By Daniel Rice, Seminarian
On the morning of Tuesday, June 27, I drove down I-95 and Route 1 to Fredericksburg. At this point, the 2017 Diocesan WorkCamp was well underway, and had been for three days. Each year, over 1,300 teens, contractors, adult leaders, and volunteers from parishes throughout the diocese spend a week of their summer at WorkCamp, helping those less fortunate than themselves in a particular area of the diocese. This year (as well as the past couple years), WorkCamp was centered in Fredricksburg at Massaponax High School. When I arrived around 10:00AM, the high school was not the bustling city it usually is, since the teens and their adult leaders had already departed for their daily work sites. When I arrived, I checked in with the homebase team, who work to ensure that things will run smoothly at the high school. On homebase team, our jobs range from filling up hundreds of water coolers each day, to putting up signs, to leading games, to simply spending time with the campers, accompanying them in their work, prayer, and activities.
That Tuesday, I had the enviable job of visiting sites. With two of my peers from homebase, I drove 45 minutes through the beautiful Virginia countryside to a site where about eleven teens and four adult leaders were putting up a clothesline, making a garden, and clearing off the back porch of a woman in need of that assistance. After spending some time talking with them and encouraging them, we made our way to our second site visit, where a group of a similar size was working on a trailer to replace several windows, clean and paint the roof, and replace the bottom two feet of siding all the way around. We ate lunch with this group, having some good and fruitful conversation in the cool shade of a tree in the front lawn of the resident for whom they were working.
We got back to the high school in time for homebase’s afternoon meeting, in which we went over the upcoming events for that evening and had roles assigned to each of us. Each evening, campers return from their work sites, endure long lines for showers, eat dinner, and spend time with friends. At about 6:30PM, everyone goes into the gym (which has been carpeted and furnished with a stage) for Program, a time when the WorkCampers gather for songs, talks, fun activities, prayer, and a slide show video of campers at their sites that day. The specific contents of Program vary day by day, but Tuesday’s Program is always the highlight of the week.
After a short slide show and a brief introduction, Bishop Burbidge came on stage and spoke a few words to the youths, expressing to them his amazement at seeing and being present at his first Arlington WorkCamp, encouraging them, relating a story of a grateful resident whom a couple crews were helping, and telling them all to be silent with Jesus Christ in adoration, saying to Him, “Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening” (cf. 1 Samuel 3:9). The Bishop then led adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament–at which I had the privilege to serve–first exposing our Lord, next processing with Him through the crowd of people, and finally placing Him back on the altar. For the next hour or more, all adored Jesus during the rosary, some music, and some time of silent prayer. While I went to the section for prayer partners (adults to whom the teens can come to have one-on-one conversation and prayer), Bishop and more than 50 other priests went to their stations to hear Confessions. They were certainly kept busy, and many of the teens had a powerful encounter with God that night through those two Sacraments, the Most Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation. For many, this was the first time they had ever been to adoration and the first time in several years that they had been to Confession. In my years as a work-camper, this night was powerful indeed, and was influential in my decision to apply to the seminary. After the conclusion of Program each night, the teens meet together with their parish groups to share and discuss their experiences and other aspects of their lives.
Each year that I go to help with WorkCamp, I meet amazing people. This year was no different, and although I could write or talk about many of the people I met, I will pick just one. One man on this year’s homebase team lives in England. Being born and raised across the pond, he is now in a university there while also doing youth ministry at a Catholic Parish. One of his American friends gave such rave reviews of Arlington’s WorkCamp that he flew over to America just for that week! He said that already WorkCamp had blown him away and that he is going to do his very best to come back next year. Hearing his experience and seeing his example of Christian joy, I realized how truly blessed we are to live in such an amazing diocese, how blessed I have been to be involved with WorkCamp for several years, and how good it is to be a seminarian for this diocese.
On Wednesday, I served morning Mass (an everyday occurrence at WorkCamp, the work being balanced with prayer) with the bishop and several other priests and seminarians. Following that, I helped carry water coolers, made another site visit, helped with various small jobs around the school, welcomed the campers back upon their return, helped collect their lunch bags, and watched the talent show rehearsal–these teens have some serious skills. I departed that evening, giving thanks for the couple days I spent there and praying for all who would remain for a couple more.
See the recap video of Diocesan WorkCamp 2017 here.
St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us.