|From left: Sarah; Melissa; Father Jim Osendorf, CM; Lien; Jessica; Maricris; Sister Theresa Sullivan;|
Sister Denise LaRock; and Sister Lisa Laguna taking a beignet break at Café du Monde in New Orleans.
As a discerner of religious life for more than a year, I was very fortunate to be asked to attend the Search and Serve in New Orleans. There were four other girls who attended and we shared our stories, our faith and our discernment journeys—which was very helpful because we realized our struggles and our questions were not crazy! We realized we were not alone.
Search and Serve combines service projects and fun with prayer and reflection to aid in vocation discernment. Our first day started off right with the celebration of the Eucharist in a beautiful, intimate little chapel in the House of Charity, where we stayed for the week. We reflected on Pope Francis' writing, particularly The Joy of the Gospel and the letter to religious. We had a wonderful mini-retreat day, learning various forms of prayer, and had time for private reflection and prayer.
We spent some time exploring New Orleans. One of the Sisters of Charity brought us through the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards. Compared to the beautiful houses stacked side by side in the Upper Ninth, the Lower was a sad ghost town. There was a glimmer of hope and some rebuilding, but it showed how truly devastating Hurricane Katrina was to the community 10 years ago. It made the stories real.
We were blessed to meet several persons who were homeless—lovingly called "guests"—at the Rebuild Center. I spoke with many of them as they waited for services Rebuild provides, including showers, Internet access, lunch, general or mental health clinic visits, or just having a safe place to site and escape the sun. In my conversations, I learned these guests had jobs and lives and this homelessness is a temporary condition—that people like you or me could easily have the same bad luck. They told me one after the other that they were "real people." What does that really mean, though? To me, it meant they were human, worthy of respect and love. They were worthy of companionship. They were worthy of me.
We visited the museum at Carville, the former national leprosarium. The Daughters of Charity served people with leprosy thrown out of their homes and towns. They touched the "untouchables" when no one else would. They were instrumental in caring and finding a cure for leprosy, or Hansen's Disease. I loved seeing pictures of Sisters and patients. We touched history in the chapel and toured the grounds.
We also spent time visiting with residents at the Chateau nursing home. I realized once again the humanity and "realness" of these folks. They were young once and have a story—or stories, I should say! They were grateful to have our attention and share with us, and we were glad recipients! We walked out of there with many sweethearts promising to pray for us.
It wasn't all work and prayer, though! We went to the French Quarter and did touristy things like eat beignets and creole spiced foods, and walking along the river. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and the wonderful people around me!
During this time I felt a call deep within me to be present for the poor, marginalized and forgotten, to listen to their stories and their actual needs, not just what society says they need. These guests, residents and memories are now a part of me, and I want to continue to serve and be present—to find Christ in the encounters. Through these experiences and talking one-on-one with my fellow discerners, Daughters of Charity, Sisters of Charity and the Vincentian priest who celebrated mass each morning, I grew immensely in my discernment journey and my relationship with Christ.
I am truly thankful for all the hearts and hands that played a part in that wonderful week. I would definitely recommend participating in this experience of a lifetime.