By Susannah Johnson
From July 14 to July 20, 2013, St. Patrick’s hosted the second Young Neighbours in Action (YNIA) program in Toronto. The first time was over ten years ago. Fr. Santo bravely agreed to host over 50 young people and their chaperones in the halls of St. Patrick – and this while the renovations were transpiring next door! Fr. Santo’s energy never ceases to amaze me…
So for that week he was their cook, (with the help of many volunteers including our provincial Fr. Mark who washed many heads of lettuce), and I was the site coordinator. Some of these young people were from St. Patrick’s youth ministry program which includes Paolo Almonte, Nino Almonte, Bridget Robson and Anthony Tham. The rest came from the U.S., namely from Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Did we have fun with their accents!
Part of the purpose of YNIA is to have youth come and perform acts of service for a week in non-profit organizations within Toronto. This year the sites included St. Francis Table soup kitchen, St. Felix Centre kitchen and drop-in, Good Shepherd Centre kitchen and ministries, the Mustard Seed garden, St. Patrick’s Daycare and the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. There was also one group who did one-off garden work for seniors and a family with a disability. To see them sweating cheerfully in the humid heat of Toronto was heart warming indeed!
Another component of the YNIA is the evening activities. These include journaling, reflecting on their experience and small group sharing. Music and prayer punctuate all aspects of their week: before meals, before heading to work, before faith sharing and before going to bed.
Every evening had a different theme. With Fr. Santo’s creativity, you can imagine what fun we had with those! The first night was “Canadiana” night with peameal bacon, poutine, and Montreal style smoked meat. (All artery clogging foods.) Another evening was “culture” night. Given that St. Patrick’s is located in the heart of Chinatown, he decided on a “Pan-Asian” culture night with Chinese decor and food galore. Among the dining feast was a roasted pig which was delicious! Poor Wilbur… L (re: Charlotte’s Web.)
On the last night of the week, after celebrating the Eucharist, everyone had the opportunity to share about their week. It was moving to hear how their time serving others really fostered their faith. One young man said that he came initially to fulfill his hours of service, and that he is not really a “churchy” kind of guy. But the week transformed his notion about God and he said that his heart felt “full”. Others echoed a similar sentiment: the fullness of God’s love in their hearts.
Another young person said that the first year he did YNIA, he was kind of intimidated but also was motivated to do his hours of service required by his school. His experience was so profound that this was his third summer doing YNIA! His only regret is that at 18 years of age, this is the last year he is able to participate. He hopes to be a chaperone someday.
I share this news to celebrate the charism the Redemptorists embody which includes ministering to young people. We should be proud! It was certainly a real privilege to be a part of something so much greater than ourselves. And the witness to their faith by these young people reminded me of my own journey of coming to faith as a youth, and how powerful that had been for me. Working at l’Arche with a marginalized group changed my life. I believe this experience of Young Neighbours in Action can change theirs.