Friday, July 25, 2008

A Community of Faith

With all the activities that surrounded the last few days of our time in Sydney, we've been a little lax in getting things posted on the blog. Like the folks in Mississippi, we're back safely as well, and here's the rundown of our week (also in 200 words or less).

Saturday morning: Mass with all the U.S. pilgrims said by Cardinal George
Saturday afternoon: pilgrimage walk to Randwick Racecourse (about 3 miles)
Saturday evening: Candlelight Evening Vigil with Pope Benedict. Imagine 350,000 candles in an enormous field. Very cool. Check out what the Pope had to say.
Saturday night: slept outside at Randwick (and I use the term "sleep" very loosely)
Sunday morning: The Pope said Mass for 400,000 and we were about as close to him as we could get without wearing a bishop's hat. He gave a great homily (although a bit long for the sleep deprived).

Mass concluded World Youth Day and we spent the rest of the week sightseeing in the Blue Mountains.

Mike Hayes spent WYD recording video of our trip. Check out the videos and his reflections at and keep an ear out for a podcast live from Sydney.

At Charis, we conclude our retreats by asking people to share a grace that they received during the weekend. Looking back at this trip, I can name lots of graces that I experienced (which I will spare you from reading here), but the biggest one was the strength, diversity and blessing of the community I was there with. Thank you Mike, Melissa, Lexy, Briana, Lori, Chrissy, Amina, Zulma, Jessica and Ana for sharing this experience with me.

-Lauren G

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Things We Carry

Sunday, July 20, 2008
I know it's a few days past Sunday, and a little late in the game to let you know that we all returned home safely on Saturday night. I never understood what a powerful experience a service trip like this can be, until I tried to say it in less than 200 words.

It was a joyful and tearful good-bye as we left our old and new friends in Pontotoc. We accomplished a tremendous amount of work with a fantastic amount of energy and humor. Our final dinner together was blessed with much food and many t-shirts, and graced with the presence of all our partners and the family that will soon be living in the house we worked on.

I am grateful for Paul, Dave, Blair, Karen, Clete, Chris, Dania, Lindsey, Jay, Tim and Brian, and will carry them in my heart. I will always be thankful for Barbara, Wayne, Keith, Linda, Rachel, Brother Ken, Patrick, Bill, Jerry, Pastor Ken, Glenda, Diane, Fairy, Rosa, Richard & Ruth, Dr. Terry, Susan and everyone else who gave of themselves all week.

Earlier in the week, we prayed together with the pastor of West Heights Church, who thanked the Lord for the sacrifice the 12 of us made. That stuck with me all week, as I never once felt that I sacrificed anything. I was surrounded by kind, generous people (from Pontotoc AND from the Midwest), I was fed more good food than I've ever seen, and I had the time of my life. I will carry this experiece with me forever - not as a sacrifice, but as a gift.

Lauren B.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mass at the Sydney Opera House

I'm not going to lie, going to Adoration and Mass at the Sydney Opera House today was by far one of the highlights of this trip! Lori and I took an adventure this morning to the SOH for Adoration provided by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's nuns!) The sisters sang such beautiful music, and it was really amazing to be with around 200 other people (religious, locals, and pilgrims alike) to share in the divine mystery of the Eucharist in the middle of a small "black box" theater layout.

It has been an interesting week of prayer, chaos, crowds, and blessings in the ordinary. While it feels very much like walking through the streets of Chicago or another large American city (where's the culture shock? It doesn't exist!), it's still amazing to walk by random groups of people chanting "Benedetto" or "Oy Oy Oy!" or one of their national songs. Lots of free hugs, high fives, and general merriment have occurred throughout the week.

Tomorrow we head to Randwick for the big overnight. It will be challenging in many ways - one, it's a LONG walk! Secondly, as we've already experienced at the Opening Mass, the Papal Arrival, and today's Stations of the Cross, it can be hard to find a spirit of reverence and prayer in the midst of so many people. However, as I discovered in St. Mary's Cathedral last night (after going through massive security!), the peace and knowledge of Christ's passion and his presence in this crowd can be felt if one stops to listen, and to let it come inside.

I pray Our Lady of the Southern Cross keeps all of us, our fellow pilgrims, the Mississippi folks, and everyone back home safe during the next few days!

Briana C.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mississippi Inspiration

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Five days ago, most of us were strangers who knew each other as well as Antartica knows a 70-degree day. Five days later, we've grown into a family called together to serve other people in God's name. I came to Pontotoc this week to serve and be inspired and the 11 people I'm with inspire me every day to live that calling.

Wednesday was our off day: A day of rest and adventure as we explored the undiscovered Mississippi country. One group set out in search of Clarksdale, the mystical home of Tennessee Williams, the beauty of the Mississippi Delta and a good barbecue joint. The group was detoured by a flooded Missississippi River and a couple wrong turns. What could have been a wild goose chase and a very frustrating day turned into a bonding experience complete with a marathon game of 20 questions, some soulful kaoroke and many laughs.

Another group set out in search of a water park in a land far, far away. We found it in the form of our human GPS system, Dania, and rediscovered the kids in ourselves by conquering our fear of heights on Mt. Everwet.

The theme of the day was Christian friendship, which we've experienced from everyone we've met this week and everywhere we've gone. "Love thy neighbor" has always been my favorite Christian law. The people of Pontotoc and my friends on this trip have been inspirational examples for me and powerful examples of God's love.

Clete C.


We saw the Pope today! And thanks to Lexy's planning and some standing of our ground on all of our parts, we were 5 feet from the Popemobile when it passed by us. Granted, it was going about 40 mph at the time, but that's beside the point. There was a lot of excitement throughout the day as we were waiting for the Pope to officially arrive at WYD (obviously). He traveled by boat along Sydney Harbor before disembarking to speak to us in 7 languages, talking about the challenges that we face as young people living in such a secular society while still trying to live out our faith each day. Throughout WYD so far, different people have talked about how "easy" it is to be a faithful Christian during a pilgrimage experience such as this, but how much more difficult it is in our daily lives. Today we were again reminded that there is a universal Church that connects us all to one another.

On a separate note, and on behalf of the Laurens and Briana, I would like to thank Chris for holding down the fort at the Charis office. We will be praying for those on the Come to the Quiet retreat throughout the weekend from down here in the "Great Southland of the Holy Spirit."

-Lauren G

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sequestered in Chicago…Charis Somehow Continues without the Laurens and Briana

I know shocking right?

Somehow in the midst of globetrotting down under and melting in Mississippi heat, Charis is gearing up for our summer Come to the Quiet retreat and closing the books on another fiscal year. Jealous? Maybe a little?

Let me say that there is a lot of glamour and grace in the behind-the-scenes work. Prepping a retreat, cleaning up mailing lists, writing transition plans, and balancing the books may not seem like grace-filled work but it is. This work is the like liver to body, the mirepoix* to the soup…wait…better yet, the bass player in the band. It’s vital. There is such joy in creating the foundation of a successful retreat and organization. So remember friends, the girls may have the cool passport stamp and soaked in southern accents but I have the joy of the Green room (and I am blasting ChrisPod**…you better believe it!)

Stay Positive

*for the non-foodies out there – a mirepoix is a traditional base of a stock that consists of chopped onions, carrot and celery. The trinity if you will…in fact the Cajuns replace carrots with green peppers for base of many dishes and they call that the trinity.

**for the non-music snobs out there – the ChrisPod is filled with many different musical gems that simultaneously keeps the Green room at Charis rocking and annoying Lauren G and Briana C throughout the day!

Tuesday - Ritual and Building Community

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Someone yesterday asked me “Is this typical, what we were able to accomplish on the first day?” I didn’t really know how to respond to the question because I never had really quantified the amount of work done on these service trips. As the only person who has attended all the Charis service trips, I sometimes am looked to as someone with knowledge of the past and of the trade. As a teacher in the classroom during my daily life, I am used to that ritual, people new to an experience asking for guidance from those who have been there before.

If one watches Keith, our construction supervisor, work over the last couple days, one will notice he does not say much, an occasional instruction or a laugh at someone else’s joke, but that is about it. But as a man with forty years or more of carpentry experience, it is easy to see how ritualistic his work-style is, how rhythmic it is. And if one was to watch us today, one could see similar rhythms. Whether it was nailing up wall boards or putting the trusses of the roof into place, each person took up the job that best fit them: stud-finder, nail-gunner, pivoter. We have developed a rhythm where the whole works better the sum of our parts. Catholicism is religion steeped heavily in ritual. We thrive on the communal experience of prayer, song and Eucharist. Maybe there is something to this Jesus was a carpenter thing. And as we build the home for a Habitat family, we build our own community among ourselves.

Dave W.

Holiness in a parking lot

World Youth Day has officially begun and we are joined by Mike, Amina, Zulma, Jessica and Ana! Yesterday was the Opening Mass with Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, and 150,000 of our fellow pilgrims. Today was the first of our catechetical sessions and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ (the first Jesuit Archbishop) spoke about our call to follow the Holy Spirit. When asked how we can try to be more holy in our daily lives--meaning after the WYD high fades and we return to "real life"--he said that we should strive for "sanctification in the midst of our world." This is very much the Ignatian idea of "finding God in all things" and looking for God in our daily lives, regardless of what we are doing at the time.

As I was thinking about this, I couldn't help but think back to yesterday's opening Mass. There we were--standing in what was, as far as I can tell, a giant parking lot surrounded by fences, people talking, laughing and singing, and a half dozen jumbo-trons--smack dab in the middle of a Mass with what seemed like a thousand priests, bishops and cardinals. On the one hand it seemed so ordinary and so secular (I was standing next to a big trash can). On the other hand it was amazing to see so many young people gathered together by a common faith and for the common purpose of worshiping God. It seemed like the perfect example of what Archbishop Prendergast was talking about when he said we should strive for holiness no matter where we are or what we are doing.

With all that has been going on so far, we can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!
-Lauren G

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jay's Pontotoc Perspective

Monday, July 14

Service. It is a word that connotes giving, yet somehow I receive so much more than I feel I give each time I undertake it. Today, twelve eager young Chicagoans set out into the Mississippi heat to understand how “service” works in the world of construction. We quickly learned that our respective job/leadership skills take a back seat to the superior knowledge of some gifted and dedicated “Pontotocans”, who demonstrated the virtues of perseverance, patience and understanding from sun up to sun down. They un-bent nails, sawed off edges, and gave countless instructions to us. The work was intense to be sure. But the dominant feelings in our muscles this evening is not fatigue (though present too), but instead one of accomplishment, community, and joy.

We turned an open cement plank into four complete walls, part of a roof, and several painted cabinets. But more importantly we laughed, we helped, we built, we encouraged, we listened, we prayed, and we loved. Some call this giving, but as I sit here tonight, I feel like a just opened a great big present. Thank You God for a wonderful day.

Jay M.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day of Gathering

Sunday, July 13

Good to hear from our friends in Sydney; what a powerful experience. As to the heat - it's only been in the lower 90s here. We'd gladly trade you for a chilly evening!

Sunday broke bright and early for us as we headed off to St. Christopher Church for 8:00am Mass. The 200 parishioners had heard we would be arriving this week - our brand new friend Carolyn even volunteered to take us all out to breakfast after Mass! So we had food for the soul and food for the journey from our friends at St. Christopher.

Fr. Tim Muphy helped us put our upcoming week into perspective. Today's Gospel shares the parable of the sower and seeds - but rather than focusing entirely on how the seed of the Word falls on different types of people, Fr. Tim shared with us that "not everything small is beautiful, but everything beautiful is small." That particulary resonated with us today as we talked about painting cabinets and putting up walls at our Habitat House; even though what we are doing is small, it is beautiful, and part of a larger beauty.
After breakfast, we headed of to Ole Miss to check out the campus, stadium and the home of William Faulkner. Later, our site manager Keith, his wife Linda, granddaughter Katie, and Barbara and Wayne hosted us for a fantastic home-cooked meal - complete with the best sweet tea. All of us are excited to get to the site tomorrow and put in our contribution to the beauty that is this project.

A side note to all you Pontotoc Veterans out there - the newest street in the subdivision has been named after Brother Joe!

More authors will share soon!

Lauren B.

Longest Commute Ever

Saturday, July 12
Neither rain, nor wind, nor heat nor state troopers could keep us from our destination! All 12 of us (finally) made it down to Pontotoc in 12 hours - which we think is the record for Longest Trip Ever.

Personally, I enjoyed the ride. After all the time put into planning and getting ready to leave (Did I pack the right clothes? Do I have the right directions? Will my cats be OK? Did I have the right keys? Do I have this, that, the other thing?) it was actually quite nice to have the time and space to think about what lies ahead of us for the week.
Immediately upon arrival, our friends Mickey, Patrick, Wayne and Barbara met us at First Baptist and welcomed us back like long lost friends. We were touched at how thankful they were that we had come; but what really struck me at the end of the day was that Mickey said he was thankful for the opportunity to pray with us. To be able to be thankful for the chance to honor God with someone else, whether someone you've known your whole life or met 5 minutes ago, seemed like a wonderful state of mind. As we reflected together in evening, to feel so wanted was a great way to start our time in Pontotoc.
Lauren B.

A Report from Down Under

At this point, hopefully LB and company are safely Down South in Mississippi. My guess is that they are INFINITELY warmer than we are since the Australians don't believe in heating their buildings in the winter. Despite the very cold nights, we've been having a wonderful time at the Ignatian Gathering here at Riverview reconnecting with our experiment group and with others.

Today was a day for networking and finding out what ministries are going on for people in their 20s and 30s all around the world. I was simultaneously amazed at how much similarity and how much diversity there is in young adult ministry internationally. We shared how important it is to build a community where people feel welcome and empowered to live out their faith. I also learned about the ways that different cultures view the term "young adult" and how that impacts the type of programs they offer. It also amazed me that people from other countries had already heard about Charis and the work that we are doing. We even got a shout out from Fr. Dave of the London Jesuits. I had over a dozen people ask me afterwards if they could talk more about Charis' ministries and how they could adapt them to their country. It was definitely inspirational as we prepare to leave the Ignatian Gathering and join with the rest of the group from the Archdiocese of Chicago tomorrow afternoon.

-Lauren G.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Finding God in Daily Life

Today was the first day of the Ignatian Gathering in Sydney, to celebrate the end of Magis and prepare for the start of World Youth Day on Tuesday. It has been brillant catching up with all of our friends from our Experiment group and seeing what other groups have been up to in other parts of Australia, Cambodia, Phillipines, and Indonesia.

This afternoon, the World Youth Day cross and icon arrived at St. Ignatius Riverview College, where we are staying. At first I wasn't sure what to expect, but this gorgeous piece of wood with its simple stain was very beautiful and powerful, especially during tonight's vigil. We had an opportunity to venerate the cross prior to dinner and the skits representing our Magis group's experience. After the evening of praise & worship music and the various exciting and entertaining presentations, all the pilgrims were invited to participate in a simple vigil service with the cross.

It was one of the first experiences on this trip to sit in silent meditation and be present to the Lord, and I found it very peaceful and healing. It is amazing, as others have shared this week and tonight, how easy it is to be distracted in our daily lives and to miss the glaringly obvious graces of God and signs of his love and mercy. We get focused on the logistics, the details, the plans - we get caught up in our own desires and our own needs and our own wants and our own ideas of how things are supposed to be and where our attention is supposed to be focused. But here it was, right in front of our face, and even in the early part of tonight it was difficult to focus on it. It was difficult to make God the center of our life and attention, even for a short period of time. I think for many of us, that will be the challenge we continue to pray on throughout the week and beyond World Youth Day.

I know this was a bit heavy for a blog, but the spirit of the moment called and asked me to write it down. Don't worry, we still had a variety of random laughter and singing once the rest of our group arrived today, including stories involving fast food, dreams with singing, and more.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Down Under vs Down South (LG vs LB)

Who needs a whole 'nother continent to have a good time? Sure, Lauren G, Briana & Crew are jetsetting around Australia as part of the Pope's peeps. But even better than that - Lauren B, Dave & Company are off on a good ol' fashioned ROAD TRIP. You guessed it, it's time for Charis' Annual Service Trip!

Dave and I are excited to hit the road with Paul, Blair, Karen, Clete, Chris, Dania, Lindsey, Jay, Tim and Brian. Dave is a seasoned veteran of Charis Service Trips, while this will be my inaugural visit to the fine state of Mississippi. We're off to Pontotoc, Mississippi to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Working with each other by day and staying with our friends at the First Baptist Church of Pontotoc by night, we hope our time away will give us space to reflect on our service, our faith and ourselves.

Aside from the physical and spiritual benefits of laboring for others, I'm hoping for some great food. Bet you can't get good grits in Sydney! Check back for more update and pics as we become "contemplatives in SERIOUS action."

Lauren B.

Safely in Sydney...

As Briana said, we're now safely in Sydney. We said a temporary goodbye to our Indian and Irish friends and hopped a plane from Melbourne to Sydney for the Ignatian Gathering of the Magis08 program at St. Ignatius College, Riverview. While they will arrive at 5am after a 10 hour overnight bus ride, we are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after our flight (thanks to David, our friendly flight attendant). They'll join 1200 other Magis participants from sites around the world for two days of reflection on the service experiences we've had.

Yesterday, some of us went back into the Melbourne city center to see some sights. After some shopping at the Queen Victoria Market and a picture in front of Super Mario, we walked around the town and chatted with pilgrims from France, Chile, Kenya and South Korea before heading back for our final evening with our larger group. The night ended much as the rest of our nights had, with us laughing hysterically while learning Irish expressions, breaking into both Indian and Irish song and dance, and talking with some of the coolest people I've had the opportunity to meet in quite a while.

We're looking forward to Ana, Zulma, Mike, Amina and Jessica joining us here on Monday for the start of World Youth Day!
-Lauren G.

Aboriginal Art and Spirituality

'Allo and good day... greetings from lovely Sydney, Australia! It's hard to believe we're finally here, home of the 2000 Olympics, the great Opera House, and the Harbour Bridge. We have yet to see any kangaroos or koalas outside of souvenir shops and postcards, but we've still managed to experience authentic Australian culture!

One of the best experiences I've had this week, besides sharing in a great love of SERVICE and ART, is to learn about the Aboriginal culture. There are many tribes throughout the nation of Australia, and we were lucky enough to be in Melbourne during NAIDOC Week. NAIDOC (National Aboriginal Islander Day Observance Committee) was created to recognize the unjustice done to the Aboriginal people by the English/Australian government (very similar to the Native American situation in the United States) and to celebrate the culture of those indigenous people. During the week, we experienced this culture in a variety of ways. On Wednesday, Group B went to the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) and saw a variety of authentic Australia paintings, including a large collection of modern representations and reproductions of Aboriginal patterns, themes, and history. We also went to the Royal Botanic Gardens, where they held a 2-hour festivity celebrating Aboriginal heritage. We participated in a smoke circle, authentic music by Aboriginal artists and instruments, ate traditional food, got our faces painted with some of their symbols and signs, and painted pictures with ochre that we made ourselves with clay and water.

On Thursday, many of us also visited the Aboriginal Cultural Center downtown. They had traditional food, music, and dancing as well as a permanent exhibit that shared their long and tumultuous history and 2 separate art exhibits by modern indigenous artists.

All in all, the relationship with the earth and the connection between their spirituality and their art were very profound and inspirational to myself and many members of our group. So much so that our Experiment Group's banner (which will be on display at this weekend's Ignatian Gathering) has many elements of Aboriginal art.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Oh the Places you Go...

Yesterday some of us were on our day in city where we had the opportunity to be immersed in Australian culture, where you can stop on Collins Street, similar to Michigan Avenue, be able to find as many tacky Australian soveniers as you can possible imagine with kangeroos and koalas on them OR go and visit the art museum and St. Patrick's Cathedral. We opted for choice three.

As part of our experiment with Finding God in Art and Service we have the opportunity to experience some art at the NGV ( National Gallery of Victoria) where we saw some famous Australian paintings, and learned just a a little about Aboriginal art. One of the famous paintings we saw was called Shearing Rams and is represantative of a large part of Australian Culture.

Also in our adventures we had the opportunity to see St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne. It was a beautiful cathedral and there is a program going in on that is called Days in the Diocese and many pilgrims from others countries were there at the Cathedral. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so many pilgrims, I can only imagine what World Youth Day will be like. There is even part of the Cathedral that is called Pilgrim's Path.

One never knows where your adventures will lead but as long as God is guiding your footsteps it should turn out alright.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Discernment Day

Discernment: Day of Prayer and Reflection

On June 21, 2008, a group of about 15 young adults met on the campus of Loyola University to pray and reflect. Led by Dr. John Neafsey, we had an opportunity to prayerfully examine the intimate relationship between personal calling and social conscience in our lives.

Throughout the day Dr. Neafsey offered us ideas to think about. We were sent off to the quiet to prayerfully reflect on the concepts and returned to share in group. The lakefront provided me, and many of the others gathered, the perfect opportunity to come to the quiet and reflect on the rich experiences of Christ in our life. To look at the 'coincidences' that St. Ignatius explains, that move our life forward. To judge whether these internal movements come from Christ's action. A discernment of spirits.

It was difficult for me to put aside a Saturday on my calendar to concentrate on prayer. I often find the time for many other things and think that I can just pray later. I have my entire life to do that. I am glad I put aside this Saturday for prayer. It opened my eyes to reflect daily on the whispers of the Spirit. Do you find time to come to the quiet and listen to the Holy Spirit coming from within? Try it and you will be glad you did!

Lou S.

Greetings from Melbourne!

G'day mates! After a VERY long flight complete and lack of sleep, we are now into our third "full" day in Melbourne and have begun our Magis experiment. There are 20 of us from Ireland, India, Croatia, Italy, Korea and Chicago. Today, half of us went to Sacred Heart Mission to serve lunch to the guests and spend time in the elderly hostel. Being on the lunch crew, it was quite amusing to hear people say "you've got a funny accent, where are you from?" The Mission is quite amazing in all the programs it offers and the gourmet 3 course meal it serves to a few hundred people every day.

After lunch, we joined in with some of the visitors for their art group. Some people got into it right away, others (including yours truly), found it a little tougher to get started. After a few failed attempts with pastels and crayons, I discovered that if you use watercolor paints, you can erase things you don't like just by adding more water! The mission now has the artwork of a few errant Americans hanging on its walls.

Tonight we'll take part in the Magis reflection component and have Mass and the chance to see how God was present with us during our activities throughout the day. Tomorrow we get up and start again!

-Lauren G

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Our bags are packed, we're ready to go...

We're almost ready! After months of planning, logistics and prayer, tomorrow is the day that Lori, Lexy, Briana, Melissa and I leave for the Magis'08 program in Melbourne, Australia. Assuming we don't go stir-crazy on our 18 hour plane ride, we are meeting up with Chrissy, who is already in Australia, to take part in an Ignatian "Experiment," or experience, called Finding God in Art and Service. At our site, we will be serving at the Sacred Heart Mission and spending time exploring the art and tradition of Melbourne with two other groups from India and Ireland (yay for fun accents!).

After our week in Melbourne, we'll head to Sydney to spend the weekend with over 1,000 other young adults who did experiments throughout Australia, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines reflecting on our our experiences of having "a faith that does justice."

At the end of our time with the Magis'08 program, we'll be joined by Jessica, Ana, Amina, Zulma, Mike (of fame), and a few hundred thousand of our other closest friends to take part in World Youth Day. Check back over the next three weeks for more posts from the Land Down Under!

-Lauren G