Students, faculty and staff enjoyed a morning walk to our downtown place of worship, Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph for a Holy Week service featuring a recreation of the Stations of the Cross. Deacon Ruben Solorio also blessed participants of this year's justice immersion trips, asking God to "Open their hearts to be as wide as the world and let their service be a light that shatters the darkness."
Speaking on topics including condemnation, compassion, courage and cruelty, several senior were asked to share reflections. "We condemn others when we are afraid or threatened. But, it’s almost impossible to condemn when you understand and identify with the 'other', shared Mallika Yeleswarapu '17, leader of ND's DiversiTEAs group. "DiversiTEAs was created as a space to facilitate understanding. At DiversiTEAs events, we encourage people to step into their peers’ shoes and understand their position. We believe it is important to understand how our friends and classmates practice their spirituality, rather than just factually learning about other religions."
Julia Davidson '17 shared her thoughts regarding compassion. "The acts of compassion that we see in these stations can seem huge, and I often wonder how I can act similarly. In compassion, what matters is not the immediate solving of world issues, but the connections that we make to other people and the lessons we learn from them. When we make these connections, we continue to break down the walls that exist between us and build up understanding. I went to Nicaragua expecting to help further education, but I was really the one that was educated. If we can learn to be open to these experiences and listen to other people’s stories, then we are well on our way to spreading compassion."
Courage in its many forms was the topic of Zoha Qader's '17 comments. "Just like the women who stood by Jesus, it is our job to have the courage and stand up for what we believe in, stand up for what is right, stand up for those who do not have a voice or are too scared to let their voices be heard, because that's real courage."
Lastly, Michaela Fenton and Caroline Chmielewski-Anders spoke about human trafficking. "When Jesus is on the cross he says, “My God, my god why have you abandoned me?” Like Jesus, victims of human trafficking often feel abandoned. In the face of this horrifying crime against humanity, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Just as the story of Jesus does not end with his death on the cross, we hope that the stories of victims do not end with trafficking."
The full text of the students' comments can be found below the photo.
By Mallika Yeleswarapu '17
When I look around at our world, I see a lot of condemnation. Condemnation, I think, is a combination of fear and ignorance. People attack a demographic when they feel threatened, even without true understanding of their message or values. In a similar way, Jesus was condemned to death because people in power misunderstood his message and felt threatened. Today, immigrants and refugees come to this country in search of work and a better life, but some people, afraid for their lives or their jobs, condemn them. Black Lives Matter protests the discrimination in African American communities, but some people, believing them to claim superiority instead of equality, condemn them. The Muslim community preaches peace and acceptance, but some people, who associate them with a violent few, condemn them. Liberal and conservatives, who stay stuck in their own views, condemn each other.
We condemn others when we are afraid or threatened. But, it’s almost impossible to condemn when you understand and identify with the “other”. DiversiTEAs was created as a space to facilitate understanding. At DiversiTEAs events, we encourage people to step into their peers’ shoes and understand their position. We believe it is important to understand how our friends and classmates practice their spirituality, rather than just factually learning about other religions. Rather than giving a powerpoint presentation about the Jewish tradition of Seder, DiversiTEAs helped lead an actual Seder for classmates to eat together. These events have allowed students to connect with each other on an equal plane.
In this country, communities respond to exclusion and barriers with solidarity.
Recently, Jewish cemeteries in America have been vandalized in acts of hate and bigotry. In response, a Muslim community in Philadelphia set up a fundraiser to help cover the cost of repairing the cemeteries nationwide. They met their goal of $20,000 in three hours. In 24 hours they had raised $100,000 and are now over $150,000.
Stories of negativity and hate can be discouraging, but it’s instances like this that give me hope. The fact that so many people gave so quickly reminds me that actions of love are always present and are the most effective tool we have against condemnation.
The easy thing for the Muslim Community to do would be to focus on their own problems and the hatred that they face. But, they didn’t. They recognized the Jewish families were just as affected as their own by discrimination and worked to help them. Their actions remind me that no matter the difference in belief or value, we all belong to each other. And, we must live together and help each other. If we do that, only then will condemnation break down and cease to exist.
By Julia Davidson '17
Last summer, I travelled to Nicaragua with ND’s justice immersion trip, and the experiences I had there taught me so much about compassion. As part of the trip, we helped to build a school, but we also built bonds with the people we worked with. One of the most impactful moments of my time in Nicaragua came around the second day, as we were preparing for construction. One of the people from the organization that we were working with gathered us together to debrief us. He told us that we would not only be building walls for the school that day, but also breaking them down. My group got very excited at the idea of literally tearing down some walls and getting access to power tools, but we quickly realized that he was speaking metaphorically. He went on to say that our focus while we were building at the school should not be the construction itself, but breaking down the walls that exist between us. He especially encouraged us to interact with the schoolchildren, which we were delighted to do. The kids were very eager to play with us, and they would approach us to start up conversations. They also loved to play hand clapping games, and we all had fun both learning and teaching each other new ones. The moment where I most experienced a sense of community and togetherness was around our fourth day there. I took a break from playing games and looked around me to find our group of Notre Dame students completely mixed in with the Nicaraguan kids. People had broken off into little circles and were intently trying to remember the rules of the game. Conversations took place in mixed English and Spanish, but the messages were communicated through a shared desire to understand each other. Everyone was interacting easily and laughing together, and to me that was a really powerful moment.
Another time where I intensely experienced compassion was in my Senior Service Learning Project. I focused on Nicaragua and the trip for my direct service, and for my advocacy I interviewed people from the US and Nicaragua to ask about the biggest social injustice they saw in Nica. The stories that I heard from those in Nicaragua made me aware of the many complex injustices that exist, and brought me a greater sense of compassion. For example, I learned a lot about the education system, and how additional costs and long distances can eliminate school as an option for many children. This means that the more economically disadvantaged kids that could use education the most do not get it, and therefore cannot break the cycle of poverty.
So how can we act compassionately? The acts of compassion that we see in these stations can seem huge, and I often wonder how I can act similarly. In compassion, what matters is not the immediate solving of world issues, but the connections that we make to other people and the lessons we learn from them. When we make these connections, we continue to break down the walls that exist between us and build up understanding. I went to Nicaragua expecting to help further education, but I was really the one that was educated. If we can learn to be open to these experiences and listen to other people’s stories, then we are well on our way to spreading compassion.
By Zoha Qader '17
Being a Muslim in America can be challenging due to the discrimination and stigma surrounding my religion. When my Muslim friends experiences incidents of hate, when my mosque is being threatened, when my sister’s islamic school receives a bomb threat, it’s hard not to feel like there is a constant bubble of hate surrounding me. It can be intimidating to do simple everyday things like walking into a store because of the possibilities of what might happen.It is sad that hate crimes nowadays happen so often that it doesn’t surprise me, but that shouldn’t be a normal thing. It scares me because looking back through history discrimination always leads to something big unless people have the courage to stand up for what is right.
Recently I had an opportunity to speak out and help change these issues that were hurting me and many in my community. This occurred last April when my dad and an organization called CAIR went to lobby to elected officials about different bills that would help fix issues in the community. I had the day off of school so I tagged along with my dad and sat in on the meetings. I even had an opportunity to speak at the meeting but I didn’t because I was too scared. I was scared that I might sound silly or stumble over my words so I was silent because I did not have the courage to speak up. In the story of Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion, we see something similar with Peter and some of Jesus’s disciples who were afraid that they too might be arrested and killed if they stood by Jesus. However, Jesus meets some women who were not afraid to be with him as he journeyed to the cross. I had an opportunity to follow the example of these women when I went on a Notre Dame Justice Immersion trip to the Ignatian family teach in this year. At the advocacy conference In Washington D.C. we spent a whole weekend learning about issues like immigration and prison reform. Afterward we went to Capitol Hill and advocated on these issues at Senator Feinstein's office to one of her staff. It took courage to speak in front of all the other schools participating in this meeting and to such an important person. However we did it because although these issues may not have necessarily affected us, it affected many others. My Islamic faith tells me to not let fear stop a person from speaking the truth, similarly to catholic social teaching, both prompt us to advocate on others behalf. I chose to not speak, that day in April because I was scared. This past november at the teach in I realised that I cannot be silent not just for my sake but for the sake of my community and many others who may not have an opportunity to let their voice be heard. Just like the women who stood by Jesus ,It is our job to have the courage and stand up for what we believe in, stand up for what is right, stand up for those who do not have a voice or are too scared to let their voices be heard because that's real courage.
By Michaela Fenton '17 & Caroline Chmielewski-Anders '17
As part of SAMS, Students against modern slavery, Caroline and I are constantly being reminded of the cruelty that is human trafficking. Human trafficking is an issue that is prevalent across the entire globe.
From children forced to pick cacao beans in the ivory coast of Africa, to people who were falsely promised a new life in the Bay Area but instead were enslaved, to teens who are sold for sex on the streets of Cambodia, all of these are forms of modern slavery.
Like Jesus is stripped of his clothes, human trafficking victims are stripped of their dignity. They are treated as less than human. A commodity instead of a human being.
How can we live in a world where such cruelty exists? How is it possible that this issue is so widespread and yet many people do not know it exists? How can we make a difference?
When Jesus is on the cross he says, “My God, my god why have you abandoned me?” Like Jesus, victims of human trafficking often feel abandoned. In the face of this horrifying crime against humanity, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Just as the story of Jesus does not end with his death on the cross, we hope that the stories of victims do not end with trafficking.
With this, we find spots of light. Through our Senior Service Learning Project Mikaela and I were privileged to meet with bay area anti-trafficking advocates. We saw that even though human trafficking is a huge issue there are still people who are committed to fighting it.