By Sue Thompson, Special to the Florida Catholic
From June 19 – 23, 2023, the Church of St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota rang with the laughter and song of more than 120 campers (kindergarten through fifth grade), youth counselors, adult volunteers and Parish staff who all tried to emulate Christ by serving not only one another, but also those in need in the community.
Camp Mercy, an alternate to a traditional Vacation Bible School, was founded by five St. Patrick parishioners in 2017. The camp concept is based on the premise that we are all “Called to Serve” and the Corporal Works of Mercy serve as the core of the program.
Each summer the children perform service projects that either feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, or bury the dead. As Christians, we are called to perform these works and as Camp Mercy continues to grow each year, it is obvious that the kids love to help others!
Kami Yaegers, who has taught Bible Study at Camp Mercy since its inception, said, “I am so thankful to be a part of Camp Mercy. It gives me so much joy to see these children learn about Jesus, scripture and how to be examples of God’s love for all of us.”
This summer the camp’s theme was “All Aboard with Jesus,” where the campers were taken back in time aboard a train and learned about four of Jesus’ miracles: the wedding feast at Cana, healing the 10 lepers, feeding the 5,000 and healing the paralyzed man.
The high school skit crew taught one miracle each morning and showed how Jesus used these opportunities to demonstrate his love for us and to give an example of how we can perform the works of mercy. Campers were taught that they too can give back to those in need and help each other to grow spiritually.
Ryan Yaegers, who started with Camp Mercy as a camper and helped as an adult volunteer this year, said that “This camp really helps to further the next generation of young Catholic believers.”
Through skits, Bible study, crafts (making necklaces for a local nursing home and rosary boxes), games (loaves and fishes basket relay, carrying your friends to Jesus), praise and worship (learning songs about Jesus’ miracles accompanied with sign language). Importantly, were the service projects (making 200 lunch bags for local homeless children, decorating and potting flowers for nursing home residents and cleaning the Siesta Key beachfront), when the youth were given the opportunity to share the gift of themselves in service to others.
The camp culminated in a concert for parents and a Knights of Columbus sponsored cookout where the children presented the results of their service projects. Each camper made placemats for the cookout and drew pictures and wrote about their favorite part of camp with many focusing on meeting new friends and feeling good about helping someone else. The campers and their families also attended Sunday morning Mass together to praise the Lord, perform a few of the camp songs for the faithful and to start dreaming about camp next summer!
Sue Thompson is the Director of Religious Education at the Church of St. Patrick in Sarasota and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.