DeSales University recently hosted Thomas Awiapo, a Catholic Relief Services employee and native of Ghana. Awiapo came to DeSales to share his story of hope and the power of CRS. Awiapo’s life was changed 40 years ago when CRS built a school near his village in Ghana. Growing up, his childhood was characterized by his continual hunger and the village he lived in had no access to running water and often times he would cry and fight for food. In addition to a lack of food, Awaipo’s parents died when he was a child leaving him and his three brothers as orphans.
Awiapo credits one single snack he received as a child as saving his life. When he entered the CRS school on the first day, they provided all the students with a snack to start their day and did this every day following. This was thanks to the CRS Rice Bowl Program. Because of his schooling with CRS, Awiapo found “food, education, faith and later earned his master’s degree in the United States.” Currently Awiapo is working to open a new school for children experiencing the same things he did. Awiapo notes that “Catholic Relief Services is a gospel of love, a gospel of justice, and a gospel of hope around the world. Assembling this box every Lent, we are actually assembling many, many broken lives around the world.”
Spring has almost sprung! With the first day of spring and the celebration of Easter just around the corner, the time for renewal and revival is upon us. As the academic year comes to a close, it’s also a great time to take stock of all the peace and justice initiatives your campus has participated in over the course of the year. But just because the year will soon end, those efforts don’t need to stop. Catholic colleges and universities across the nation are finding interesting ways to maintain momentum and keep their work moving forward.
In Iowa, St. Ambrose University is committed to fostering interest in service and justice on campus. One of its ministries is Ambrose Women for Social Justice, which seeks to identify and assess the ways that injustice affects women and men and devise interdisciplinary solutions that are responsive and sensitive to both genders. The female-led student group was created in recognition of women’s need to be more involved in issues that touch their lives. For 14 years, the group has hosted the Women for Social Justice Conference, an annual lecture series to highlight important social and economic justice issues affecting women and girls. Katy A. Strzepek, director of women and gender studies at St. Ambrose, said much of the conference’s success lies in its Catholic identity by showing how students “can enact Catholic Social Teaching, most particularly by standing in solidarity and asking what they can do to help.” She advised students to remember that “no one is voiceless and to go to the uncomfortable places … to foster fruitful and honest dialogue.”
Last year, the conference focused on how gender affects globalization and what students can do to advocate for better policies. Keynote speaker Catherine Tactaquin, co-founder and executive director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, discussed the effects of migration by describing how immigrant and refugee women are often forced to leave their families and work abroad to be able to send wages to their families back home.
Saint Louis University is another Catholic institution that values continual engagement with the world and advocating for global change. Students at the Jesuit university attended the 20thIgnatian Family Teach-In for Justice gathering in November, to learn, reflect, pray, network, and advocate for solidarity and social justice issues. Members of the Jesuit body around the country meet annually to be supported by a like-minded community linked by faith and justice. The gathering also gives them an opportunity each year to honor their Jesuit companions who were martyred in El Salvador in 1989. Last fall, the conference focused on pushing students out of their comfort zones to heed the call that Pope Francis described as the “fire, the fervor in action, awakening those who have become dormant.” Students were encouraged to return to campus with a newfound passion to make a difference in the world and not to accept the status quo. They were urged to participate in the next Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in February by sharing what they had learned with their elected officials and asking for more just policies. To watch speakers and plenaries from the conference, visit the Ignatian Solidarity Network. And be sure to mark your calendars for the 2018 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, which will be held November 3-5, in Washington, DC.
SAnother annual occurrence that helps Catholic colleges keep their fervor going is the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering -Young Leaders Initiative in Washington, DC. In February, students from 24 Catholic colleges and universities attended the gathering, with the theme, “Building Community: A Call to the Common Good,” which stressed the significance of acting in solidarity with our marginalized brothers and sisters at home and abroad.
The four-day youth conference was an “opportunity for U.S. leaders in Catholic social action to network, advocate for social justice, and form emerging leaders in service to the Church and society,” according to the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, which organized the event. Topics ranged from how climate change is affecting those in the Amazon, to the history of racism in the Catholic Church and how to combat it today.
About 500 people participated, with more than 100 college and university students in attendance. The students expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to be empowered to bring change back to their campuses. Senior theology student at CUA Julia VanConas observed, “Having the opportunity to listen and discuss issues with my peers on topics ranging from immigration to environmental justice, gave me space to develop a greater desire to advocate and bring what I learned back to campus.” Catholic colleges and universities are continuously discovering ways to reinvigorate their campus communities with fresh peace and justice initiatives because it spurs action. Students are investing time in conferences that emphasize peer-to-peer collaboration, keeping abreast of topical issues, and obtaining the necessary tools and resources for advocacy so that they return to campus ready to share the knowledge and make a difference. As the academic year comes to an end and spring begins, this rebirth period offers an opportunity for fruitful examination of what you can do on your campus to revive those around you and advance the work of peace and justice for everyone.
January 15 presents the opportunity to reflect on the service and life of Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was a man grounded in faith, service, and love. A civil rights activist rooted in his Christian beliefs, Dr. King used the tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience to fight against racial inequality and injustice, and advocate for an entire people. Reflecting on the life of Dr. King is the perfect way to enter into the liturgical season of Lent, a season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent offers the opportunity to give ourselves in service, which can be done by tending to the physical, mental, or spiritual needs of others. Across the country, students from Catholic colleges and universities are following in the footsteps of Dr. King — and responding to the Lenten call of almsgiving — by creating programs that benefit the most vulnerable of society.
Students at Seton Hill University are taking action and promoting fair trade through their online business, Gray Hemlock. According to co-founder Fitzgerald “Fitz” Robertson, Gray Hemlock is “the online marketplace for the most affordable women’s fair trade jewelry in all the world.” Robertson created Gray Hemlock in December 2016 with fellow student Halie Torris as a way to sell affordable jewelry. In January 2017, Robertson and Torris watched “The True Cost,” a documentary that “highlights some of the negative working conditions in which people in the manufacturing system work,” according to the students. After watching this film, they realized that Gray Hemlock could have contributed in a small way to the system shown in the film. As a result, the two students reinvented their business as an effort that supports humanity. They decided they would partner only with organizations that could guarantee that their products were made “with fair wages, proper working conditions, and no child labor,” according to Robertson. It is also essential that artisan groups that partner with Gray Hemlock benefit from the profits. This is done by showing images to consumers that allow them to recognize that there are real people making all of the jewelry, people with families and struggles. There are also opportunities for artisans to take courses on topics such as financial literacy and healthful eating.
Seton Hill has been a campus that has given Robertson and Torris the opportunity to flourish as business partners. The two students credit their professors for helping them “inside and outside of the classroom” by providing coursework relevant to their interests in fair trade and by providing advice and resources. Gray Hemlock has also been a great platform to inform others about the importance of fair trade. Torris notes that “most people don’t know [what fair trade is] unless it’s explained on a basic level,” which is why the two students have started a conversation about fair trade through their business, which is rooted in service, love, and advocacy.
Students from St. Edward’s University are also taking the act of serving others into their own hands by advocating for those in vulnerable situations. Students Carlos Alpuche, Ricardo Apanco-Sarabia, Gloria Perez, and Joseph Ramirez are co-founders of YOUnite, a nonprofit that helps immigrant students understand their rights. These four students had the idea to create YOUnite when they attended Austin’s LevelUp Institute and were instructed to create a start-up to help solve a social problem. YOUnite was originally founded to be a “web-based toolbox for immigrants looking to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)” protection. The students sought to make the application process “approachable, accessible, easy, and become the ‘TurboTax’ of DACA,” according to Ramirez.
The vision of YOUnite took a turn with the election of Donald Trump and the changing of national policy regarding DACA. According to the founders of YOUnite, they knew they needed to show students at St. Edward’s that “no matter what our political stance, we will stand together to find solutions.” In the months that followed, the students channeled their energy into a campus group that would meet the immediate needs of immigrants. They created “Monarchs on the Hilltop” in order to assist undocumented families on and off campus through a variety of services and resources. Ramirez notes that “Monarchs on the Hilltop” will “talk to leaders from the Diocese of Austin and Catholic Charities Austin to inform them of [Monarchs’] efforts regarding food access for students and how they hope the two groups could hopefully support them.” St. Edward’s has been an ideal campus for these students to serve the immigrant community because of its mission of social justice and advocacy.
St. Catherine’s and St. Thomas joint School of Social Work professor Katharine Hill incorporates voting registration and engagement into her classes to empower clients to have a voice.” Photo by Mark Brown.
Professors at of St. Thomas are empowering students to advocate in the classroom and combine study and service. Katharine Hill, associate professor at St. Katherine’s and St. Thomas joint school of social work, has begun to “ as noted by St. Catherine’s and St.Thomas news article. Hill explains, “As social workers, we talk about needing to advocate for social policies that will help our clients. But we never talk about the fact that the people who make these decisions are elected officials, and that social workers should be a part of that.” By working directly with both policymakers and those experiencing homelessness, students are able to visualize their goal of enacting social change. They are given tools in the classroom that help analyze which populations are less likely to vote and why, and also the benefits that come from voting. Hill adds, “A lot of students had not thought about voting. But by the end of the semester, they felt a sense of power that comes with voting and understood how voting also recognizes their clients’ humanity.”
The second time Hill incorporated this project into her classroom was during the 2016 presidential election. Students visited the Salvation Army and The Link, a Minnesota nonprofit that supports young homeless people and families. “Students helped register individuals there to vote,” Hill explains, “and passed out information about local and state ballot items and how to get to polling places on Election Day.” Hill notes the sense of empowerment that students felt by telling people their voice matters. In the end, students registered 400 individuals to vote and came away empowered by the visible change they were making. Hill says the course “fits with the larger Catholic framework to value every person and community for the common good.” In the future Hill hopes to act as a resource and contact for other colleges and universities that seek to incorporate voting and voter engagement into their curricula.
It is empowering to reflect on the variety of ways that Catholic colleges and universities are taking activism and advocacy in their own hands. Students and faculty are seeing a need and are taking action to alleviate this need. These campuses are also continuing the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. in unique ways that are centered on his mission of peace and equality. Entering into the season of Lent offers us the perfect opportunity to reflect on how we are serving the least of our neighbors and serving God to our fullest extent possible.
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.
The United States imports 80-90% of its seafood, and tens of thousands of people are exploited at every link in the seafood harvesting and production chain. The Labeling for Lent campaign is an effort to demonstrate that consumers would like to have the information needed, through appropriate product labeling, to purchase slave-free seafood. The Coalition of Catholic Organizations against Human Trafficking (CCOAHT) is collecting data on this through a nationwide survey to the Catholic community- now extended through the end of April!
The Labeling for Lent campaign builds on the coalition’s success last year with its national postcard campaign against trafficking in the international fishing industry. During that campaign, participants sent signed postcards to StarKist and Costco, requesting that they do all in their power to maintain supply chains that are free of forced labor.
Please consider filling out the survey to have your voice heard on ending human trafficking in the seafood industry.