For the past 22 years, a service program at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Lancaster has connected teen volunteers to help out at various churches, organizations and personal homes.
Known as “Works of Mercy” Week – or WOM Week among the participants – the program has become a well-established and highly celebrated week in the heart of summer, as students in grades 7-12 come together for prayer, reflection and service within the greater community.
It’s a week of intense prayer, hard work, evangelization in the streets, and reflection on what it means to love your neighbor.
And each year, the service program continues to grow – both in the number of participants and in the number of places they serve.
“It’s been amazing to see WOM Week grow,” said Bob Cybulski, Youth Ministry Coordinator at St. Mary’s. “When I started becoming involved in it a few years ago, we had 45 teen participants. This year, we have more than 95, plus nearly 50 adult volunteer chaperones. And they’re all here knowing it’s a lot of hard work.”
WOM Week was August 1-5 this year. Most of the teens came from seven local parishes, with a few from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and from Delaware. Word of the week spreads organically among the teens, who are eager to invite friends to join from year to year.
Each morning, participants disperse to their assignments from St. Mary’s following Mass and a period of reflection on the intentionality of their service. When their work is done, they return to the parish to reflect on the day, enjoy meals and spend time in Eucharistic Adoration. On Wednesday, August 3, the day began with a retreat and included Mass celebrated by Bishop Ronald Gainer, who also joined the teens for lunch.
“You young people could be doing a hundred different things this week, but you chose to be here…to serve, to do good, to help people. It is so impressive to see so many here,” the bishop told the teens.
Among the 42 service locations this year, teens volunteered at local Catholic parishes and schools, in private homes and nursing homes, and at ministries and organizations such as Crispus Attucks, Meals on Wheels and Water Street Rescue Mission.
They also participated in street evangelization in Lancaster’s city square, where they greeted passersby and offered to pray for and with them. Cybulski said street evangelization consistently ranks as the most popular activity among the teens.
“They’re eager to share their faith, and we know that they’re evangelizing wherever they serve during the week, because prayer intentions are very much a part of their efforts. When they meet people – whether on the street, in private homes or at the organizations where they’re working – they offer to pray for those they are serving.”
“The week is a lot of hard work, but it’s successful because of several things: we know that our Catholic teens like to serve others, they like to get to know the people they’re serving, and the teens are taking advantage of growing closer to God through the faith-based elements throughout the week,” Cybulski said.
“WOM Week is something the Church needs – to be uplifted by this great number of teens and adult volunteers, who show that they do care about serving and helping others. It’s part of who we are as the Church,” he said.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness