Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 20, 1999
Students rally to help the poor
Liturgy, service united in high-energy Santas anonymous project
By CHARLES WECKEND
Special to the WCR
Like strands of barbed wire,we wrap cutting words around our youth: "lost, lazy, spoiled, broken, selfish, materialistic and disrespectful." With such words we effectively block access to their mystery.
However, in the days before Christmas, you can touch that mystery at Father Mercredi High School. There you will find the students wrapped up in their Santas Anonymous campaign.
This is especially true on pack and delivery day, the last day before Christmas break.
Entering the school that day is like entering a force field. The hallways ring with friendly greetings, laughter and purposeful movement. Students, staff and helpers gather in the gym for the morning prayer.
The atmosphere is electric. Laid out through the gym is the fruit of six months of work. There, in impeccably organized rows, are line upon line of presents to be wrapped, boxed and addressed.
Off at the side entrance, delivery vehicles driven by volunteers are on standby. Beside them is a truck full of frozen turkeys for the 600 food hampers. There is a powerful sense of God and service during the liturgy.
Then to the music of a school rock band and Christmas songs, a small army of students, staff and helpers moves into action. Throughout the day, the packing and delivery continue.
The kitchen crew keeps the teams nourished as they spell each other off. For awhile, time is somehow suspended as the everyday world makes way for the real world of which Jesus spoke.
These Father Mercredi youth are remarkable in at least five ways. First, for their sense of care for the larger Fort McMurray community. It began in 1985 when the students responded to an invitation from the Kinettes to help with Santas Anonymous.
Since then, the campaign has become a rallying point for the community, with Father Mercredi taking a lead role. Oil sands workers, local media, businesses, service clubs, churches, schools and parents participate. The project even reaches outlying communities such as Chipewyan Lakes by air and Fort Chip by winter road.
Daniel Espejo, a student leader, put it this way: "We recognize that it is important that we are part of a community and that we have to help other people in the community."
Remarkable too is that the students have made the project thoroughly their own. The students collaborate with the Kinsmen and are assisted by the school staff. But they plan, organize and carry out the campaign with an efficiency that would make any corporate manager take notice.
It begins in May and June when the students interview and select the leaders of the coming campaign and lay its foundations. Then, from September to December, with increasing time commitment and energy, the work intensifies. It includes fundraising drives and events which raise some $20,000. The 600 food hampers are accompanied by presents appropriate to each recipient household.
These students are also remarkable for their sense of responsibility to those in need. The hours of spare time spent, the sacrifices made, most often without notice or fanfare, can't be numbered.
The Santas Anonymous campaign flows directly out of the religion curriculum, putting its theology into practice. It also expresses the core of education's purpose in forming citizens who contribute to the common good. Even the interpersonal, organizational and managerial skills learned by the students will benefit the whole community.
Carla Sherman, another student leader, says: "I believe that as a Christian and just as a human being, it is our responsibility to care for and love everyone."
Also remarkable is how, through the campaign, students form into a community a school of almost 1,200. The campaign, like an engine, essentially defines the life and spirit of Father Mercredi High School. It involves virtually everyone in the school.
Former students and their families come back to be part of it - many say the campaign is in their blood. Against the overwhelming individualism of their culture, these students express the Catholic belief in communion and community.
Finally, the students are remarkable because they are not remarkable. They are the standard edition young person created by a loving God, each in God's image, merely living out their potential.
Coady MacEachern, a student leader, puts it well: "Every teenager and adult has a good spirit inside them. People you would never expect to help out - your sterotypical delinquent youth with their purple spiked hair - turn out to be the most generous."
Some see youth as a problem to be solved. Others see it as a mystery to be lived. Jesus was in this latter camp. He said God's kingdom belonged to children, the young and those like them.