By EmmaLee Italia | Contributing Editor
When Michael Bruno, a lifelong parishioner of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, was looking for a way to bring the Church and community together, he immediately thought of cleaning his beloved beach.
Inspired by the message of Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Sí’: On Care for our Common Home” Bruno wanted to “bring the Church into the community universally … Pope Francis is such a widely accepted pope, even outside the Church, and anything he put out would draw people in.”
Photo Gallery: Beachsweep LBI
He launched his own nonprofit, Beachsweep LBI, which held its flagship event April 27 – a two-site beach cleanup in Surf City and Brant Beach. The combined efforts of St. Mary Parish and St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Brant Beach, helped make the cleanup a success.
“We had about 70 people or so,” Bruno said. “Overall, we got rid of 274 pounds of trash at two sites – 9th Street in Surf City, and 68th Street in Brant Beach.”
The 24-year-old, who saw his fellow young adults begin their lives in the Church but gradually leave after college, wanted to showcase the attributes of being Catholic – one of them being the care of creation.
“It’s hard to [witness people falling away] … they get a negative image of the Church [in the media],” Bruno explained. “They don’t realize that the Church is environmentally friendly, and I’m trying to show that.”
Bruno, who makes a conscience effort to notice and pick up litter throughout the day, says the idea for the beach cleanup “just kind of popped into my head.”
“I go to the beach all the time, and I lived on the island as a kid … I was looking for something that would be a good event you could bring anyone into,” he said.
Bruno enlisted the help of volunteers from both parishes to spread the message – including the St. Mary publicity committee, of which his mother is a member. He also gave the information to a friend who writes for Surfline, an international publication for surfers, in an effort to reach people who use the beach. The township granted permission for the event and helped with advertising, and parishioners who are also business owners helped with promotion.
“A lot of people I didn’t know before this helped [spread the word],” he continued. “I’m very grateful to all of them.”
The fact that the event occurred just a few days after Earth Day, April 22, was a happy coincidence. “I just got lucky on that one – one of the many things that fell into place.”
When Bruno asked Father Jim Scullion, pastor of St. Francis Parish, for use of the church’s large parking lot as a base of operations, Father Scullion agreed wholeheartedly.
“Everyone was on board with it,” Bruno affirmed. “Both parishes put it in their bulletins; it was advertised in the local papers … it was other people helping me out.”
As the word spreads, he plans to host another beach cleanup in October at the end of the busy summer season.
“In the future, I have a lot of ambitious plans,” Bruno reflected. “I want to expand the event, maybe have music and fellowship after, where people can hang out and get to know each other.”
When asked if he thought doors were being opened for him, Bruno chuckled.
“We’ll see – everything’s been falling into place,” he said. “I’m making sure I’m there to go through the doors.”
For more information, visit beachsweeplbi.org.