This time last year, I was living in the IF (interfaith) house on campus. I was preparing for my house project to recruit other students to take a national survey about whether they felt interfaith dialogue was happening at their universities. I was immersed and engaged in issues of my own faith journey and provided with many opportunities to learn from others. And I came home at the end of each day to an interfaith family who I could joke with, snack with, and have deep, meaningful discussions with. IF House was a very hard place for me to leave after graduation in May.
Last night, OWU Radio had an interfaith special on the “SLU Life Weekly Update” that plays every Monday at 6. I tuned in. Not only was I reminded of the incredible community I left that continues to grow and develop with the current members, but I was also prompted to ask myself if I had carried away values from my time there and applied them to my life here. Am I still open to learning from other faiths? Am I taking the time to explore my own? Am I giving other people time and attention to dispel my stereotypes of their religion?
Espwa was founded by a Catholic priest who is still an active part of the spiritual life here. There are masses held every morning in the guest house chapel and a big church service every Sunday in the dining hall. Kids at Espwa are required to attend a church service every week although they are not required to attend the Catholic mass. They can go to a service of any religion that they choose in town.
Having said that, many of the children here (and the people in Haiti for that matter) are Catholic. Probably half of the volunteers who come to Espwa are Catholic as well. So I have had ample exposure to Catholicism this year. By having and overhearing conversations about faith with volunteers and attending a weekly mass, I have grown in my appreciation for this religion, that I admit I had not taken enough time to get to know.
- Catholicism is probably the best of some of the major world religions at recognizing and upholding women. The role of Mary in the Catholic church is pretty significant when you consider the hyper-masculine figure heads in many other religions. She serves as a female role model (albeit with very traditional values for what a woman should be) for members of that faith. I had never taken the time to appreciate how significant that is. Sure, there are many strong women in the bible, and we talk about them in Protestant services as well, but none are revered and upheld as much as Mary in Catholicism.
- For a long time I thought the tradition of confession was silly and made people feel unnecessarily guilty for living their lives. This year, I’ve come to understand it differently. I remember a particular conversation in the car on the way back from the beach to Espwa when it became clear to me. The Catholics in the van were talking about confession and why it was important to them. And I realized it’s actually pretty neat. Confession, for them, was a time to take for themselves to formally reflect on the things that they had done that they regretted. Things that may have hurt other people, things that may not be good for themselves. It’s pretty cool that Catholicism allows for that kind of freedom of expression and reflection as a way to try to live a better life. I’ve known many people from many religions who’ve felt the need to bottle up and sit with the things they regret and I find the confession can be a healthy outlet for some people.
- The Catholic community is devoted to service. I should’ve picked up on this a bit more in college, but it’s abundantly clear to me now as we meet Catholic volunteers from all over the country. I’ve learned that many parishes will select a very specific cause that they care deeply about and focus all of their energy on serving for that purpose. For many of the groups that come here, their parish has chosen Espwa as their cause to support. And even in the congregations that don’t specifically support Espwa year-round, they are able to collect thousands of dollars of donations from generous parishioners to contribute to our cause. From my experience this year I’ve found Catholics to be very giving people.
- I appreciate that the Catholic religion—on a large scale—recognizes the need to change and reassess policies as time goes by. No religion is perfect and people make mistakes in judgment all the time that needlessly hurt others. Parts of the Catholic religion are taking continued steps to rectify those inequalities. Pope Francis just made a powerful statement by marrying a couple that had been previously divorced (something many Catholics have been shunned from their churches for in the past). And Father Marc, our priest, has an open communion every Sunday at mass where anyone of any faith can take communion (something I’d always learned in school was distinctly non-Catholic). On top of that, he says he thinks women will be welcomed into the priesthood sometime in my lifetime. Change is difficult, especially for a religion of that size, but small steps are being made every day.
Every year in university before we left with our mission teams over spring break, there was a Franciscan blessing that was read as the Benediction to sending the teams off. I saved the paper from one of the sending off services and that Benediction now sits framed on my desk here. I am not Catholic, but there are parts of the Catholic faith that inspire me. I am not Catholic, but I appreciate the faith so much more after this year. I am not Catholic, but this Franciscan blessing means a lot to me and continues to inspire me to do my work here and to continue with service work after this year. It reads:
“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you will live deep in your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people and the earth so that you will work for justice, equity and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer so you will reach out your hands to comfort them and change their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with the foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world so you will do the things which others say cannot be done.”