by Olivia Martin
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s not every day that a pack of nuns ambushes high school students with water balloons after an afternoon of outdoor labor.
Or dozens of teens show up for daily Mass in the summer. Or do yardwork with smiles on their faces.
But each of these scenarios is completely ordinary at Prayer and Action.
Each summer, hundreds of local teens give up a week to do manual labor for practical strangers here in the archdiocese, guided by a team of six college-aged leaders.
The grassroots program came to the archdiocese in 2011 and consists of five one-week sessions of local mission work, prayer, spiritual talks, sacraments, community and fun.
This year, Prayer and Action was headquartered at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, and ran from June 10 to July 20.
Students from Church of the Ascension in Overland Park and St. Stanislaus Parish in Rossville gathered at Blessed Sacrament the week of June 17-22 to work on a variety of sites and come to know God through service.
Gratitude in belonging
Imagine spending practically every minute with your co-workers. The Prayer and Action team eats, works, prays, relaxes, goes for Sonic runs and spends the whole summer together.
Despite the challenges that inevitably arise when people are together for long periods of time, the Holy Spirit has transformed this team from friends into family.
“I’ve been part of a lot of teams,” said George Rhodes, “and I think this team gets along the best out of any of them.”
Meanwhile, the women are grateful that living together has given them the chance to grow in Catholic sisterhood. They also have appreciated being able to pick the seminarians’ brains.
“They can answer questions in a good way that I understand,” said Maddie Gallegos. “They explain them so well — and it’s the blunt truth. But you just don’t get this opportunity.”
For the men, shooting the breeze over World Cup highlights at the end of a long day has served as a springboard to a deeper friendship.
Together they’ve learned anew what it means to accompany each other and trust in God.
A surprising companionship
“One thing that’s been apparent for me,” said team leader Rhodes, “is just how countercultural Prayer and Action is.”
Homeowner Faye McEough couldn’t agree more.
She didn’t know what to expect when her neighbor said some people were going to help her clean and tidy her house for a week.
“I was surprised that so many came to help,” said McEough. “In a sense, it surprised me because youngsters don’t do that — at least not the ones I know!”
“The fact is,” she said, “it’s been a joy working with them because I used to work all the time. I’ve gotten to be a couch potato, and they’ve made me get up!”
The group consisted of several teens, adult chaperones and Prayer and Action team members, all ready to combat unruly bushes, brimming closets and cluttered hallways.
Among the teen volunteers were Eric Biggins and Dennis White from Overland Park, both rising sophomores at St. Thomas Aquinas High School and Church of the Ascension parishioners.
Although kept busy with cleaning gutters and uprooting bushes, they found time to speak with McEough, which made their work even more meaningful.
“After getting to know Faye,” said White, “and knowing that she can’t do any of this herself, it feels really good to be able to do that for her.”
“Faye is awesome,” said Biggins, “She’s so nice — and it’s crazy because she’s 91 and looks like she’s 60!”
Giving is receiving
Across the parking lot from Blessed Sacrament Parish is the small convent that houses the Fraternity the Poor of Jesus Christ Sisters.
A work group assembled there to help sort clothing, organize the pantry and give the basement a wash and fresh paint.
Angie Bittner, the outreach coordinator for rural youth in the archdiocese, is from St. Stanislaus Parish in Rossville. She was pleased to chaperone the group and work alongside the Sisters.
“For the rural kids of our region,” said Bittner, “we don’t have many opportunities to interact with seminarians and religious.
“It’s been amazing to even just be with them.”
Bittner and the students alike were amazed by the Sisters’ joy and mischievousness.
“Some people think that we nuns are boring and always in a bad mood,” said Sister Mariana, PJC. “But no! We are the Catholic Church — we have to have joy in our lives!”
Sister Mariana arrived in the United States from Brazil eight months ago with nothing but the English she had learned from video games like “Final Fantasy.”
She couldn’t stop smiling as she spoke about her experience with the Prayer and Action youth.
“It’s amazing how they’ve helped us and how they’ve brought joy to our lives,” she said.
“We [Sisters] came here to give,” she added, “but we’ve received a lot more.”
A simple life is the good life
“I love the simplicity of Prayer and Action,” said Bittner, “and that the kids come with their hearts open to having an amazing week.
“There aren’t giant screens or loud music, and every day presents an obvious opportunity to serve the Lord.”
The lack of a technological presence is one of the trademarks and selling points of Prayer and Action, as cellphones and other electronics must be relinquished at the start of each week.
Anna Schuckman, a member of St. Stanislaus Parish, was happy to give up electronics for a week of Prayer and Action.
She found in it, Schuckman said, a simple yet infinitely profound experience.
“I love [eucharistic] adoration,” she said, particularly when the group goes together on Thursday night.
“Nothing can beat adoration, I think.”
For more information on the Prayer and Action program, visit the website.