National Eucharistic Pilgrims serve the poor during ‘Boxes of Mercy’ day of service

NEP service 1 Perpetual Pilgrim Patrick Fayad lifts a heavy "Box of Mercy" filled with donations for refugee families. | Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

As cars sped past a humble St. Louis apartment complex and children played nearby, a gaggle of mostly Latino residents gathered around a group of Catholic sisters, eagerly waiting to hear their name called. 

When each family’s cardboard box was located, a Perpetual Pilgrim — young men and women committed to walking thousands of miles across the U.S. with the Eucharist this summer — stepped forward to carry the heavy box up to each family’s apartment. 

An initiative of the Archdiocese of St. Louis as part of the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival, the “Boxes of Mercy” were loaded over the past few months with donated necessities such as food, clothes, and personal care items. Catholics from at least 61 parishes in the archdiocese contributed donations to the boxes, according to the St. Louis Review.

The St. Junípero Serra Route, the longest of the four National Eucharistic Pilgrimage routes, began in San Francisco in May and arrived in the St. Louis area July 5 to enthusiastic crowds. Throughout the pilgrimage experience, on Saturdays, the Perpetual Pilgrims have been given opportunities to serve the poor in the communities they are passing through. 

Given the summer heat and the substantial weight of the boxes, the July 6 project turned out to be one of the more physically strenuous service opportunities that the pilgrims have engaged in, Perpetual Pilgrim Patrick Fayad told CNA. 

Of all the projects the Serra Route pilgrims have done, “this is the most intense,” he said.

“Which is really good,” he added. 

Before the sisters brought the boxes to the apartment complex, Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso of St. Louis blessed the boxes with holy water, calling the boxes “an overwhelming response of generosity on behalf of so many, who see the need and want to help and be Christ’s compassion for others.”

After Eucharistic adoration with the Missionaries of Charity, Rivituso then processed the Eucharist from the Missionaries of Charity to St. Josephine Bakhita Parish, where adoration continued while the pilgrims prepared to head to where the boxes were to be distributed. 

Bishop Mark Rivituso, auxiliary of St. Louis, blesses the "Boxes of Mercy" filled with donations for refugee families. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Bishop Mark Rivituso, auxiliary of St. Louis, blesses the "Boxes of Mercy" filled with donations for refugee families. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Carpooling in vans, the pilgrims arrived at the north St. Louis City apartment complex that houses a large number of refugee families from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and several African countries. As the assembled refugees smiled with joy and gratitude, the pilgrims carried the heavy boxes up to each apartment while the Missionaries of Charity issued directions. Sister Drita Maris, MC, said the sisters come to this complex frequently to offer assistance and faith instruction to the children who live there.

“Really, we appreciate it. My family appreciates it always,” said Olga Rivas, one of the recipients, who came to the U.S. with her family from Colombia. She said the Missionaries of Charity always make themselves available for the material and spiritual needs of the refugees. 

“I’m blessed, because they always try to help … They help me with my apartment and come and pray in my apartment … If you have a problem, just talk with them,” Rivas said. 

Cecelia Lopez, a former resident of the apartment complex who returns frequently to help the refugee families, acted as translator and led the group in prayer, in Spanish, before the boxes were distributed. She said the sisters have been a huge help to the refugee families, saying the families know they can call the sisters “with any need.”

Ceclia Lopez, center, leads the group in prayer, in Spanish, before the "Boxes of Mercy" were distributed. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Ceclia Lopez, center, leads the group in prayer, in Spanish, before the "Boxes of Mercy" were distributed. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Jane Guenther, director of the Catholic Renewal Center for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, told CNA that the service project aimed to be a preparation for the next phase of the Eucharistic Revival, the Year of Mission. As part of that next phase, Catholics are invited to “commit to the daily gift of yourself, in concrete acts of service to others, which is at the heart of missionary discipleship.”

The St. Louis service project was “a really important thing, to give them that experience to be a part of that Eucharistic missionary aspect,” Guenther said. 

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