Food Fast teaches Northwest Deanery teens solidarity with poor and hungry

By Jenara Kocks Burgess

Correspondent

May 6, 2013

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Sacred Heart youth minister Cassie Erazo leads teens in prayer in a makeshift chapel representing Catholicism in India. (Photo courtesy of Cassie Erazo)

When Cassie Erazo became the youth minister of Sacred Heart Church in Wichita Falls in 2006, she had never heard of a Food Fast Retreat, but the teens encouraged her to put one on because they had attended one before she came.

“We began because of the interest of the youth, and we continue because of the interest of the youth,” she said. “We also continue to offer this retreat because we believe in the real difference and positive impact it is making both in the lives of the people the donations go to as well as the difference it is making in the hearts, minds and souls of our young people. It helps build responsible and compassionate global citizens who will live a more Christ-like life,” she said.

Food Fast is an event that was created by Catholic Relief Services to answer the call of young Catholics who want to respond to the needs of the poor around the world, according to a CRS press release. Youth and adults abstain from food for 24 hours, and ask for donations to send to CRS to feed the poor.

Last year, about 100 participants at Sacred Heart, with the help of the surrounding community, raised more than $3,700 in sponsorship pledges to send to CRS to fund their humanitarian aid projects in the Horn of Africa.

This year, a total of 81 teens in grades seven through 12, along with 32 adults from Sacred Heart and Our Lady Queen of Peace parishes in Wichita Falls, and St. Joseph Parish in Rhineland and St. Jude Parish in Burkburnett participated in the retreat that focused on the poor of India.

Adult volunteer Angie Dunn, who attended the retreat first as a youth in the 1990s, was in charge of collecting the funds  raised as well as overseeing technology for the 2013 retreat. She said she continues to help with the retreats because of the live experience of a 24-hour fast topped with live education (speakers and videos) of what poverty is and that it continues to exist at such an extreme level in the world today.

“Our daily struggles are so small compared to their survival hardships,” she said. “The yearly reflection during our season of Lent just makes it all so much more special.”

Erazo said that 19 teens and 28 adults serve on the team.

“Some volunteers dedicated well over 100 hour of service in the weeks prior to Food Fast to help make the retreat a reality,” Erazo said.

She said that Food Fast is not necessarily meant to highlight just one country, but beginning in 2010 the local effort dedicated the funds raised for Haiti because of the devastating earthquake there that year. Erazo said  the teens learned more and were affected more by focusing on a specific country that year.

Participants in the annual Food Fast held at Sacred Heart Parish in Wichita Falls pose for a group photo. (Photo courtesy of Cassie Erazo)

“This year, we chose India because it is the country with the largest number of hungry people in the world,” Erazo said, noting that more than 40 percent of children younger than five are malnourished. “We also are blessed with multiple Indian Catholic priests in our deanery, and learning about their country of origin is a nice way of getting to know our pastors better.” Father Aju Prince, HGN, sacramental minister for St. Joseph, and for Santa Rosa Parish in Knox City, and Father Albert Kanjiranthumkal, HGN, sacramental minister for Sacred Heart Parish in Seymour and St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Megargel, both attended and shared their personal experiences of growing up in India.

Everything at the retreat centered on India from the guest speakers and videos from CRS to the decorations, prayer services, and fun activities. A prayer room was designed to represent India with images of Blessed Mother Theresa, an elephant, and a tiger, painted by volunteer Genie Buchanan, and silk pillows for visitors to the room to sit on.

Erazo said every year a guiding verse of Scripture for the retreat is displayed in the prayer room and printed on their retreat T-shirts. This year they used a quote from Blessed Mother Theresa: “If you cannot feed 100 people, then feed just one.” She said they incorporated Mother Theresa because she spent almost 70 years of her life dedicated to the poorest of the poor in India and founded the Missionaries of Charity religious order in Calcutta, whose sisters continue to serve India’s poor.

“One of the prayers we created this year.” Erazo said, was a prayer that borrowed from some of her Mother Theresa’s most well-known quotes.

The retreat ends each year with Mass and a dinner at the parish hall.

“Ending the retreat with Palm Sunday Mass was extremely moving,” said Rachel Parke, a 17-year-old senior at Notre Dame Catholic High School in Wichita Falls y. “It tied in the concept that Food Fast truly is a Lenten retreat and that we are all ‘one body, one spirit in Christ.’ We are truly united with our brothers and sisters who celebrate the Eucharist around the world,” she said.

Hayli Otto, a 17-year-old Notre Dame senior and team member, added that “receiving the Eucharist as your first morsel is the most fulfilling meal of all.”

The dinner or feast, as they call it, after the Mass is a celebration for the retreatants and team along with their families and all the parishioners, Erazo said.

Angie Dunn said the Stewards of Sacred Heart provide the meal by cooking authentic foods of the country or area of the world the retreat is focusing on for the weekend. “We focus on serving simple staple foods to finish off the 24 hours accordingly, keeping the focus on poverty.”

Dunn said the Stewards pay for the food, so that the cost does not reduce the amoun given to Catholic Relief Services. A slideshow of photos taken at the retreat and set to music is played at the feast, Erazo said.

Parkey has attended six Food Fast retreats since she was first eligible in seventh grade. She said everyone’s first Food Fast is usually the most difficult, but it is even more difficult to be on team while fasting.

“When on the team you have to remember you are a role model, and you have to focus on giving the retreatants a memorable experience, not on how hungry you are,” she said.

Otto said how she has learned to approach the retreat.

“Acknowledge your hunger, but do not let it consume you,” she said. “Let your hunger be a reminder that you are walking in solidarity with those suffering from hunger.”

Food-Fast-Button.jpgWhen Cassie Erazo became the youth minister of Sacred Heart Church in Wichita Falls in 2006, she had never heard of a Food Fast Retreat, but the teens encouraged her to put one on because they had attended one before she came.

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