Looking Back on CSMG 2016

From January 23 – 26, 2016, students, faculty and staff from Catholic colleges and universities participated in the CSMG 2016 Young Leaders Initiative, along with hundreds of other ministry leaders.  We have a lot of pictures to share with you–check them out on the CSMG 2016 Storify! To see what our YLI participants and other attendees thought of CSMG, check out our Twitter feed at #CSMG2016!

For some more resources, be sure to take advantage of the following:

Finally, be sure to plan ahead! While there is no CSMG in 2017, we will be having Virtual CSMG District Visits on February 20-24, 2017, with a preparatory webinar on February 7. Fortunately, there will be a CSMG in 2018! We hope to see you on February 3-6, 2018 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.!

2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering Recap

From Feb. 7 to 10, more than 500 leaders – including about 100 university students – gathered in Washington, D.C. to step forward in faith for justice and peace. Students and other participants lifted Catholic voices in the public square through 217 meetings with members of congress and their staffpersons. Visit and share the CSMG Highlights page, where a selection of audio recordings and slides from CSMG 2015 keynote and plenary presentations are now available or coming soon. Mark your calendars for CSMG 2016 from Jan. 23-26, 2016 (registration opens in September 2015).

Additionally, you can read students’ reflections on their experience here:

Julio Lara, student at Lewis University

Andrea Price, Peace and Justice Intern at ACCU and student at Georgetown University

Jackie Sardina, intern with the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development and student at The Catholic University of America

-View CSMG photos or video

Hear Me Out: A Student Reflects on Advocacy

The Ohio delegation visits the Hill as part of CSMG.  Thank you to Austin Schafer of St. Thomas More Newman Center at The Ohio State University for the picture.
The Ohio delegation visits the Hill as part of CSMG.

Catholic universities are well-known for educating their students about the injustices that exist in the world and about the systems that sustain them. Advocacy is a unique avenue through which students can take action in order to affect those systems and make positive changes.

I had little experience with advocacy until I attended the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG), a central gathering of Catholic social ministry leaders in the United States. As a student who has never taken a political science class, I came to CSMG with some skepticism regarding its focus on advocacy. I doubted the importance of advocacy, thinking, “Can it really make a difference in the world?” Advocacy is not a topic that the professors in my department address, and I rarely encounter it, even through my work as the Peace and Justice Intern at ACCU.  After attending CSMG, I learned how advocacy and Catholic higher education can complement each other.

My view of advocacy began to change during the training for first-time advocates at CSMG. The advocacy coach, Chris West, began by explaining that advocacy has its basis in the Bible. In chapter 10 of Exodus, Moses goes to the Egyptian Pharaoh to speak on behalf of the Israelites, who were among the most vulnerable people in Egypt at that time. Likewise, in the 21st century, CSMG participants (including university students, faculty, and staff) meet with U.S. lawmakers in order to promote the needs of those who are today the most vulnerable – the poor, the hungry, immigrants, and refugees. While this biblical analogy impressed me, I remained skeptical because my voice is only one of the 11.5 million people in Ohio, my home state.

Next, however, West revealed that congresspersons draw upon three resources when making their decisions. They consider: (1) their party’s political platform, (2) their own moral compass and personal values, and (3) whatever input they receive from their constituents. Considering his last point, I realized that congresspersons have no way of knowing what their constituents want unless voters voice those opinions. Perhaps, I thought, if a congressperson was unsure or indifferent about an issue, our advocacy could result in a vote that would benefit the most vulnerable. As a student at a Catholic university, my visit potentially has even more influence because of the training I receive in effective communication, and because my voice is joined with the rest of the Church.

Information Motivates Action
After the initial advocacy training, all CSMG attendees had the chance to learn about a variety of social justice issues, including the key advocacy issues we were taking to the Hill. While listening to the plenary speakers, conversing with representatives from various Catholic social justice-oriented organizations, and attending breakout sessions, I felt as if my brain were about to explode with all of the information that it was absorbing. While I am accustomed to analyzing information in class, it was exciting to gather information that I would soon be using in a real-world situation to encourage positive change.

My favorite breakout session at CSMG was “Encountering Christ in the Heart of the World on Campus,” during which I met other college students to discuss the social justice-related activities on our respective campuses. After learning about issues that resonated with my personal experience and reflecting with other dedicated Catholic students, I felt even more inspired to take the Church’s message to the Hill.

Next, attendees broke into groups organized by state. The Ohio group designated a spokesperson (usually a college student!) for each issue we were bringing to the attention of our Congressional representatives. We practiced our statements, sharpening our skills in presenting a convincing case.

Later that week, the advocacy day arrived; our delegation hopped on the Washington Metro and trekked through the Capitol area, searching for the correct buildings. First, my Ohio delegation visited Senator Sherrod Brown. We all signed in at his office, delighted by the Ohio decorations, and met one of his staffers in a conference room. Our spokespersons took turns presenting their issues and the specific action steps we wished the Senator to take. The staffer listened attentively, explained the Senator’s involvement with those issues, and sometimes promised the Senator’s ongoing support. Next, we went to Senator Rob Portman’s office, repeating the process. After finishing the visits, I felt hope because the staffers were so attentive and engaging. I believe our visit impressed the staffers because nearly all of us were student representatives from various Ohio colleges.

While I cannot be sure about the exact outcomes of my group’s visit, I have faith that our presence influenced the staffers and will positively affect our Senators’ decisions. After this experience, I feel that I have a greater understanding of the importance of advocacy, because my individual actions will never have the same wide reach as Congressional action. Additionally, I was made aware of the special roles Catholic higher education and other Catholic organizations play in government and advocacy. Through the programming and support available on my Catholic campus, I have learned about Catholic Social Teaching and I have been formed deeply as a concerned citizen and a compassionate Catholic. My Catholic education led my fellow students and me to be effective witnesses to the Church’s social concerns on the Hill.

Before this experience, I did not understand the connection between politics and my responsibility as a person of faith. CSMG made me realize how political policies affect my brothers and sisters in Christ, and that therefore I have a responsibility to protect them through political advocacy.

Andrea Price is a graduate student at Georgetown University and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.  Thank you to Austin Schafer of St. Thomas More Newman Center at The Ohio State University for the picture.

Advocacy Resources

  • What do other students have to say about CSMG and advocacy?
  • How can I know that advocacy really works?
    • See some results compiled by Catholics Confront Global Poverty.
  • What policy goals does the Church promote or prioritize?
    • Check out the comprehensive list from the U.S. Bishops.
  • How do I go about visiting a member of Congress?
  • What are the issues that CSMG participants took to the Hill?
    • The official page detailing those issues is here.
  • How can students, faculty, and staff from my campus be involved with CSMG and the Young Leaders Initiative (YLI) next year?
    • Visit the YLI webpage to learn about the timeline of registration and mark the dates for next year on your calendar: January 23-26, 2016.  We will post more information on this blog as it becomes available.

ISN Encourages Congress to Pass Immigration Reform

The Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) is sending a letter to all of the Jesuit-educated members of Congress in order to encourage them to pass humane, comprehensive immigration reform. ISN hopes that the Jesuit connection as well as the logic and compassion behind Catholic Social Teaching will inspire these senators and representatives to take positive action. Their letter emphasizes the importance of fair process, workers’ rights, and family togetherness, promoting the same agenda that many of our member colleges took to the Hill as participants in the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

ISN’s goal is to collect more than 5,000 signatures on the letter.  To learn more about the letter and to sign it yourself, click here.

Get ready for CSMG!

How can your students prepare for the Young Leaders Initiative coming up this February? Take the advice of students who went last year! Kevin, Dom, and Edith give practical ways for students to get ready to meet Catholic Social Ministers as well as other students from around the country at CSMG:

Read more about CSMG and the Young Leaders Initiative at other places in our blog: here, here, and here.

Don’t forget! Interest forms for the Young Leaders Initiative are due on November 21.