Election-week thoughts on Catholic Identity

By Mary Laver
November 2, 2000

by Mary Laver
Campus Minister

As I passed the voter registration table near the Food Court a few weeks ago, I found myself thinking about a Sunday morning in Mexico last May.

Ten Cabrini students, John DiMucci and I were attending Mass with a church-full of families (and a few dogs) in a “colonia” or squatters’ village in Juarez on our last day of the Border Experience trip. Our notebooks and our hearts were filled with thoughts of the people we had met that week. But for everyone else in the church that morning, the issue was the Mexican presidential election, just weeks away at the time.

In his homily, the priest reminded the congregation that being Catholic isn’t just about going to Mass and saying prayers, as good as that might be. It is also about making a nation that is just and caring. About deciding which leaders and policies are more likely to help people and which are less. About making your voice heard in your neighborhood and at the polls.

North of the Border, that message is important for us to hear too. Early this fall, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities sent Campus Ministry a large packet called “Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millenium.” It does not evaluate particular candidates, but it does offer guidelines for approaching election day with a concern for the well-being of the entire community, particularly the poor and marginalized, and with a willingness to be curious, vocal and active citizens who encourage others to get involved too. It’s a message, really, about Catholic identity and how to live it out in a world where it’s often tempting to “star-6” the nightly news.

On our own campus, over the past year, Catholic identity has become a buzzword guiding several major projects, including writing a college mission statement in response to the Vatican document on Catholic higher education (Ex Corde Ecclesiae), and revising policies for resident students. Inspired by our experience in Juarez, and looking ahead to issues that will face us as this year unfolds, I’d like to suggest an expanded definition for the term “Catholic identity.” One that focuses not only on language and policies but also on ways of inviting each other to join in the talking, brainstorming, experimenting and compromising that makes a campus into a community for us all, whether we are students, staff, faculty, administrators, or employees of Wood, Arthur Jackson or Jefferson Health.

Catholic Social Teaching has a “ten-dollar word” for that, which has inspired folks from Poland to El Salvador: “Solidarity.” It can be a messy, time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process. But it’s exhilarating when it works, and educational even when it doesn’t.

In the meantime, we’re invited to let our voices be heard at the polls in a few days. Don’t forget to vote.

Mary Laver

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