From June 26th - July 1st students from the LA Diocese, from Upland all the way to Oxnard, participated in the 6th year of The Los Angeles City Pilgrimage.  The Pilgrimage is a week long service experience that endeavors to get our High School students to think differently about the faith they are subscribed to, and how we are to live out that faith.  The language of "pilgrimage" is important here and is key to what makes this experience unique and important.  This isn't your typical "mission trip" and that is a good thing!

I fell in love with this trip a year and half ago when I first met The Rev. Jana Milhon - Martin who is the Youth Director at St. John's La Verne and at St. Ambrose in Claremont.  Her vision of this 6 years ago was to give students an opportunity to engage in the issues surrounding homelessness, poverty, hunger and all of the social issues facing people in Los Angeles County.  It's also an opportunity for us to engage and explore the different and beautiful cultures that surround us in Los Angeles.  One of the main ways we explore cultures is through food!  While working in different areas in Downtown LA, we also find the different ethnic foods that make up that part of town and recap our days over dinner.

Right off the bat, we started at The Midnight Mission.  I have talked a lot before about the Midnight Mission, but I will say it again, it is a beautiful place and one place that I love working at.  For more than 100 years, the Midnight Mission has not missed a meal, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to the people of Skid Row.  Not only that, but it has developed programs that help people transition their lives and get off the streets.  Before we started our lunch shift in the kitchen, we were lead by a gentleman who was currently in their rehabilitation program, lives onsite and shared his heart breaking story with us.  We then were put right to work on the floor at lunch time, serving food to over 600 people.  Some of us grabbed trays for people who could not walk, some of us cleaned up after people and others just walked the floor seeing if anyone needed anything else.  It's loud, it smells, it's chaotic and it is where God is.  The friendly people on the back line showing us what to do, were all members of the various residential rehab programs and had a joy about them, as they worked to feed their neighbors. 

Everyday our work was framed by morning prayer and specific bible passage.  Tuesday of our week long experience was, the Nativity story.  We focused on the Birth Narrative in Matthew in which the Holy Family flees to Egypt at the behest of an angel.  This was poignant, because our day was focused on the issues of immigration.  

The topic of immigration is a hot button issue and a major talking point in our current political climate.  Our focus, however, was not on the politics of this issue, but on the lives of the people caught in the middle.  We spent the day hearing stories of people fleeing countries, jumping trains and in constant danger, all in search of safety and a better life for their family.  This day wasn't a day for politics, or taking a side, it was a day to hear people and witness how the Church is serving God's people.

The middle of our week took us to Trinity Melrose, a small Church that works daily to help those who are poor and homeless in the surrounding streets.  The Rev. Nancy Frausto, the Priest in Charge there, spoke about the church's history, it's ties to the El Salvadorian community and it's mission to continue to serve the poorest of people their little community.  We also got a chance to work at Laundry Love.  Some of you might be familiar with this ministry, but for those that aren't, it is a wonderful event where a community of people take over a laundromat and wash the clothes of homeless and poor families.  This night there were a pair of sweet volunteers who served sandwiches to those who wanted them along side our students.

On our last full day of Pilgrimage, we got an opportunity to think differently about the way we engage in worship.  Tying this altogether with our week of Pilgrimage, we visited St. John's Pro-Cathedral and explored it while being guided by an expert in Church Architecture.  We learned the significance of our presence in the Church is and how our movement is tied to the way the church is structured.  We did the same process at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral and our students came away with a deeper understand of our involvement in worship.

LA City Pilgrimage is different and new experience for High School Students to participate in. It's not glamorous and it's not a sightseeing tour.  It's a lot of work and it is hard, but in speaking with the students everyday, they were up to the task and present in each moment.  They were willing to serve and at the end they spoke about how they had a new found perspective on the issues that face the poor in our city.

I am blessed to be apart of this and we are blessed that this is an opportunity for our students to participate in.  For all of you with students in High School or heading to High School next, I highly encourage you to think about this as a start to their Summer.  

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