Catholic HEART — experiencing Christ through liturgy and service

By David Cooley.

Around 140 youth and youth ministers from across the country came to the Diocese of Covington to serve the local community June 30–July 6. Bishop Brossart High School in Alexandria was home base for Catholic HEART WorkCamp, an international youth-friendly, Christ-centered organization dedicated to service, connection and loving others, headquartered in Orlando, Florida.

This is the second time Bishop Brossart High School served as a host site; the first time was in 2017. Each summer more than 13,000 youth go on mission trips through this organization around the country to restore homes, feed the hungry, lift the spirits of children, bring joy to the elderly and disabled, and offer assistance while partnering with social agencies.

The missionary campers stayed in the school facility at Bishop Brossart for the week. They began each day with Mass and then broke into teams, working at many different sites throughout the region. The group collectively worked more than 5,750 hours during the week. They served in soup kitchens, food pantries and worked for organizations like HONK (Housing Opportunities of Northern Kentucky), People Working Cooperatively and the Rose Garden Home Mission. Groups painted at St. Anthony School, Taylor Mill, organized crafts and activities for the aged and infirm at Carmel Manor, assisted elderly neighbors at their homes, helped with minor construction projects and cleaned properties.

In addition to service projects each day, the evenings were filled with music, skits, games and spiritual enrichment. Donna Heim, former Bishop Brossart religion teacher and Catholic minister at NKU’s Newman Center, managed the work camp.

“These campers worked hard. What I love about Catholic HEART is that it is the epitome of what it means to be Catholic packed into one week,” said Mrs. Heim. “It is like a service-learning retreat; not just serving people but also loving them as Christ does.”

Mrs. Heim said that the experience has a very positive impact on the campers and those they serve.

“It’s a win-win situation,” she said. “The campers get to experience the joy of serving others, homes in the community get restored and the people served feel loved and develop a relationship with the campers.”

Father Robert Rottgers, pastor, St. Philip Parish, Melbourne, served as the chaplain for the camp; Lee Roessler Band led the worship music; and Charles Marks, junior high teacher at St. Thomas School, Ft. Thomas, gave three presentations on the theme — “Radiance” — and how Christians are called to shine with the light of Christ. As part of the experience, adoration was offered as well as reconciliation during evening ceremonies.

Students from Bishop Brossart High School also took part in the week, serving as a hospitality committee for those visiting and living at the school. Three recent graduates — JD Schumacher, Justin Kiefer and Samantha (Sam) Webster — served those who were serving others.

“It was a great experience; not only do I think that we helped them but this experience also helped me in my faith. When you are in an environment like that it is hard not to take a step forward. Everyone there was working toward the same thing,” said Mr. Schumacher. “It was just awesome.”

Mr. Kiefer said that his favorite part was the fellowship he experienced with the campers from all over the country and worshiping Christ together.

“During the week I had an experience that really changed me. It isn’t something that I can explain but I feel it,” he said. Mr. Kiefer was inspired and is hoping to become a member of the trained Catholic HEART Workcamp team next year.

Service is very important to Miss Webster, who is also thinking about applying to become a member of the national team next year.

“Catholic HEART Workcamp allowed me to see a larger community of youth that were super passionate about helping the community and those around them. I’m struck by the joy and the passion and the faith that the whole experience brought to everyone involved,” she said.

“This is a great way to go around and spread Christ’s message and show everyone love and compassion, and teach other young people how valuable and how important service is for ourselves and our community — locally and globally.”

Mrs. Heim said that a lot of young people come to camp because they like to volunteer and serve, but she noticed something more happening below the surface.

“It seemed to me that many of them have not had that personal encounter with Christ. They know of him but they didn’t know him in such a personal way; I have seen this camp change that. Through the worship and the liturgy, tied in with the service, they experienced something that they hadn’t experienced before,” she said.

“This is what we are all about — the sacraments, the power of a community united around Christ, serving our brothers and sisters in need, worshiping together and enjoying each other’s company. It is one of those ideal moments in time when you can see what the Church is, what people do in Christ’s name.”