Lent is a time of reflection on the Christian journey of discipleship. This year, several Catholic colleges and universities connected learning, praying, and taking action on justice issues to the traditional Lenten practices. As a way of reflecting on the signs of the times, traditional practices of fasting and walking the Stations of the Cross were transformed into experiences of solidarity with those who are marginalized. By offering justice-focused Lenten programming, Benedictine University, Assumption College, and Fordham University connected the observance of Lent with the social mission of the Church.
Over the past two years, Benedictine University has observed Lent through a weekly event called Feast Fridays. The program, sponsored by Benedictine University’s Campus Ministry, engaged students and staff in solidarity with those in need throughout the world. Feast Fridays began through a Global Solidarity Grant, a collaboration between ACCU and Catholic Relief Services that awards funding to Catholic colleges and universities to increase awareness of global injustice and expand student involvement in bringing about change. Each Feast Friday follows a common agenda: The luncheon starts with a CRS Rice Bowl Lenten prayer and then a CRS Kitchen Friday meal, a simple, meatless recipe similar to ones that people living in a country served by CRS commonly prepare and eat. During lunch, participants watch an episode of “A Story of Hope” a video series by CRS featuring the stories of those who have been aided by CRS. Afterward, the audience members reflect together on what they have just learned and how they are called to respond. Feast Fridays work to provide the community with a concrete way to journey through Lent in solidarity with brothers and sisters around the world, inviting the Benedictine community to feast spiritually while fasting physically.
For Benedictine, Feast Fridays created a platform for service and social justice to be discussed and experienced at the same time. The timing of the programming allows faculty and staff to attend, as well as students, building bridges within the entire community. Faculty member Cathy Stablein, commented, “Feast Fridays humbled me and several of my students as we experienced world poverty through taste. Prayers and short videos about Catholic Relief Services’ global service in selected countries gave us a lunchtime community as we scooped an inexpensive international cuisine of cornmeal, rice, lentils, red beans, and greens common to Laos, Colombia, Rwanda, and other countries to fill our ‘rice bowl.’ Water was our only beverage. These ‘feasts’ starkly reminded me of the need to give back, and the wealth of poverty I ignore.”
Feast Fridays were implemented as a way of living out Benedictine University’s Catholic identity. Carrie Roberts, director of campus ministry, connects the programming with that identity, saying, “Our university’s mission statement has a strong emphasis on caring for the other as inspired by the Catholic intellectual tradition. The Feast Friday program offers our BenU community a way to learn from the poor and marginalized and live in solidarity with them.” The pursuit of truth and justice, as drawn from the Catholic Benedictine tradition, is central to Feast Fridays.
Fordham University also addressed hunger and solidarity this Lent, connecting the practice of fasting to the larger issue of food insecurity through a SNAP Challenge. Students who took the one-day challenge were given one meal swipe, the equivalent of $5.70, to purchase food. As students fasted, they were reminded that many people live on that amount every day and challenged to move from sympathy to solidarity. As a follow-up to the day of fasting, the students were moved to action through a service project, preparing sandwiches for a local food pantry and community dining room. The event ended with soup and reflection on their experiences.
In addition to these events focused on food scarcity, the Fordham Office of Campus Ministry expanded its Lenten programming to other issues, including a Day of Penance for Institutional Racism, which featured an interfaith service and an opportunity for individual reconciliation. Students were also invited to learn about the experience of refugees in a Refugee Simulation. Using multimedia resources, students could “walk a mile” in refugees’ shoes on a simulated migrant journey. Following this simulation, the office hosted a film screening of “Salam Neighbor,” a documentary that features the stories of Syrian refugees.
Assumption College, a recipient of a 2016 Global Solidarity Grant, also created Lenten formation surrounding the issue of migration. Reflecting on Lent as a time for discipleship, the campus ministry office drew parallels to the journey of hope that migrants make. Images of migrants who have been served by Catholic Relief Services were displayed on a barren tree in the chapel sanctuary throughout Lent to remind the community of their solidarity with migrant brothers and sisters during Mass. Assumption College also hosted a screening of “The Vigil,” a film that follows a female immigrant, Gina, and fellow undocumented single mothers, Rosa and Maria, who live in fear of deportation. Gina becomes the leader of a vigil to create refuge for the immigrant community in the face of Arizona’s anti-immigration law, which takes her to the U.S. Supreme Court. Following the screening, director Jenny Alexander and film advisor on immigration Alexandra Piñeros Shields hosted a discussion for the campus.
The office of campus ministry at Assumption also incorporated the issue of migration into a monthly program called “Agape Latte,” an event that features various speakers discussing their faith journeys, inviting students to hear a new perspective while having a cup of coffee. March’s “Agape Latte” featured associate professor of Spanish Esteban Loustaunau, speaking on how he integrates his faith into his life within the context of his own immigration to the United States from Mexico. The annual Lenten Stations of the Cross also focused on migration. Participants journeyed around campus stopping at various locations to learn and pray.
In addition to programming focused on prayer and personal testimony, Assumption College held a “Teach-In” on migration to help students learn more about Catholic social thought as it relates to migration. Faculty members and CRS Student Ambassadors hosted sessions using the CRS Faculty Learning Commons, the “I am Migration” awareness campaign, and the CRS “CST 101” video series to help educate the campus community on migration. The Lenten campaign culminated with a Migration Walk, an interactive activity during which participants walked in the footsteps of a typical migrant through different stations around campus.
These Catholic institutions engaged in programming that focused deeply on social issues throughout Lent, conveying that an integral part of the Christian life is grappling with injustice in the world. Benedictine University and Fordham University connected fasting with hunger crises throughout the world, while Assumption College focused on the connection between a Lenten journey of discipleship and the journey of hope that migrants make. These examples show how Catholic colleges and universities use campus programs to promote a greater solidarity with those in need, as Lent reminds us of the need in each of us to grow closer to God.
Camilla MacKenzie is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.