, and the person to introduce him into it was his very own mother. Willy’s been addicted since twelve but has been starting to cut back, after the dramatic death of his brother who died from a drug overdose. After that tragedy his mother began to sober up. Willy’s trying his best to do the same and turn his life around.
Another man we met was a real character. His name was Abdul Saraj. Abdul was a really funny guy and brought smiles to each person’s face. He was full of stories and told a lot of them. He was Muslim and could speak a few different languages, including Arabic and Indonesian. He had a real interest in all these different cultures and aspired to learn about them. He was also deeply religious and loved to spread his Muslim message. He emphasized loving his neighbors and believed strongly in the equality of all people. He even gave us a speech as we finished up and inspired us love our neighbors.
Outreach was a great experience. We really learned a lot from the people we talked to and really connected with a lot of them. Outreach was more than just conversation though. Outreach really gave us perspective on life of some of the less fortunate in our own city. Mrs. Maher wrapped up Outreach by reminding us that some of the struggles we heard about tonight don’t travel far from home. She started to tear up as she told us of several former La Salle students who struggled with some of the same issues that those we met tonight did. She encouraged us to all take care of one another.
Fri, June 10—Trip 2, Day 5: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall be satisfied.”
On our last day, five of us traveled to 42nd and Chestnut to Saint Columba’s, a safe haven for chronically homeless men run by Project H.O.M.E.. We met Nelson who is the manager of the kitchen and he instructed us on what to do. Our main task was to serve lunch to the residents of the house. After serving lunch, we got to play some chess with Nelson. Apparently, between both Urban Immersion trips, no La Salle student has been able to beat Nelson in chess! Nelson also gave us some life and kitchen lessons such as, “be fast and efficient,” and “everybody has a story.” After lunch, one of the case managers gave us a tour of the house and learned about mental illness, addiction, and homelessness. It was a very fun experience for all of us and as Nelson said “Everyone has a different story.”
A group of fourteen of us went to Sarnelli House in Kensington. We had to take wood from the backyard to a dump truck in the front of the house. It took about four hours to move all of the wood and trash to the truck. Some of us have never been so dirty in our lives. Although it was the hottest day of the week, we finished the task and had the backyard looking the best it ever has. Father Kevin was very thankful for our help and we were grateful to help to continue La Salle’s legacy at the Sarnelli House.
A small group of guys went to St. Charles Senior Community Center. St. Charles had a “Fun Day with La Salle.” Many games were set up for the seniors to play with a few guys running each station. The seniors also had prizes that they could receive by using the tickets they won from each game. A few guys were set to the industrious task of filing in Mrs. Christie’s office. Afterwards a pool tournament was played between the La Salle guys and the seniors. No La Sallian was able to win against any of the seniors. They were very good at pool but were even better at teaching the game to the inexperienced “young bulls.” It was easy to tell that the seniors enjoyed the company of young guys and were eager to interact with us just as much as we were.
Seven of us continued at St. John’s Hospice on 12th and Race Street, a couple of blocks from where we were staying. At the lunch hour, we served trays of different casseroles to the men, cleaned trays, and refilled water pitchers. A highlight of this day was as the lunch hour was ending, a man began to play the piano there. His jazzy tunes encouraged two other men to come over and sing. These three men were extremely talented and it was a very touching thing to witness.
Nine of us returned to Holy Innocents today. We finished off mulching the property around the rectory and school. Then the group split up, half swept the church while the other half swept, mopped, and waxed floors in the library and other classrooms. After we finished eating lunch we got a chance to sit down and play and talk to the children of Saint Lucy’s school for the deaf and visually impaired. Even though the deaf children couldn’t hear us and the blind children couldn’t see us— our presence made them elated, which caused us to become equally elated. After spending 20 minutes with the kids, we finished up the work and final day of service and headed back to St. Peter Claver.
At each of the sites, we certainly have met courageous men and women who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” They showed us what it means to live out the Gospel and to work for justice.
After a long day of work, we were invited by our neighbors, Women of Hope, for a social. Women of Hope is a residence for women who are experiencing homelessness. All week, we had been waving and exchanging greetings, but hadn’t had the time for a formal gathering. A number of us went there to have water ice and pretzels and visit with the women. The social really got going when we started playing the piano!
After all the groups returned from their service sights, the teachers took us to the Phillies game as a surprise. When we got the Phillies game we wondered the park for about an hour. Then we all met in our section. After the 2nd inning, the weather began to turn and it became real windy and poured rain while it thundered and lightening. So we made the best of it and started bonding with each other by dancing in the rain and starting chants. The game finally resumed and we were lucky enough to get on to the big screen. We decided to leave after the 5th inning because it was getting late. So on the way out the entire group began to sing, chant, and clap. We got back on the subway and arrived back at the church to end a very rewarding week of service.