This past February was my first opportunity to attend the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, DC. Having recently begun working at the Catholic University of America as an assistant campus minister, I took several of our students to participate in the Young Leaders Initiative. We met with over one hundred other young people from college campuses across the country, all of whom are active in works of service and justice in their particular communities. It was a time to share ideas, learn new things, and be inspired by the many speakers and participants who are working for a better world in many different fields and in all different corners of the globe.
The opening mass set the tone for the whole conference. The room was packed, and Monsignor Ray East’s energy and liveliness woke us up to the strength and beauty of a faith lived through action. Songs and readings were done in languages from the Americas, Africa, and Asia, and the room of people of all ages and races were united by a love of God and love of justice. It was impossible not be touched by the Spirit moving in that room.
Sunday evening we were honored to meet several members of Living Hope Wheelchair Association. Founded by people with spinal cord injuries, they serve others with spinal cord injuries and wheelchair-confining disabilities. They told stories of how they were founded, how they have grown, and how they have fought to overcome obstacles both external and internal. Seeing people who are physically limited have so much strength and resilience, and who have done so much for others who suffer, helped us to have a more hopeful perspective. These people were truly shining examples of positivity and solidarity in a world more and more threatened by negativity and individualism.
Throughout the conference, we heard from many different speakers and participated in different discussions about social justice issues both domestic and international. One of my students has spent a lot of time tutoring low-income students in a predominantly black school, and he was able to learn more about racial inequality in our educational systems, criminal justice systems, and even in our own Catholic Church. One of my students is a social work major, and was able to learn more about affordable housing and the homeless population in the U.S. Another one of my students, who would be leading a group of his peers to the U.S./Mexico Border the following month, was able to learn more about immigration and the struggle of Latino immigrants. Having lived the last several years in Latin America myself, I was fascinated to hear speakers from Ecuador and Brazil, and attend presentations on Colombia and Cuba. The diversity and the expertise of the speakers and presenters was fantastic.
The final day of the conference was spent on Capitol Hill, meeting with Congresspersons and staffers, and advocating for those victimized by unjust policies and systems. This was the first time I, and most of my students, had lobbied on the Hill. Armed with the knowledge gained at the conference, and our own experiences, we united our voices to call for change. Though it may be a drop in the bucket, civic participation is the responsibility of every citizen of a democracy, and the experience has spurred us on to continue advocating.
The CSMG conference was inspiring and eye-opening. It was an opportunity for growth, both for myself and my students, and something we will not soon forget. Let us pray that it was also an experience that will continue to move us to more action and a more authentic and lively faith.
Join us for the 2019 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on Feb. 2-5. Registration is open until January 11, 2019!
Harrison Hanvey is Assistant Campus Minister for Mission Trips and Community Service at The Catholic University of America.