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March 10, 2012

Sharing Spring Break with Those in Need

Tornedo devestation
Several of us seminarians are on Spring Break this week, and after a few short days of quiet, we began looking desperately for something to fill our time. Originally, we had planned on driving up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to visit a brewery and see the city. However, news of the recent devastating tornado in Illinois kept filling the internet and airwaves, and requests for volunteers were coming from the United Way.  Seeing an opportunity to do more than just waste time, Jonathan Hill and I decided to drive down to the area that was worst hit, on the Indiana side of Louisville, Kentucky.  After driving all night, we arrived at the deserted United Way building around 3:00 am. There was a sign that said that they would reopen at 9:00 am.  So, with nothing else to do, we slept in the car until the building opened.

When morning came, other volunteers began to arrive.  A group of firefighters from Lake Odessa, Michigan were the first to come and we began to talk with them.  By the time the center opened, hundreds of volunteers filled the parking lot. Once inside, we were told that volunteers needed to register and then wait for an email or phone call, which could take several days. This was worrisome, since we only had a day or two to offer, and we had just driven five hours and slept in the car! However, thanks to our early arrival and acquaintance-making, we offered our services to the firefighters, who were given instant access to the site. They agreed to use our labor, and we were promptly sent to a nearby church to team up with Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization dedicated to relief work.

After viewing a short training video, we were outfitted with gear and sent to the nearby town of Pekin.  When we arrived, the view was heart breaking.  Houses were completely destroyed; trees pulled from their roots; roads full of debris; businesses shattered; cars flipped over; and families in grief.  Our task was simple: remove all fallen branches and chop trees to clear houses and roads.  We teamed up with other Christian brothers who had responded to the call for help as well, and worked several hours on the job.
As the day went along, we had the privilege to talk to a resident from the area who told us his survival story. He told us that when the warnings came he and his wife had took refuge in a business across the street from his house.  We were able to see the place and realized that there was barely anything left of the premises.  It was truly a miracle that this man and his wife had survived the storm.

When we finished our assigned job, we headed to Henryville, Indiana.  This town was much worse.  In fact, at times, it was hard to tell if anything was left standing for miles around.  Complete schools, business, homes, and churches were destroyed. We spent a couple of hours in this town as well, doing the same thing: chopping trees and clearing all the fallen branches that went for blocks.

Amidst so much tragedy, one thing was encouraging: seeing people come together to help those in need.  Jonathan Hill summed up the scene well: “These things have the potential to bring the best out of people”.  Alongside numerous volunteers, we performed many jobs during our time there, like cleaning the streets, repairing homes and churches, cooking in the streets for other volunteers to, driving cars around to provide drinks for workers, and much more.  There were also companies that participated in the relief work such as Duracell, Target, Tide, and various non-profits, all working together to give a little of their time, talent and treasure to people most in need.

We finished our day of relief work by loading trucks with bags of clothing to be distributed among the tornado victims.  As the day came to an end and we had to leave Henryville and head back home, to Chicago, Illinois, I could not help but put this whole experience into the context of Lent.  During Lent, we are often reminded of the cross and the passion of our Christian baptismal life. Here in Henryville, Christ reminded us that in taking part in the suffering of others there was a great opportunity to love deeper.

by Seminarian Pablo Talavera, M.M.

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