Armed with a desire to help others and to grow closer to God themselves, a group of more than 30 local Catholic youth from the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Vicariate of Black Catholic Concern (VBCC) ambassador program are spending the first week in July in Puerto Rico on a service/mission trip.
The young people, known as “ambassadors,” are a mix of high school and college students, and some, like Rajae Clarke, were returning to serve alongside their fellow youth ambassadors as alums of the program.
Clarke, who’s entering his junior year at Boston College, graduated from Cristo Rey Brooklyn in Flatbush. His passport is filled with stamps from service trips he’s participated in — places such as Nicaragua with his former high school, and Jamaica and South Africa with the VBCC. After Puerto Rico, he will team up once again with Cristo Rey. Except this time he’ll serve as one of the student mentors traveling to the Dominican Republic for the “Hoops for Hopes”program where students and faculty build basketball courts for the local community.
Love of God
Clarke said he decided to serve with the ambassadors in Aibonito, a town in the mountains of central Puerto Rico, because it gives him an opportunity to see God in the people he serves and he hopes others can see the love of God through him.
The VBCC youth ambassadors flew from New York to Puerto Rico on July 1, and they will return on July 7. They traveled to Aibonito, a rural town in a mountainous region in central Puerto Rico. The area was hit hard by Hurricane in 2017 and is still rebuilding.
According to Marilyn Santos, the mission trip’s guide who works in the area of youth catechesis and evangelization for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, more than 60 people died in the town because of Hurricane Maria. Most were elderly people who had pre-existing medical conditions like diabetes and didn’t have access to medical supplies. More than 2,000 people in the area were affected by the Category 5 storm.
The VBCC youth ambassadors were joined by five chaperones, including Father Dwayne Davis, who’s the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands, and leads the VBCC youth ambassador program, a diocesan ministry that seeks to develop leadership skills in young black Catholics. They also teamed with youth from a local parish, the Parrochia San Jose, or St. Joseph parish, located in the Diocese of Cagua. Together they will do whatever is necessary at the time, whether it’s witnessing the damage to the houses or simply praying together.
Work, Reflect, Pray
In Puerto Rico, the ambassadors attend Mass each morning. During the day, they do volunteer work, and in the evening, they reflect as a group.
After morning Mass on the second day of the trip, the ambassadors split up into small groups. The yellow school bus transporting the group slowly drove up and down across winding roads in the mountains of Aibonito in central Puerto Rico’s endless fields of lush green terrain.
As their bus stopped next to a small house on the mountain, the youth were asked simply to be “present” to an older woman who lives in the house. The lady, who’s in hospice care and couldn’t get medical supplies to care for her leukemia, asked the visitors to pray for her.
As the VBCC ambassadors stepped outside the house after praying with the woman, who was connected to a breathing machine, they formed a circle together and prayed again. Some smiled, some didn’t say much. The day was just getting started.