I thought I'd tell you guys a bit about a typical seminarian summer as this is always one of the greatest times for a seminarian. We're out of the seminary which means no academics and no homework. Well that is, unless you like reading, which I tend to enjoy a bit.
Anyways, in our Diocese, we tend to do summer assignments where we may end up in a parish, summer camp, prison ministry, hospital ministry, Spanish immersion, and so on. There are a lot of different places to end up. It really also depends on what year you are in for formation. My first two years were really optional in terms of what I could do. I was doing my 2 years of philosophy. This past summer, which just ended for me almost 2 months ago because I was sent to Rome, I was doing ministry at a correctional youth facility for boys in Ione, CA. If you have never heard of Ione, well it makes sense, the town has a population of prisoners bigger than it's own civilian population. :)
But it was one of my favorite experiences so far. I worked with youth ranging from 15-20, mostly Mexican with a few other ethnicities mixed in there. The facility is basically a camp for the most violent and high-risk offenders from the juvenile hall facilities throughout California. I'd end up teaching catechesis classes, just sitting around talking to the guys, doing a few bible studies, and going up to the lockup unit - basically a version of solitary - and giving the guys some time to just talk.
I am always amazed where the faith can thrive. Because even in this prison camp I found guys excited and wanting to know their faith. While I was there, we even confirmed I think about 8 guys. And even though they differed in their ability to understand and more so whether they were ready to live out the moral life, they realized the challenge of the Christian life. I remember talking with a number of them about sex and contraception and why the Church calls men to respect their women and to love them enough to marry them, make that commitment, before they show their love through the act of conjugal union. It was fun. Part of my angle in appealing to them was the challenge to be real men and be willing to sacrifice. Often I think that is the main means of calling men to live a virtuous life. Because it truly is a challenge.
Plus I got to hear the crazy stories of what some of these guys had done, high speed car chases and such. It's interesting because once you start hearing them you feel sorry for them despite what they've done because you know they don't want to be there and more so that they are so young. If they maybe only had a better neighborhood, better friends, and better father figures, who knows.
I don't have any pictures. We can't or I would have taken some. But I think you can imagine. Solitary was the craziest one. It is always intense to see people, humans, confined in such a small space and easy to see how they can go crazy.
In a place like this you realize how much the human person craves God. Here so many of them were asking so many questions - many more than I ever hear in youth groups. They cared even if they struggled and questioned. And even more so it makes you realize how much we need to be out there ministering to souls. There is so much to be done! And there are many youth facilities where there is no Catholic priest or often even a chaplain.