Service Matters – 5th Week of Lent

11 April 2011

5th Week of Lent


A project of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales in Camden, NJ,

De Sales Service Works welcomes volunteers to join

in service, prayer and learning in our struggling neighborhood.



  • Service Word
  • Last Week in Camden
  • Upcoming Events
  • Links

1. Service Word  John 11:1-45

She fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”   When Jesus saw her weeping and the people who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, “Where have you laid him?”  They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”  And Jesus wept.   So the people said, “See how he loved him.”   But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”


This week three different groups worked at different times clearing the site for a new community garden around the corner from the DSW House.   The location is a large, empty lot the whole length of the block where a line of row houses used to stand.  A sole house remains at one end, boarded up and empty.   The land collects trash, and it serves as a muddy parking lot for a number of cars.


Often I wonder how people feel about volunteer groups coming in and working in their city.  My favorite feedback on this theme took place with a service group painting over graffiti in south Camden.   A group of middle school aged kids took notice of us but kept their distance.   It was clear they were enjoying mocking us; one of the boys saying in a stage whisper to his friends how grateful he was that we were “saving Camden.”   Eventually we introduced ourselves, bridging the gap a bit, and all the kids also ended up painting.  That experience reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously.  Best of all, the teasing and work brought together people from vastly different worlds.


Frequently people passing by a group of volunteers working will stop to thank us.   Sometimes times people join in the work or offer refreshment or supplies.  This week three Holy Name students who live across the street from the future garden and some of their friends; joined in the work.  They said their family cleaned it up a couple times before, but now they were excited that the group effort and the garden fence could make a lasting improvement.


Another neighbor expressed different view, dismissing the effort, asking where she will park her car.


The gospel scene gives a picture of the Lord’s humanity, joining the mourning and weeping at the loss of a close friend.   He is still deeply troubled at all the suffering, loss, and unfairness that is part of our world.      But the Lord is present in all our service—in our ordinary settings as well as in places of extreme need.


-How do you handle situations that cause you to be deeply troubled?

-What do you do when tempted to disparage efforts that might disrupt your patterns?

-What connects you to people who are very different in background, language, race, culture, education, economic state?


2. Last Week in Camden

Salesianum junior religion classes were here Tuesday and Thursday.    Thursday’s group worked on the site of the new community garden.  Each other group scheduled for last week had to reschedule.  However, as mentioned above, we did a lot of work.


3. Upcoming Events

Two more Sallies groups are here this week.  Monday, I’ll be at the school to help with Sacrament of Reconciliation and to recruit for their weekend service retreat in May.   Saturday Holy Name Scholars will work with various other volunteers putting up the fence and forming garden beds from truckloads of soil for the new community garden.


4. Links

Public Broadcasting Service aired a documentary on Camden last week.  There is about 5 seconds of a DSW group (watch for them in orange painting tee shirts) working on the schoolyard wall.  Long time Camden pastor, Fr. Michael Doyle, offers some incisive analysis of this city’s situation,


I want to again give a promo for the new movie Of Gods and Men.  I recommended it before, just based on knowing the story.  Now I have seen the actual film and can say that this movie tells the story very well.   It makes anyone glad to be Catholic (or glad that there are Catholics).


Read past essays from the Peace & Justice Blog.  The entry for 7 September 2011 talks about the monks who are the subject of Of Gods and Men.



Peace, Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS

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