‘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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St. Norbert College Receives Grant to Fund Olive Branch Initiative

The Cassandra Voss Center (CVC) at St. Norbert College recently received a $5,000 grant from Campus Compact’s Fund for Positive Engagement for the 2017-2018 academic year. The grant is meant to help the CVC in “piloting a new initiative called the Olive Branch Initiative, aiming to bring the community together to share stories from, and engage with, different perspectives.”

St. Norbert was selected from a pool of more than 300 grant applicants, making St. Norbert’s selection even more honorable. Applicants were assessed by the following criteria: “the project must engage with divergent or unfamiliar perspectives to foster empathy and understanding; the project must develop positive relationships across differences to lift up our common humanity; and the project must engage in collaborative problem-solving to strengthen social times and civic vitality.” Grant submissions we assessed by how well a project would address the challenge named by the institution and lead to positive change. Congrats to St. Norbert College!

To read more about St. Norbert’s recent grant, click here.

One Million Acts of Kindness visits Saint Vincent College

St. Vincent College welcomed Bob Votruba, founder of One Million Acts of Kindness. According to Votruba, One Million Acts of Kindness is a goal for each person to perform one million acts of kindness in their lifetime. It is meant to be a mindset that is lived out every day of one’s life. Votruba had the desire to create a safer, more inclusive environment and did this in a unique way. He bought a bus and recruited friends and family to help him paint it. From there, he began his journey across the nation visiting different “college campuses across the country hoping to convince as many people as possible about this much needed movement for the world.” Votruba also works with educators to create a curriculum for school children K – 12 in order to help “create programs for teaching kindness in the classroom with emphasis on incorporating into everyday life.”

Vortuba brought his “Kindness Bus” to the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College on October 6. Fred Rogers had a major influence on Votruba’s message so he met with many of the students who are Fred Rogers students to spread his message of kindness for all.

To read more, visit Saint Vincent College news.

St. Scholastica Hosts Advocate for Nuclear Non-Proliferation

The College of St. Scholastica’s Alworth Center for the Study of Peace and Justice hosted Marion Küpker, a leading German peace activist and advocate for nuclear non-proliferation. She is the “international coordinator against nuclear weapons for the German Peace Society of United War Resisters.”

Her speech focused on her work with respect to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, the new UN treaty banning nuclear weapons, and on the 180 nuclear weapons (gravity bombs) still deployed in five European countries. She is “Hamburg’s international coordinator on nuclear weapons for the German Peace Society of United War Resisters, the country’s oldest anti-war organization.” Küpker’s work on direct non-violence is a mission supported by St. Scholastica, which advocates for peaceful resolution to conflict. Hosting Küpker reflects the university mission of providing “intellectual and moral preparation for responsible living and meaningful work.”

To read more click here.

Register for the 18th Annual Global Youth Justice Program!

Registration has opened for the 18th Annual Global Youth Justice Program. This year’s Program will be from January 23-25, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Global Youth Justice, Inc. “champions volunteer-driven strategies and low-cost innovations which alleviate some of the world’s more pressing and costly societal problems. Global Youth Justice strives to improve the quality of life for humans through reducing high juvenile crime rates and historic-high incarceration rates of adults locally and globally.”

This three day program “will harness positive peer pressure and utilize it in a peer judgement setting to help address the anti-social, delinquent, and criminal behavior of youthful offenders.” If this is a program you would like to attend, more information can be found on the Global Youth Justice, Inc. webpage.

Saint Michael’s College Combats Hate with Kindness

The Martin Luther King Jr. Society of Saint Michael’s College in Vermont hosted speaker Arno Michaelis, author of My Life After Hate. Michaelis was brought to campus to share his story and educate the campus on hate and how to combat it. Michaelis is a former member of a white power skinhead group and front man for the hate band Centurion. Michaelis re-called the chain of events that led him to this lifestyle, including his childhood and desire to be hated, that drew him to become a neo-Nazi. Growing up with an alcoholic father, living in a miserable home environment, pushing everyone that loved him away, becoming a school bully, street fighting, vandalism and alcohol, were all significant factors that lead him to white supremacy. According to Michaelis, hate became his perpetual state of mind and he received this immense high when people hated him.

The turning point for Michaelis was an encounter with one of his coworkers. Michaelis recalls; “I was this miserable, pathetic, hungover fool, and I’m starving… and one of the black guys at work was sitting down, and he has his lunch… and he’s got a sandwich that he’s cut in half, and he sees me there in the corner and he’s like ‘hey, skinhead, you want half this sandwich?” Michaelis recalls how it was the kindness of those who forced him to face his own hypocrisy that led to him to be freed from hate. Michaelis now works with “the organization Serve 2 Unite, which is dedicated to helping young people create inclusive, safe, and peaceful communities. He travels across the country sharing his story in an effort to combat the kind of hate he once spread.”

To read more about Arno Michaelis’s speech, please view Saint Michael’s College news.