In the city of angels, a team of Franciscan University of Steubenville students spent its spring break ministering to students in Catholic grade schools and the homeless population.
“There’s a darkness there. … We get to bring a little flame of Christ to them,” said Sarah Lawlor, sophomore theology major and Los Angeles Mission team member.
Every spring break, Franciscan University’s Missions of Peace sends hundreds of students to serve the spiritually and physically impoverished all over the world. This spring of 2018 was the second time a Mission of Peace served the city of Los Angeles, California.
In September of 2017, the L.A. mission team applied for the Mission of Peace outreach and began preparing as soon as they were accepted. Included on the Franciscan University team were two Carmelite sisters, Sister Martin Marie King, OCD, and Sister Mary Louise Marck, OCD, who went to support their Carmelite order in Los Angeles. With weekly mass, holy hour and team breakfast, the group of students and sisters prepared throughout the year to serve together in L.A.
The weekend they arrived, the team members focused their hearts during a retreat put by the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, the order that hosted the group.
Each day of the week, the team served students in the local Catholic school, grades ranging from pre-school to the eighth grade. With the sisters and a single chaplain, the missionaries of peace assisted in leading retreats, small groups, games and adoration. They also supported students as they prepared to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Marissa Gavender, sophomore communication arts major, had the privilege of encouraging an eighth grader who was nervous to go to confession for the first time. Gavender, whose first confession was her freshman year of high school, related to the student, telling her to not be afraid and working to “instill that God was going to pour out his graces on her.”
Gavender noted with a smile, “Afterwards she was just beaming. It was great!”
After helping in Catholic schools, every evening the missionaries of peace prepared to serve the homeless communities of Los Angeles. They took time to make burritos that they would walk around and distribute in districts of Los Angeles.
Every night the missionaries visited a different homeless niche, including Skid Row, widely referred to as the homeless capital of the United States. Justin Perry, senior clinical psychology major, said, “The burritos were really an instrument in bringing Christ to (the homeless).”
Lawlor said she and her team members loved being able to “see a glimpse of Christ in them” despite their harsh reality.
Driving home from the nightly homeless ministry, Joseph Palmer, junior communication arts major was “struck” by the poverty of wealth and spirituality. “The contrast was so impressive for the whole team.” Palmer described what he saw as “hopelessness in one place and then a different kind of hopelessness in another.”
The nights were long and the showers few, but the mission team found recourse in personal prayer. The members were continually “inspired” by Mike Manhardt, who regularly ministers to the homeless in L.A. as part of the group One Strong F.A.M.I.L.Y (Forget About Me I Love You) and fosters personal relationship with every person he comes across, said the team.
Manhardt encouraged the Franciscan missionaries to speak to every person as friends, instead of approaching them with hesitation. He focused on the fundamental principle of mission work: that all are brothers and sisters in Christ and called to love as Christ did.
Every team member chose the L.A. mission for a particular reason. Emilija Lapas, junior theology and catechetics major, was drawn to serve with the Carmelite order that has been prevalent in her own life. Lapas said, “I really thought this could be a great opportunity to say thank you … and serve in a way I never had before.”
The L.A. mission team encouraged anyone interested in a mission trip to pursue the call. Junior english writing major Sarah Peffer, shared how the experience changed her. Peffer said, “It’s really a very intentional way of loving and serving people that you don’t get in everyday life. … It helps you discover who you are and who you want to be.”
“It teaches you how to love,” said Lapas.