Summer camp in Aiken teaches youths to live Catholic social justice

AIKEN — Leaders at St. Mary Help of Christians Church want their youth to know about Catholic justice and to live it.

One of the ways they teach the concept is through a new camp they started over the summer. Joan LaBone, church youth director, said it was four intense days that ran from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m.

She said she and Father Jeffrey Kirby, parochial vicar, worked on the camp together and were barely dragging along by the end of the last day. And yet they plan to expand the program next year, to dig deeper into the issues.

“I’m very justice centered,” LaBone said. “You don’t do service because it’s a good thing to do on weekends or because it helps the community. You do it because it’s what you are called to do when you walk with Christ.”  

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lists seven key themes of justice, and those were the focus of the camp.

On the first day, youths visited a hospital and a horse farm, where they heard talks about the dignity of work and the rights of workers.  

Words were followed by action as the group labored in the fields, raking the pasture in preparation for planting grass. The youths then went to a nursing home and accompanied Father James LeBlanc, pastor of St. Mary, as he spent time with the residents and prayed with them.

Father Kirby said a key principal of Catholicism is to pray and follow, but stressed that Catholics must be active witnesses to live the faith.

The youths spent a lot of time in prayer and class-like discussions, but they also unloaded groceries at the St. Vincent de Paul center, cleaned the church, and worked in the homes and yards of parishioners.

“They felt the social implications of their discipleship,” Father Kirby said.

And they did not shy away from any of their responsibilities.

When the group went to Area Churches Together Serving for a tour and to learn how the ecumenical organization helps people of need in the community, the director of the program and the youths joined hands outside the building and prayed.

“These kids never even thought about where they were,” LaBone said. “I wish I could be that strong in my faith that I didn’t care that the whole world was riding by as I prayed.”

The youth director also applauded the dedication of a number of campers who had to balance the start of sports and band with attending camp.