Twelve high school and college students from southeastern Nebraska traveled to New York City early this month to spend a week doing mission work with the city’s different religious orders.
Father Jamie Hottovy of St. John Parish in Prague, Nebraska and Ss. Cyril and Methodius Parish in Plasi took the young group to the bustling city so they could experience the work that the different orders in the city do to assist the people living there.
"Every day we did something different. We spent each day with one of the groups we were helping, doing whatever they asked of us," said one student named Jessica Sousek.
The days were long and filled with activity. Morning began around 6 or 7 a.m. and the group worked until 10 or 11 p.m. The students shared meals together, as well as daily Mass, and an afternoon Holy Hour. A few sight-seeing excursions were squeezed in between projects as well
"We prayed hard, we worked hard, and we played hard," Father Hottovy said. "We did about a month’s worth of activities in one week."
On the first day, the women helped the Sisters of Life cook and clean the formation house. Meanwhile, the men worked with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFR) at St. Crispin Friary in the Bronx, renovating their building with new drywall and paint.
The next day, the group worked with the Missionaries of Charity, the New York division of Blessed Mother Teresa’s order. In preparation for summer catechism programs for underprivileged kids, the Nebraska students cleaned and set up the auditorium, saving the sisters a great deal of time.
Later in the week, the group returned to serve the Missionaries of Charity at one of their AIDS hospices, once again cooking and cleaning.
"That was something very powerful," Father Hottovy said describing the seemingly mundane tasks. "By sweeping and by cleaning toilets, [the students were] working for the greater good and helping people who don’t have as many advantages as they do."
The students also assisted the Franciscan brothers in preparing for a "Jesus Run."
"The ‘Jesus Run’ consisted of sharing physical needs, such as food, drink, and clothing, with spiritual and emotional needs, such as sharing in prayer or just talking, for the homeless of New York City," explained Ashley Paseka, another student.
Brother Marianon, CFR, prepared them for interaction with the homeless.
"He emphasized that, whomever we met that night, we should see Jesus in each one of those people and receive them with the love you’d receive Christ," recalled Father Hottovy. "It brought the experience to a whole new level."
Toward the end of the trip, the students participated in a Mass for Life with the Sisters of Life, then processed to a nearby abortion facility, the first Planned Parenthood location established in New York by the organization’s founder, Margaret Sanger.
After praying the Rosary (all four sets of Mysteries), the students went back to the church, where the Sisters led talks about the sanctity of life, and the need for prayer and sacrifice for this important cause.
Through all these experiences, the students learned of their own ability to do corporal works of mercy, while growing closer to Christ.
"It enhanced my faith by showing me how to serve Christ in something even as simple as offering someone a cup of soup or turning a chore like washing dishes into a prayer," Sousek said.
"This trip was an amazing experience," agreed Paseka, "Ironically, I felt that I left the hustle and bustle of school and work to relax and talk to God in one of the busiest cities of the world."
"As a priest, it was very powerful… I could see a lot of spiritual growth and maturity as the week went on," Father Hottovy said.
He believes that some seeds were planted in terms of potential vocations among the students.
"The people of these orders are so vibrant, joyful, filled with their faith – it’s contagious," he said.
While Father Hottovy has no firm plans yet, he hopes to take more students on another such trip in the future.
Miss Sousek might just want to sign up again.
"I hope that I can go on another mission trip to reach out to those who need help and serve Christ in my life even more," she said.
Printed with permission from the Southern Nebraska Register, newspaper for the Diocese of Lincoln.