Teens lend a hand while growing in faith

Salesian Gos­pel Roads plans Chris­ti­an ser­vice re­treats for teens each sum­mer.

(from the left) Gos­pel Group mem­bers Valer­ie Mate­dero, 17, Ju­lia Flanagan, 15, Mat­thew S. Quintana, 14, Sandra Rivera, 18, Gio­vanni Lopes, 15, and Jayson Gomes (front right), 18, par­take in a clean-up day at St. Mar­tin of Tours Churh and School. Wed­nes­day, Ju­ly 18, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

The teen­agers who were wip­ing down tables in the school gym at St. Mar­tin of Tours knew it wasn’t the most ex­cit­ing work, but they were there to serve and that was the work they had been asked to do.

They were among 40 young people in Phil­adelphia who were tak­ing part in a Chris­ti­an ser­vice re­treat called Salesian Gos­pel Roads. The pro­gram or­gan­izes re­treats each sum­mer to help teen­agers lend a hand to oth­ers, and grow in the prac­tice of their faith.

Sandra Rivera, 18, gradu­ated from St. Mar­tin of Tours in 2008 and Mercy Vo­ca­tion­al High School. Last year, she took part in a re­treat at vari­ous sites in Phil­adelphia, and this year, in late Ju­ly, she led a team of six young people in their ser­vice pro­jects.

“We helped the eld­erly, dis­abled and home­less last year. I was de­term­ined to come back to help the new people who were join­ing this year,” said Sandra, who already plans to take part in a re­treat next sum­mer in Stony Point, N.Y.

Valer­ie Mate­dero, a 17-year-old high school seni­or from Long Is­land, spent a week at a re­treat in Phil­adelphia last sum­mer. “It was a great ex­per­i­ence. It changes the way you look at things,” she said.

Sandra’s team in­cluded Valer­ie; Gio Lopes, a 15-year-old from New York; Ju­lia Flanagan, a 15-year-old St. Mar­tin’s gradu­ate who’ll be a sopho­more at Cent­ral; Jayson Gomes, an 18-year-old col­lege fresh­man from Mary­land; and Mat­thew Quintana, a 14-year-old St. Mar­tin’s gradu­ate who’ll be a fresh­man at Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln.

Salesian Gos­pel Roads, op­er­ated by the Salesians of Don Bosco, was formed in 2001 in South Or­ange, N.J. In ad­di­tion to Phil­adelphia, ser­vice re­treats have been held this sum­mer in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Haiti, New Or­leans, Tampa, Ne­wark, N.J., Leeds, Ala., and Port Chester, N.Y.

Later this sum­mer, there will be re­treats in Chica­go, Stony Point and Toronto.

Jim Klein, youth min­is­ter at St. Mar­tin’s and dir­ect­or of the Phil­adelphia Gos­pel Roads re­treat, ex­plained that the young people took part in vari­ous activ­it­ies across the Phil­adelphia area. Most were ages 15 to 18. The Rev. Jay Hor­an, a Salesian of Don Bosco, ac­com­pan­ied the group, which stayed at La Salle Uni­versity.

The cost is $225 for lodging, meals, a T-shirt and sup­plies. A typ­ic­al day in­cluded Mass, re­flec­tion, shar­ing, dis­cus­sion and a pray­er ser­vice. There were op­por­tun­it­ies for con­fes­sion, Euchar­ist­ic Ad­or­a­tion and a vis­it to the St. John Neu­mann shrine.

At the end of the week, each par­ti­cipant re­ceived a foot­print pendant as a re­mind­er to al­ways walk the Gos­pel Roads.

There also was time for fun, in­clud­ing trips to the Phil­adelphia Zoo and Old City. Kathy Mc­Donough, a long­time St. Wil­li­am Ele­ment­ary School teach­er, hos­ted a Mass, din­ner and swim­ming pool party at her house.

But the bulk of the week was spent at ser­vice work sites. Sandra, Ju­lia and Mat­thew re­turned to their alma ma­ter, St. Mar­tin’s, to clean the tables in the gym for a day.

At the Little Sis­ters of the Poor, at 53rd Street and Chester Av­en­ue in South­w­est Phil­adelphia, they ten­ded to the garden and spent time with res­id­ents mak­ing pil­lows, play­ing bingo and the pi­ano and do­ing arts and crafts.

At St. Ed­mond’s Home for Chil­dren, a fa­cil­ity in Rose­mont for young people with phys­ic­al, men­tal and ge­net­ic dis­orders, they in­ter­ac­ted with res­id­ents, in­clud­ing ac­com­pa­ny­ing them on a trip to Ad­ven­ture Aquar­i­um.

At the Pro­vin­cial­ate of the Sis­ters of the Holy Re­deem­er in Hunt­ing­don Val­ley, they picked ve­get­ables in a com­munity garden for fu­ture de­liv­ery to the poor.

At Our Lady of Fatima in Ben­s­alem, they took part in activ­it­ies with chil­dren at­tend­ing a Bible camp.

At Cristo Rey High School, which will open next month at the old Our Lady of Hope school build­ing in Lo­gan, they prepped the site for its de­but.

Klein, the 24-year-old Man­hat­tan nat­ive who dir­ec­ted the re­treat, said he and the oth­ers en­joyed get­ting a smile from a young per­son or a thank you from an old per­son.

“The little things do make a dif­fer­ence in their lives,” he said.

Jayson was on his second re­treat, hav­ing gone to one in Stony Point in 2010. “Our school (Don Bosco Cristo Rey in Takoma Park, Md.) en­cour­ages us to at­tend and in­volves us in these types of events,” he said.

Mat­thew was per­mit­ted to at­tend even though he’s a year young­er than the min­im­um 15, get­ting a re­com­mend­a­tion from the Rev. Chris­toph­er Cooke, who re­cently left St. Mar­tin’s. Mat­thew de­scribed the vis­it to St. Ed­mond’s as “really emo­tion­al” for him.

“I got a great ex­per­i­ence. I like help­ing people,” he said.

Gio, too, was moved by his vis­it to St. Ed­mond’s.

“It was very tough for me. I had a tough time,” he said.

For Sandra, it was the second year in a row that she had gone to St. Ed­mond’s.

“It was pretty cool to see how some of the kids have grown,” she said.

Ju­lia will re­mem­ber her vis­it, too.

“I spent all day with one girl, and all I could get out of her were a couple of smiles, but it was worth it,” she said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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