By Marimah Branch

Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – The road to heaven is not always paved with gold. Thirty-five young adults and chaperones recently paved that road with the Gospel.

During the week of July 17 to 25, a group of volunteers from the Salesians of John Bosco joined 15 members of the youth group from St. Martin of Tours Parish in Northeast Philadelphia to perform service work in several sections of the city as part of a Gospel Roads retreat.

The Salesians, an order of priests, brothers, sisters and lay people founded by St. John Bosco with a mission to serve the poor, first created Gospel Roads in 2001. The week-long retreats for young adult volunteers include daily Mass, Holy Hours and service work in community soup kitchens, crisis pregnancy centers, summer camps and more. {{more}}

It was Msgr. Edward Deliman, pastor of St. Martin of Tours Parish, who thought to ask the Salesian volunteers to come to his parish and work with the youth group. The volunteers and chaperones were from everywhere: New York, New Jersey, Florida and New Orleans. The group was not only geographically spanerse, but ethnically too.

“It really suits the parish because we are in the city and our parish is a very spanerse congregation,” Msgr. Deliman said.

He enthusiastically decribed the kind of work all the young people were doing during the week. “They are working with kids in our parish day camp, and in the Overbrook School for the Blind. They work with the handicapped at St. Edmond’s Home, and with the homeless at Sarnelli House (a Redemptorist house and soup kitchen for the homeless). The idea is to put faith into action and works,” he said.

The youths were spanided into groups to perform the service work and switched off to a different job each day in order to get the full experience of all the work that was taking place.

The Salesian group arrived on Saturday, July 17, and stayed until Sunday, July 25, when they attended a farewell Mass. Through Msgr. Deliman’s efforts, La Salle University offered a wing of the dorms to house the participants for the week.

“They are great kids,” Msgr. Deliman said. “I was so edified when I saw them working together. And they never fell into cliques. They are the nicest kids.”

The CS&T caught up with them on Saturday, July 24, when they attended noon Mass at the Cathedral Chapel. The kids were very generous and eager to share their experiences. What impressed them most from the week working together was the combination of service to the community, personal and spiritual growth and working in the neighborhood.

That work in the neighborhood was an important aspect of the week. The combined groups rebuilt a house on Kensington Avenue in Philadelphia, putting up dry-wall, spackling and more. In addition, retreatants also connected with the Redemptorists for two nights to go out into the streets of the city and deliver hot dogs to the homeless.

Although they spoke highly of all the work they performed, the most emotional responses came from their work at St. Edmond’s and the Overbrook School for the Blind.

What inspired them to join the retreat? Most of the volunteers listed “love of God” and “service to others” as their key motivators. And most of them want to do the Gospel Roads service retreat again.

After nine months of planning, the retreat was what the St. Martin youth group had expected and much more.

“I have prayed a lot more this week, and it has done wonders. I want to take that home with me,” said Patrick, one of the volunteers. Many expressed the sentiment that they had created a “prayer family” they were reluctant say goodbye to at the end of the retreat.

The love of God left a mark on the hearts of many.

For more information on the Gospel Roads projects visit

Marimah Branch is a freelance writer and parishioner of St. Rose of Lima in North Wales.