By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

With the sparkling waters of the False River as their backdrop, youth from around the Diocese of Baton Rouge nourished thirsting souls in New Roads with living water during Mission Helping Other People Everywhere (HOPE) July 12-15.  

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Youth proudly display blankets they assembled to give out to those in need. Photos by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator

 

Baton Rouge area youth entering 10th – 12th grades spent the four-day mission project and service retreat embracing and practicing the corporal works of mercy. The mission was sponsored by St. George Church in Baton Rouge, St. Isidore Church in Baker and St. Mary of False River Church in New Roads.  

“You have to serve in the midst of your people before going far away,” said Jules Culotta. “Everyone is really caring and strong in their faith.”  

Although she has served before, Culotta discovered there is always something new to learn. She was especially touched by a prayer led by the youth that focused on “soul to soul faith.”  

“Your community (of teens) helps you be more effective,” said Culotta. “To have your peers teach you – someone you know and trust – it’s really comforting, and builds your faith.”  

Strong faith is needed in facing the reality that suffering touches everyone, according to Culotta.  

“There’s suffering everywhere. If you have the availability, you have the responsibility to help others,” said Culotta.  

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Leading prayer before the youth left for their worksites are, from left, Isaac Duplantis, Justin Will, Ryan Talamo, Sean Dunn and Brennan Cascio.  

 

One of the activities was visiting a nursing home. This was familiar ground for Marina Moorehead, who was visiting from Pineville for the summer and joined in the mission through St. George. She had witnessed her grandmother serving in a nursing home ministry and found the face of Christ in the wrinkles of the aged.  

“Some people never get visitors and you can come and make their day happy,” said Moorehead.  

Ethan LeBlanc said his trip to March for Life fueled a strong desire to see that life, from unborn onward, receives respect, nurturing and care, so he jumped on the opportunity to join the mission.  

“I’ve been looking forward to all of us teenagers getting together and serving people. Leaving Christ here for everybody,” said LeBlanc.  

He said Mission HOPE is “just the starting point for him” and he hopes to go on to “bigger missions.”  

“I’m a people person, and I love talking to people. I make friends. When we get together it’s hard not to have fun,” said LeBlanc.  

Isaac Duplantis said the missionaries quickly formed a community.  

“We had youth from approximately four – five different parishes. Some attended Catholic schools, some private and others were homeschooled,” said Duplantis. “We were 23 students from all over with different backgrounds, but we came together for the same cause with the same desire and instantly friendships began. No one was ever left out. There were no cliques.”  

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Youth volunteered at the food pantry of HOPE Ministry of Pointe Coupee, which currently serves 550 families in Pointe Coupee Civil Parish.   

 

Duplantis also noted there was also an ecumenical spirit in the community.  

“One thing we noticed at a second facility we went to, there was a group of people in a prayer meeting,” he said. “As a few of us walked in and started to listen, we noticed it was people of different faiths. They weren’t arguing about who was right or wrong. They were all sharing their individual faith so that they could all grow. I would like to bring that back to school, to be able to share my faith and beliefs as well as try to understand others so that we can all grow and learn from each other.”  

The youth also had an opportunity to use their talents.  

Juliette Gregoire said “Actually, I had different plans for this week (attending rehearsals for Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which she resumed after the mission). When I found I had a chance to take a mission trip, I decided to do something to help others.  

“When I heard they might be going to a retirement home, I got excited because I had performed before at a retirement home. Just seeing them smile makes my day.  

“I want to learn as much as I can about these people, because they have the better stories and experience,” said Gregoire.  

She said the mission trip has inspired her to pursue a career to help the elderly either as a lawyer, social worker or caretaker.  

Like Gregoire, Justin Will also enjoys acting and would like to use his talent to benefit others. 

“I want to be a performer, to make others know that not everyone has a good life and we should try to help each other,” said Will, who also enjoyed the youths’ prayer time together.  

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Juliette Gregoire, middle left, and Brennan Cascio enjoy playing Bingo with the residents at Lakeview Manor Nursing Home in New Roads as part of Mission HOPE.  

 

Brennan Cascio chose to go on the mission because, “I thought it would be great to meet people who live a life different from me and how they do it.”  

He learned during the mission that the “little things” matter to people in need. 

And those trials can increased endurance.  

“I enjoyed last (Thursday) night,” said Cascio. “We had prayer and talked about the roads we were on. It was emotional, but liberating to hear what they (youth) went through and the good things that came out of it. There’s a good way to push through it and there will always be someone there for you.”  

Cascio, who has a brother with autism, said she may pursue a career as an occupational or other type of therapist.  

Victoria Fontenot said the Mission HOPE has brought her out of her comfort zone, but she would not change her experiences for anything.  

“It was probably one of the best weeks of my life … I think I’m a different person because of it,” said Fontenot. “Before I started going to youth group and participating in things like this, I really didn’t talk to people and now I’m more outgoing and want others to know about the love of Christ.” 

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 Handling the boxes of donations was part of the work youth did at the food pantry of HOPE Ministry Pointe Coupee.   

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 Sean Cooper calls a game of bingo at Lakeview Manor 

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Thomas Prochaska pushes a basket filled with goods that will be given to those in need by the HOPE Ministry food pantry.