PORTLAND, MAINE — Seventeen seminarians from the Diocese of Bridgeport, CT, are spending the week in Maine serving those in need.
“I’m really excited. Mission work is a great opportunity to put your faith into action,” said André Escaleira. “It’s an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ.”
“Putting into service your faith is so important. Faith without action is meaningless,” said Peter Adamski. “This is what all Catholics are called to do. We all have been baptized into a royal priesthood. We are to care for our brothers and sisters in the world and not just try to stay with the high and mighty.”
Divided into small groups, the seminarians rotated among four service opportunities. They include the St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen in Portland, the Catholic Charities’ Threads of Hope thrift store in Portland, the Community of the Resurrection in Otisfield, and the homes of clients of the Catholic Charities’ SEARCH program, which serves the elderly and those with disabilities in five counties. Most of the seniors assisted by the seminarians lived in the Auburn area.
Guy Doremvil said he learned the importance of helping others while he was growing up in Haiti.
“Service work — that is one of the things I like the most because I’ve been involved in that kind of work since I was a little boy. I started as an altar server. I spent my entire life in Haiti helping people who are in need,” he said, as he joyfully washed dishes at the soup kitchen. “To show people some love is what it’s all about, because that is what people are looking for. They are looking for someone who cares about them, someone who can share with them.”
“We’re all enjoying it because we know that this is doing good for the community at large,” said Andrew Lafleur.
This is the first time that seminarians from the Diocese of Bridgeport have gone on a mission trip together. Bishop Frank Caggiano, who joined the seminarians for the end of the week, looked at it as a way to help the seminarians bond with one another.
“When seminarians go out in service, it gives them the opportunity to make God’s love real in the lives of people who are in need, but it also gives them an opportunity to work together to build a sense of fraternity and to deepen their own love of each other, because they’re going to need each other to be good and holy priests. So, it’s a bonding time; it’s a serving time,” he said.
After each day of service, the seminarians come together at Saint Joseph’s College, where they are staying, for a holy hour and time of reflection. Bishop Caggiano said one experience the seminarians shared illustrates the benefits of the trip.
“At the Community of the Resurrection, they needed to move two statues that were about 700 or 800 pounds each, and the only way they could do that was if all seven of them worked together. So, it’s a parable of what priestly life is meant to be – that priests are meant to be brothers who work together for the good of the Church, that the burden can be carried when it’s shared. I thought it was beautiful,” the bishop said.
“It’s great because of the team building,” said Juan Colón. “It’s a way that we can offer our time, not held back by any other commitments or anything.”
“I think it will make us a lot stronger,” said Matthew Loman, who will be entering seminary in the fall. “It will be easier to get in there on the first day since we know each other. We’re working together. We’ve been reflecting together, praying together, playing together.”
“It gives me a chance to work with my brother seminarians, get to know them better,” said Deacon Jim Bates, “Also, seminary life can be very insular and coming out into a place like this and helping people gives you that sense of this is what we’re here for. This is what God called us to do.”
The Diocese of Portland was chosen for the mission trip because of its proximity to Connecticut and because Father John Connaughton, the vocations director there, knows Father Seamus Griesbach, the Diocese of Portland’s vocations director. Father Connaughton worked with Catholic Charities Maine to identify areas of need.
“One of the things that we wanted to do is to be able to encounter the people that we would be serving, so just being in a place where we’re going to meet those who are in need and be able to talk with them and to hear their stories and share with them our stories,” said Father Connaughton.
And that is what has happened during the trip. David Roman, a seminarian studying at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., recalled spending the day at an elderly gentleman’s home where cleaning walls and painting the fence may not have been the most important service they performed.
“It was great just to spend time with him,” said Roman. “You could tell that he is very much isolated, so it was good to be able to pray with him, and to share a meal with him, to learn about his life.”
Roman and some of the other seminarians also said they have been struck, during the trip, by the commitment to service of so many laypeople.
“That is one of the things that is so refreshing to see, so many young, old, in between dedicating themselves to service, in service to the Church and, really, out of love for the Lord,” Roman said.
“Not only do you see all the need, this incredible need that people have for assistance just to be able to survive, but also, you see revealed in a place like this how many people are willing to help. I mean, it’s unbelievable to me,” said Deacon Bates.
Those who are receiving a hand expressed appreciation for the seminarians’ efforts and presence.
“They’re young. They can move quickly. They’re pleasant. It’s a great help. They’re going into a life of service, and the food kitchen is somewhere that you will see all kinds of different people. You’ll see people who need a lot of help,” said Robert Foley, supervisor of the soup kitchen, who has volunteered there for more than a dozen years. “So, it’s a good experience for them, I think.”
“It’s wonderful. I wouldn’t have even known they were seminarians. It’s just unreal,” said Caroline Greenlaw, who has volunteered at the soup kitchen for 13 years.
This is the first time that many of the seminarians have been to Maine, and in addition to enjoying their time of service, they said they have been admiring the beauty of the state.
“A priest walked us over to the lake (at Saint Joseph’s College), which was incredibly beautiful. The sun was setting. It looked like a postcard,” said Escaleira. “Just to be in that vicinity, right by that natural beauty, was really, really wonderful.”
Pictures from portlanddiocese.org