Guest Blog by Andrea Casey, Associate Christian Service Director
In 1996 the Ignatian Solidarity Network organized a small “Ignatian Family” gathering under a tent on the Chattahoochee River in Georgia, where folks came together in prayer to remember the six Jesuit priests and their companions murdered at the University of Central America in 1989 and to protest the School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, where 19 of the 26 Salvadoran soldiers responsible for the massacre received training. What began as a small gathering along the river has grown into an annual assembly of 1,700 high school and college students, educators, parishioners, and companions in Washington D.C., opening up new opportunities to advocate for policy change in our nation’s capital.
Since 1999, Jesuit has sent a group of students and teachers to the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice nearly every year, this year bringing a delegation of four teachers and 41 junior and senior students.
The theme of this year’s Teach-In was “Building Bridges,” inspired by Pope Francis’ recent visit to the US. The Pope offers a message of hope – that humanity can build a just world by welcoming those in need, by sharing resources, and by caring for each other and for this planet. Throughout the weekend, the members of the JHS delegation heard speakers share their personal stories and expertise on topics such as income inequality, racism, sexism, immigration reform, LGBT inclusion, end of life care, solitary confinement, clean water, Laudato Si, poverty in Appalachia, just employment policies and worker rights, the conflict in Syria, and reparative justice.
Sr. Helen Prejean opened with a keynote address on Saturday evening. Best known as an anti-death penalty activist, Sr. Helen spoke of her introduction to prison ministry in 1981, when she became spiritual advisor to a man sentenced to death for the murders of two teenagers. This experience prompted her to write Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty, later made into an Academy Award winning movie and adapted into a stage production that Jesuit presented in 2005. Sr. Helen implored us to, “Ask for the fire! Pray for the fire!” to take action against injustice. She assured us that in our most difficult times, “Grace will show up when you need it.”
What a way to begin the Teach-In! The weekend continued with two days of learning, reflection, connecting with the extended Ignatian Family, and preparing for congressional meetings. Naturally, we closed with Mass, and our students felt right at home, singing arm in arm, but now connected to something much larger than Jesuit Portland.
Early Monday morning, we braved rush hour on the Metro and headed to Capitol Hill for Advocacy Day. There, we joined about 1200 students in prayer one last time. After six weeks of preparation and research and an intense weekend of listening and learning, students now had the chance to take action by advocating for change with state representatives. In small groups, our students met with staffers from the offices of Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, and Congressmen Earl Blumenauer and Kurt Schrader. This year, our focus topics were: immigration reform, human rights in Central America, and environmental justice.
All of this is just the beginning. Many seeds were planted, and many fires were lit! Hear from some of our student delegates:
Senior Diana DiMarco: “The Teach-In is amazing and a good way to raise awareness and community around many different issues.” One of the most impactful moments for Diana was a talk on racism given by a high school senior who lives just outside Ferguson, Missouri. He “spoke with such passion and truth about his experience and how it led him to help his community.”
Junior Rikhia Chatterjee was deeply moved by a breakout session about an organization called Fe y Alegria: “Fe y Alegria is a Jesuit network of schools that brings international institutions in Central America, South America, and Africa… When I was reflecting upon this organization, I started thinking about how lucky I am to go to a school like Jesuit High School, and I need to thank my parents and teachers for the time and effort they put into helping me create a better life and future for myself.”
Senior Caitlin Scott: “I was wowed by how far the Ignatian Family reaches. I know that there are Jesuit schools across the country and even the world, but it really hit me to see us all together, talking so passionately about real issues. This conference strengthened my resolution to work for social justice in my future career and solidified my belief that there is a large place and need for that in society.”
Senior Katie Kelley: “I learned how much suffering there truly is in the world, and more specifically, the United States. Not only did I learn about this type of suffering, but I learned what I could do as a student to help end this suffering. The first break out session I attended focused on Restorative Justice, which focuses on figuring out the root of the problem and fixing that as opposed to punishing the accused criminal. This reminded me of the five pillars of Jesuit education. Jesuit teachings remind us that our education is more importantly care of the whole person (cura personalis) than care of simply one aspect of a person. This was the most inspirational breakout session for me, because it truly grasped the Jesuit identity in a way that I had never understood before.”
Jesuit schools across the world are committed to developing young men and women who will choose to stand in solidarity with those on the margins. The Teach-In unified our students with a much larger Jesuit community, but it also empowered them to take action, to stand with and to join in raising those voices that are being ignored.
So where do we go now? In a session on the widening income and wealth gaps, Sr. Simone Campbell acknowledged that digging deeper into issues of injustice can feel overwhelming. Where do we begin? She offered “Four Virtues for the 21st Century:” 1. Live with joy. Others will join you. 2. Have holy curiosity. Reverence the stories of everyone! 3. Share “sacred gossip.” Share the impactful stories you hear. 4. Do one thing; do your part! Identify what touches you. Become painfully aware of it. We are each one part of a much larger body.
Click here to watch HIGHLIGHTS from the TEACH-IN.
on Wednesday December 9, 2015