Ignatian Family Teach-in holds true to Jesuit values

By Robert Creenan
Griffin Reporter

As a Jesuit institution, Canisius has a moral responsibility to serve and help the community at-large. Injustice is plentiful in 2015, a fact that members of the Canisius community recognized as they took time to properly address the issue. Whether looking at environmental destruction, religious persecution, the refugee crisis, LGBT discrimination, and various worker’s rights movements, there are clearly issues that need to be dealt with.

This past weekend was the 18th Annual Ignatian Family Teach-In, a conference of speakers and students, which included lobbying various members of Congress in the name of the Jesuit values that Canisius College hold so dear.

The event was started in the aftermath of the six Jesuit priests who were murdered at the University of Central America in San Salvador in 1989, along with their housekeeper and her daughter. As the Jesuit schools tried to figure out a way to promote their spirit and justice, they staged a protest outside of Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., where some of the soldiers that killed the priests were trained. Along with the protest, they held teach-in sessions under a tent, which Canisius would send its representatives to. That lasted until five years ago, when the teach-ins moved to Washington D.C.

The Canisius delegation is organized by Campus Minister Sarah Signorino, along with fellow Campus Minister Joe Van Volkenburg, alumni Mary Mietickli and Kaitlin Buehlmann, and professors Melissa Mosko and Patty Waters. This year’s posse of students who went included Ben Brasley, Daphne Sietz, Megan Cook, Kaitlin Garrity, Paula Uruburok, Monica Wrobel, Nicole Fusco, Emily Smith, Andrea Kraft, Greg Kopra, Matt Pernick, Nicole Maski, and Anne Continetti.

The theme of this year’s teach-in was “Bridges.” As Signorino put it, “It’s about how we’re building bridges, not walls.” It comes from a quote from the 35th general congregation of the Society of Jesus which reads, “The complexity of the problems we face and the richness of the opportunities offered demand that we build bridges between rich and poor, establishing advocacy links of mutual support between those who hold political power and those who find it difficult to voice their interests.”

A full crowd of 1,700 people attended the event. “On Saturday, we talked about economic justice, environmental justice, immigration reform, and human rights in Central America,” said Uruburok. “Sunday was the heaviest day because we went from 8 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. All day we had breakout sessions, keynote speakers, reflections, and a mass at night. On Monday we marched in front of Capitol Hill where we got the chance to lobby congressmen from our district.”

“I got to meet with Congressman Richard Hanna,” said Cook, “and by met I mean met with his staff because Congress is in session right now. Ben Brasley got to meet with Louise Slaughter, and we also met with Senator Chuck Schumer’s representatives.” The other representatives Canisius students met with were Chris Collins, Brian Higgins, and John Katko.

“The representatives I met with were only 5 years removed from me,” Cook also said. “It was intimidating because this is what they deal with all the time. But they knew where we were coming from, and the responses they gave us were pretty standard. The event was influential for me because I’ve never actively sought out my representative before. I’ve done that with student government, but not in Washington D.C.”

The major speakers at the event were affiliated with Jesuits in one way or another, whether they belonged to a religious order, teach at Jesuit schools or run Catholic publications. These include Helen Prejean C.S.J., an anti-death penalty activist, Alejandro-Olayo Mendez S.J., an expert on Central American migrations, employees from Alta Gracia, a fair-trade organization, and James Martin S.J., an author and editor for Catholic magazine.

This is Uruburok’s third time attending this event, and each time she’s gone, she’s been affected in a different way. “The first year I was there, the lobbying was impactful, because I didn’t know how possible that was. Telling those staffers my personal story was an eye-opener because you can see how much power the people have. The second year, we were working to be as inclusive as possible. There was a speaker talking on transgender people and how we can make them feel included in the church and not discriminated. This year, Maureen O’Connell talked about how racism is present in today’s world and how we need to do something about it now. Hearing all that impacted me in the same scenario, but in different ways.”   

“There were lots of events that brought up magis and cura personalis.” Uruburok recalled. “At the LGBTQ session I was at, there was talk of care for the whole person throughout. Like trans people want to be comfortable in their own body, which is what cura personalis is.”

“I think the Jesuits more promote justice from their values per se,” Cook said. “The whole event wasn’t promoted with #magis and #curapersonalis. They were integrated into the speeches without being directly named. It was more more our Catholic identity that reinforced the idea of justice.”

Signorino also said that students will take part in February’s advocacy month to lobby local politicians about the same issues brought up to Congress. The Jesuit values continue on.

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