‘A Light to the Nations’: Catholic Relief Services Partners with Catholic Colleges and Universities

As we enter the Advent season, we are reminded of our continual call to direct our hearts and minds to the coming of Jesus Christ. As we do so, we reflect on his eternal sacrifice and his life on earth. Christ came to us a “light to the nations” and was a true example of how to give yourself to those in need. As Catholics we are called to do the same, for “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 21:1-2).

For Catholic colleges and universities, partnering with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) offers the opportunity to lead by example and follow Christ’s example to be a light in the world. CRS uses the message of Jesus to defend the dignity of all human life through charity, justice, and living out Catholic Social Teaching. CRS offers these university and college partnerships as a way of “joining in solidarity with the global poor through education, prayer, and action.” Campuses have the opportunity to partner with CRS in three ways: through CRS Student Ambassadors, CRS faculty learning commons, and as a CRS Global Campus.

Villanova University is using their partnership with CRS through the Student Ambassadors program to advance its mission of awareness and solidarity for those in need. According to CRS, student ambassadors “are trained by CRS to mobilize their peers and bring to life the mission of solidarity, [which then] allows for chapters to connect and build across the nation.” At Villanova, student ambassadors are bringing awareness to their peers of modern-day slavery. In honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Day, student ambassadors set up a table in a popular campus building in order to engage as many students as possible. Ambassadors gave students blue duct-taped ribbons to wear throughout the week in order to spark questions and discussion among peers.

The table also provided pamphlets with information on quick ways to help human trafficking victims. These tips ranged from how to identify possible victims to how to become a conscientious and informed consumer. Human Trafficking Awareness Day concluded with a screening of the documentary “Indifference is Not an Option.” According to CRS, the film “chronicles the lives of three escaped slaves spanning three countries and calls people to fight and stop hiding behind the excuse of ignorance.” The screening ended with the audience signing 80 advocacy letters. “These letters urged senators and representatives to pass the Supply Chain Transparency Act, which would help combat forced labor by forcing companies to reveal steps in their supply chain,” noted CRS.

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The Catholic University of America partnered with Catholic Relief Services to host CRS Iraq director Hani El Mahdi. From left to right: Hani El Mahdi; CRS Student Ambassador Mary Lastowka; CUA associate professor Dr. Maryann Cusimano Love; and CRS University Outreach representative Mary Beth Iduh.

Professors at The Catholic University of America are using resources provided by CRS Faculty Learning Commons to put a human face on issues learned in the classroom. CRS explains how faculty learning commons “provides opportunities for faculty members and other academic leaders to enrich student learning experiences by tapping into CRS’s expertise in global development and humanitarian response through the world.”

Professor Maryann Cusimano Love leverages CUA’s partnership with CRS in her politics courses by using the CRS faculty learning commons materials as required readings that deal with issues such as war and peace, refugees, global poverty, climate change, human trafficking, fair trade, and moral responsibilities to global challenges. Students then have a chance to answer written questions, she explains, and use the materials as an “example of how a general topic discussed in class manifests in a specific circumstance.” She also invites students to use CRS materials for projects and gives them the “opportunity to partner with CRS to bring in a speaker to campus or engage with CRS programming.” Love recalled how one student group chose to look at the issues faced by Iraqi refugees and invited Hani El Mahdi, director of CRS Iraq, to speak at CUA.

Dante Orlandini, senior politics major at CUA, recalls that “through the implementation of studies, documentation, and techniques, Dr. Love effectively incorporated Catholic Relief Services’ mission into our Global Issues course at Catholic, which provided me with valuable lessons.” Dr. Love explains that by partnering with CRS, “students are taken out of their comfort zone and grapple with the real world consequences of global trends, and reflect on whether and how they are contributing to global problems or to global solutions.”

Love notes that “CUA, with its Washington, DC, location, is blessed to live and work at the intersection of Church and state. CRS works on this same intersection, bringing our values of faith to the global problems of the world.”

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As a Catholic Relief Services Global Campus, Marquette University students participate in the Student Ambassador Program in order “to increase student awareness of global poverty and how CRS works to address these issues.”

The final way that campuses partner with CRS is by becoming a global campus. Through this institutional partnership, CRS engages with the campus through all three core constituencies: students, faculty, and administration, with the support of campus ministry and social justice staff. As a global campus, the college or university participates in both the Student Ambassador Program and the Faculty Learning Commons Program and establishes an interdisciplinary CRS advisory group. Sherri Walker, the program coordinator at Marquette’s Center for Peacemaking, explains that “as a global campus, Marquette University contributes to and also learns from CRS’s work in peace building” by using CRS’s work and examples as a way to “help form men and women who can be instruments of peace building and champions of a more equitable world.”

Because Marquette is a CRS Global Campus, its faculty have the opportunity to engage with CRS by using “collaborative methods of teaching, learning, and research that connect Marquette classrooms with CRS’s world-class teaching resources and research that addresses world problems,” Walker adds. For instance, Marquette faculty and administrators participated in the Ghana Faculty Enrichment Program. Walker notes that this program “served as a pilot project aimed at creating a model for partnering with the CRS country program in Ghana, as well as local universities. This partnership was expected to lead to joint research programs and closer collaboration between the in-country program staff, local university professors, and U.S. professors.” During this immersion experience, participants “studied the integral human development framework that CRS uses to design its programming, and the country-specific academic research that leads to development programming decisions.”

Walker explains that as a Catholic institution, Marquette recognizes that “God’s love is not restricted to a select few, but is extended to all.” From this perspective, “students from all faith traditions understands CRS’s engagement with populations where the majority are not Catholic.”

The month of December is the perfect time to learn about how Catholic colleges and universities are seeking to empower others to fight for peace and justice throughout the nation and world. By partnering with CRS in a variety of ways, institutions are given the opportunity to enrich the classroom experience and foster a community willing and ready to serve

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Reflecting on World Oceans Day

Today, June 8, is World Oceans Day, founded in 2002 to celebrate, honor, help protect and conserve the oceans. Events in honor of World Oceans Day will occur across the globe.  For some, this holiday prompts reflection on the issues related to oceans, such as sustainability and human trafficking practices in the seafood industry.

Over the past two years, the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking has coordinated advocacy efforts to encourage seafood companies to eradicate human trafficking practices.  In 2016, the Coalition sponsored a postcard campaign, while in 2017 they focused on encouraging seafood companies who are cleaning up their supply chains to label their products.  Read more about this year’s project on their website.

In honor of World Oceans Day, Fair Trade USA has launched a campaign encouraging consumers to purchase seafood that is produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way.  Launched in 2014, their certification of seafood products allows consumers to make purchases that have been shown to meet rigorous standards for workers in the fishing industry.  Learn more about their work on their website.

How will your campus celebrate and reflect on World Oceans Day?  Let us know!

 

Take Action in Support of Refugees

In response to the executive order by the President of the United States, many Catholic organizations have recommended actions to take to support refugees.  Justice for Immigrants, a network of Catholic institutions working to support immigration reform, issued an action alert to contact Congress and the President to support refugees with a more robust resettlement plan. JFI provides a simple form that will automatically send a pre-written letter to House Representatives, Senators, and the President.

Catholic Relief Services has shared a helpful article with answers to common questions they have received about refugees.  Previously, CRS has also shared many ways to take action to help Syrian refugees on their website, along with other educational resources related to refugees.

Ignatian Solidarity Network shared the “6-minute challenge” to call representatives and then challenge friends to do the same on social media. They also hosted a webinar on understanding the Executive Order on immigrants and refugees, featuring policy experts from the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States and Jesuit Refugee Service USA.

Catholic Colleges and Universities Raise Awareness During Hunger and Homelessness Week

Catholic colleges and universities across the nation observed National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, November 15-21, 2016. The week, began by Villanova University in 1975, has since spread to over 700 campuses and communities, becoming the most widely organized hunger and homelessness event of its type nationwide.  Here are some examples from Catholic colleges:

Villanova University organized a food drive, a solidarity sleepout, and interfaith vigils on the issue of hunger and homelessness.

At Assumption College, Social Justice Ambassadors assembled “Helping Hands” bags to distribute to individuals on the street, encouraged students in the dining hall to eat what a typical meal would be at a soup kitchen, and also held a solidarity sleepout.

Saint John’s University campus ministry sponsored many events including a poverty simulation, a benefit concert, and a service opportunity as part of the week.

The Catholic University of America hosted a number of events such as a hunger banquet, a way of the cross prayer service focused on migration, and a speaker event with local advocate for those who are homeless.

These Catholic colleges and universities, and many others, are reflecting on the Catholic Social Teaching, the option for the poor and vulnerable, creatively tackling direct engagement and awareness in the issues of hunger and homelessness.

Did your campus observe Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week? Share it with us! Email Lexie Bradley.