The country’s largest Catholic social justice conference was held in mid-November, bringing nearly 2,000 high school and college students together to learn, reflect, pray, network and advocate in the context of the Catholic faith tradition. Five CHC students joined them at the 19th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ) in Washington, D.C.
Accompanied by Joannie Cassidy, SSJ, director of campus ministry, and Colleen Gibson, SSJ, assistant director of campus ministry, Andrew Conboy ’18, Victoria Fedora ’17, Samantha Covias ’20, Delanie Wampler ’19 and Paola Mongil ’19 were chosen to attend the weekend conference based on their involvement in campus ministry and their commitment to faith and justice.
"Steeped in our mission and a commitment to campus ministry, five students desiring to deepen their understanding of active, inclusive love attended the conference,” says Sister Joannie. “Each student brought a passion for service, spirituality and justice. Our students had the opportunity to choose specific sessions of interest, hear national speakers and engage in dialogue with other students. Some of the diverse topics included immigration, climate change and homelessness. Our students offer hope to a broken world in need of their gifts, talents and compassionate hearts.”
The three-day conference featured keynote speakers including Father Greg Boyle, S.J., bestselling author, founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries, and Sister Norma Pimentel, M.J., executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and nationally recognized advocate for immigrants. There were close to 50 breakout sessions throughout the weekend, allowing the attendees to learn more about the issues of interest to them.
Conboy, an environmental science major with a passion for learning about the Earth and the issues threatening it, attended a session about climate change and its effect on small island nations and another about a pipeline that threatens the livelihood of the Lakota tribe on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. He recounted his experiences and how they impacted him in a student blog he wrote following the conference:
The theme of this year’s IFTJ was “Mercy in Action,” building off of the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. Designed to inspire young people to respond to the call to act with mercy and to build a more just world, the conference provided groundwork that the CHC student delegation will build on as they plan an advocacy day on campus next semester to bring what they learned to the greater College community.
It was important to Sisters Joannie and Colleen that their students had the opportunity to perform service during their three days in Washington, in addition to attending the conference. The group went to Gift of Peace, a shelter and hospice run by the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Mother Theresa, where they served meals to some of the poor and marginalized people of the D.C. area. According to Sister Joannie, this gave them the chance to see the “human face” of those who are suffering daily due to various situations, some of which were focused on at the IFTJ.
“It really gives perspective when you go to a conference like this and get the information, but then also see the lived reality of someone in that situation. It truly makes the experience whole,” says Sister Colleen. “Together, in that setting, the students had the chance to see who their ‘Dear Neighbor’ was and how they were already responding to them as well as how they could respond better in light of what was learned at the conference. The students all came back energized, inspired and with desire of heart to truly seek to make a difference for people like those we met at Gift of Peace.”
— Marilee Gallagher ’14