Social Justice and 'Gift of Self' Inspire Annual Journey to Lottsburg, VA Church
by Michael C. Gabriele, Editor

Norwood's Parish Outreach Spans 14 Years

Apostle John H. Bibbens (center, second row), along with Pastor Marvin Johnson (center, top row) and his wife, Renee Johnson (far left, first row), last month posed with friends from Immaculate Conception Parish on the front steps of Zion Baptist Church. Norwood parishioners Peter Grawehr, Lisa Lawlor, Mike Casey, Linda Casey, Brian Casey, Dan Delaney, Jackie Genovese and Laura Bailey made the trip to Lottsburg, VA, this year-the 14th installment in an annual pilgrimage. Zion Baptist (Web site:, was founded in 1867.

There are any number of ways to describe the glowing friendship between the parishioners of Immaculate Conception Parish, Norwood, and Zion Baptist Church, located in Lottsburg, VA-a once-ayear gathering of kindred spirits; a nine-hour car ride to perform community service projects for those in need; an opportunity to temporarily leave the familiar sights of northern New Jersey and see what summer days are like for those who live along Northumberland Highway in the Old Dominion state.

However, Father Leo Butler-who became the administrator of the Bergen County parish on July 1-summed it up best: the relationship represents the spirit of Catholic social justice and the "Gift of Self."

Social justice serves as an underlying inspiration for Immaculate Conception parishioners who participate in this annual grassroots outreach effort, known by the acronym CAVE or Catholics Advocating, Volunteering and Empowering. Social justice-concerns for human needs-were outlined in the New Testament's Acts of the Apostles, with regard to distributing the community's goods to serve those in need, Fr. Butler pointed out. More recently, the encyclical Rerum Novarum issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 has steered Catholic social justice on the issues of housing, worker's rights, education, immigration and healthcare.

Last year, while addressing a Theology on Tap crowd in Jersey City, Archbishop John J. Myers declared that for those weighing spiritual journeys of life, one path to consider is the "sincere Gift of Self," a pronouncement originally made during the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s (see The Catholic Advocate, Aug. 8, 2007).

"You know yourself by giving yourself away in loving ways," Archbishop Myers told those gathered at the Grand Banks Café. "It is not enough to look in the mirror; you must look into the mirror of other faces."

Immaculate Conception pilgrims have looked into the mirror of Zion Baptist Church for 14 years-a spiritual encounter that breaks down cultural and racial barriers, according to Fr. Butler. "It is a nurturing experience when you come to the table and share faith with others. Our parish family has embraced this program with tremendous support," he said, noting that each year Immaculate Conception parishioners donate materials and subsidize costs.

Enthusiastic support comes in different forms from many who sit in the pews. For example, Rob and Drew Doidge-two brothers who attend Bergen Catholic High School-have contributed to the CAVE ministry during the last two years by collecting backpacks and filling them with school supplies for the youngsters and teens at Zion Baptist Church.

As is often the case in the experience of outreach and dialogue, investing time to understand the needs and perceptions of others typically results in greater self-awareness; a process that comes full circle to unveil one's inner convictions. In a curious way, the act of reaching out helps to define the mind, heart and soul of the one doing the reaching.

"Watching the people at Zion Baptist Church take part in their service has strengthened my Catholic faith," Jackie Genovese explained. Compared with Catholic traditions, the Zion congregation "celebrates in a passionate, spontaneous way. You can 'see' God in the way they worship." Genovese, a 2008 graduate from Immaculate Heart Academy, Washington Township, this fall will attend Stonehill, a Catholic college located in Easton, MA.

Immaculate Conception parishioner Peter Grawehr, one of the stalwarts of the annual pilgrimage, addressed the Zion Baptist family during the most recent visit (late July) and expressed his appreciation for their hospitality. "You have opened your hearts to us for the last 14 years," he said, his presentation captured on a video CD. "The awesomeness of standing here (with you) each year goes on and on."

Grawehr, during his presentation, recalled a profound experience he witnessed during vacation Bible school for the children in Lottsburg, which was launched by Lisa Lawlor and her daughter Katey, a student at Academy of the Holy Angels, Demarest. Nine youngsters, some disabled, had gathered for a friendly footrace. At the start of the race, one little boy stumbled and began to cry. A girl with Down Syndrome stopped and went to help the lad, giving him a kiss on the head and consoling him. Eventually, all the children in the race turned and joined her and together they crossed the finish line holding hands.

"Just like the children I saw in the race, every year we all walk to the finish line together-arm in arm," Grawehr said.

Other Immaculate Conception parishioners who participate in the CAVE outreach include Patty McGee, a teacher at Harrington Park Elementary School who first made the connection with Zion Baptist in 1994; Linda, Michael and Brian Casey; Lillian Galbornetti; Laura Bailey; and Dan Delaney.

Outreach beyond the borders of the archdiocese has unfolded as a grand tradition in recent years as groups from parishes and schools travel great distances to help those in need. Earlier this year students from Caldwell College visited Nazareth Farm in Salem, WV, to repair homes in the Appalachian region (see The Catholic Advocate, April 23). Last year 15 students from Roselle Catholic High School's Marist Youth Team also ventured to West Virginia to help rebuild and repair homes (see The Catholic Advocate, June 6, 2007).

During the last three years FOCUS (Friends of Christ United in Service)-a youth group headquartered at Saint Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Saddle River-has traveled to such farflung places as Alaska, South Dakota and the African nation of Ghana to assist in community service work (see The Catholic Advocate, Oct. 10, 2007).

The youth group of Notre Dame Parish, North Caldwell, led by Msgr. Edward Ciuba, drove more than 2,000 miles to Mississippi to assist in an eightday "Project Katrina" cleanup (see The Catholic Advocate, Dec. 5, 2007).

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