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. Ms. Quiazon, director of campus ministry, and senior Isabel Solorio presided over the service.
Speaking on topics including condemnation, compassion, courage and cruelty, several seniors and one of Notre Dame's counselors were asked to share reflections. "We have all fallen guilty to playing the part of the crowd. We condemn the homeless for taking up space on our sidewalks, dirtying our parks with tents and sleeping bags, causing ruckus when they beg for spare change," shared Charlotte Ng '19. "We all have a responsibility to stand up for those in our community and use our voices for the marginalized. If we stand together in solidarity, rid ourselves of the judgemental assumptions we often possess about our neighbors, and simply, acknowledge them, we can resist the destructive behavior that relates us the the crowd who condemned Jesus."
Shreya Garg '19 shared her thoughts regarding compassion. "Compassion stems from recognizing dignity– from recognizing that the poor and vulnerable aren’t lifeless statistics. They are human beings with hopes and emotions who strive for success in their future, and they deserve to achieve that future. As people with the privilege of education and access to basic needs, we are called to reflect compassion in our actions and uplift these communities towards equal opportunity."
Courage was the topic of Reem Suleiman's '19 comments. "When we can see the individual - the person - behind the label, we become more in sync with our own faith values and we begin to blur the lines of division and bring to light the beauty of diversity...and that takes courage."
Lastly, counselor Heather Valentine spoke about immigration and the treatment of others. "We are called to act and speak out for those facing unjust cruelty and persecution. When we see hate, when we see fear, we are called to stand in solidarity with those who are facing persecution. Immigrants coming to this country in order to save their families need our compassion, action, and to be treated with dignity and respect. I also call on you to use your voice. I am just one person but when we speak out together, our voices become more and more powerful."
The full text of the speakers' comments can be found below the photo.
Charlotte Ng '19
Jesus stood alone in front of Pilate. His fate was chosen by the crowd; he was condemned to crucifixion. We know that Jesus’ death was unwarranted. Justice was trampled on by weakness and fear of the unknown. Pilate’s own conscience was drowned by voices crying for Jesus’ condemnation.
We have all fallen guilty to playing the part of the crowd. We condemn the homeless for taking up space on our sidewalks, dirtying our parks with tents and sleeping bags, causing ruckus when they beg for spare change. We assume the worst of their situation – they must be mentally unstable, incapable of holding a job, alcoholics, criminals, uneducated, inferior beings – and we fail to see the humanity within them.
At school, we are taught to use our voices to speak up for those who are silenced. Yet, when we walk down the street, our voices are lost when we see our neighbors suffering. We isolate them when we suddenly become blind and deaf to the needs of our San Jose community. Just like Jesus, who was condemned for his differences and feared for his actions, the homeless are condemned in society because they possess some unknown that we fear.
I, too, was guilty of this. I failed to see the humanity in the homeless because I was overcome by fear when I walked by them on the streets. I don’t live in San Jose and I rarely interacted with the homeless population as I was growing up. It wasn’t until I started attending Notre Dame that I was exposed to the local poverty. More specifically, it was in Ms. Vu’s chemistry class that I gained insight to the lives of the marginalized. Just around this time last year, my chemistry class was making Energy Care Packages and collecting hygiene products to donate to the Window, here at the Cathedral. The Window has been an important Social Ministry of St. Joseph’s Cathedral Basilica, and is now housed at Catholic Charities.
We took a tour and learned that the Window gave out sandwiches, snacks, water, and hygiene to customers. They provided our unhoused neighbors with an address for mail, resources for re-entry and drug support programs, and offered health clinics. Afterwards, I reached out and during the summer, I began to volunteer there weekly. Ms. Vu and the Window helped me build a bridge between myself and this foreign group of people whom I did not yet know. My fears and assumptions washed away and in the one and half hours that I worked each week, many men and women started to become familiar. I was overcome with contentment when I saw these people. I specifically remember one man who came every week hoping for a check, sometimes angry and frustrated that he didn’t have it, but usually grateful for our services. One day he arrived, and I happily gave him his check. The unmistakable joy and exuberant blessings expressed by him and many others taught me the importance of solidarity.
Solidarity comes in many forms, but one so simple that can easily be forgotten, is acknowledgement. Many times, we form a barrier against those who experience homelessness with the “us versus them” mentality and we forget to recognize the human dignity they deserve. But they are people like you and me; they are victims of horrible injustices that our society neglects. So, we need to change that. We all have a responsibility to stand up for those in our community and use our voices for the marginalized. If we stand together in solidarity, rid ourselves of the judgemental assumptions we often possess about our neighbors, and simply, acknowledge them, we can resist the destructive behavior that relates us the the crowd who condemned Jesus.
Shreya Garg '19
Of the 7.6 billion people in the world, 6 billion live on less than $10 a day, and around 21 children die each minute due to poverty and hunger. How do we approach such a deeply-rooted problem and help all these struggling people– or, in other words, how do we translate our sentiments of empathy into palpable action and foster compassion? Because the reality is that we cannot simply lift the burdens of inequality off the shoulders of the poor and vulnerable. When we look at the infinite global crises plaguing our world, we as individuals may feel completely helpless. Instead of resigning to doing nothing, however, we can look towards the story of Veronica, who, with her seemingly minute action of wiping the sweat off Jesus’s brow, reminded Jesus that he had dignity and worth even in his time of suffering. It is the acknowledgement of everyone’s claim to dignity that reflects compassion, and only with our collective decision to protect this dignity can we transform our individual actions into global change.
In Bangalore, India, there is an orphanage where 120 children were previously sleeping on metal cots with torn, rotting sheets. They ate the same meal every day, three times a day: rice with bland lentils. And many had been abandoned by their parents on the streets to survive on their own. After my uncle sent me heart-wrenching images of their molding mattresses, I raised around $2000 to buy everyone new mattresses through GoFundMe, selling baked goods in my neighborhood with a friend, and the Facing History essay award. With this funding, I left my privileged bubble in San Jose for Bangalore with the hope of allocating resources to where they belonged.
The moment I walked into the orphanage, I was greeted by droves of lively children that welcomed me into their home as their akka, or big sister. Their joy was contagious, and before I even told them about their new supplies, they enwrapped me in conversations about everything from global political corruption to American junk food. The founder told me that these children used to sleep under trees and were often beaten by the night police – now, they have a beautiful home and a community caring for their education and prosperity. The pure tenderness I saw in the founder’s eyes as he described his passion for his work was heartwarming, and I realized just how powerful a community built on compassion is. When I first planned this project, I expected to be the one doing the giving, but ultimately, I myself learned what it truly meant to be compassionate. Simon was likely a bystander when he was pulled out of the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross, and we too are called to step out of our comfort zones and walk with those struggling around us.
Compassion stems from recognizing dignity– from recognizing that the poor and vulnerable aren’t lifeless statistics. They are human beings with hopes and emotions who strive for success in their future, and they deserve to achieve that future. As people with the privilege of education and access to basic needs, we are called to reflect compassion in our actions and uplift these communities towards equal opportunity. As Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries eloquently puts it, “Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.” Like Veronica and the founder of the orphanage, we each have the power to endorse compassion by stepping away from the norm and being the voice of the silenced or suffering. Everyone deserves access to an undeterred future, and until this requisite is met, we must continue tearing down dividers, one act of compassion at a time.
Reem Suleiman '19
It is only natural to feel lost in our very broken world. Headlines bearing death tolls, names of victims, and details of inexplicable hate appear so often and our society seems to be trapped in a cycle of no escape. With each act of violence, we are brought one step closer to the next. The old adage, time heals all wounds, can feel insufficient for the era we are in today. This is an era wherein violence itself has become timeless.
As Jesus nears his crucifixion, he carries the cross upon his back. The cross is heavy with his message of love, dignity, and faith. But it is the raw hate, the utter discrimination and intolerance of his condemners that bring Jesus to his knees. He stumbles and his fall serves as a sheer manifestation of the weight and impact of hate. It is a testament to the destructibility of such abuse. And yet - Jesus gets back up. And so it is in this act, this rise in the face of persecution, that we can find a sheer manifestation of courage. Courage appears differently for everyone. In my experience, as someone who wears their faith so visibly, courage is an essential part of my everyday attire. It’s a virtue I need every time I step out of my house, and as we have all been reminded on March 15, it’s a virtue that I - and others like me - need when we enter our houses of worship. March 15th marks the day of the New Zealand massacre at the Christchurch Mosques, October 27th marks the day of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and the list is endless. I will take New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s approach and shift the conversation away from the nameless perpetrators of such hate and instead direct it to the acts of courage that came about in response.
My mother teaches at an Islamic school situated near a mosque in Santa Clara. After the NZ shooting, police cars were positioned at each entrance of the school and the mosque for security. I was struck by the fear in the little children’s eyes as they walked towards the school's entrance surrounded by police cars. They didn’t understand. I was moved by my five-year-old cousin’s question What did we do? after learning about the shooting of the mosques. All of this paints a grim picture. We are already too often reminded of the fragility of our safety on school campuses and adding a layer of being so apparently a targeted religious community only amplifies that fear. I went home that day, reaffirmed in my slipping faith in humanity, when my mother shared the most touching story. For that day’s Friday prayer, members of the nearby Synagogue, rabbis, and other individuals stood in solidarity in the mosque and formed a chain behind the Muslims who were praying. They described it as their version of a human shield explaining that it was their role to protect the religious rights of their brothers and sisters. This act of humanity - this act of courage - shook me out of my emotional paralysis. I had let my anger, my horror, and my fear override any form of a meaningful response. I was paralyzed into hopelessness and inaction. This demonstration of kinship and love between two often-targeted faith groups allowed me to appreciate the courage of standing in solidarity and the importance of religious dialogue.
We’re an incredibly diverse school community and so we have a responsibility to appreciate the role of education in contributing to our ability in recognizing truth and questioning stereotypes. Misconceptions can be very dangerous and it can dehumanize whole populations of people. It’s painful to see and hear my religion reflected back to me with such distortions and inaccuracies. More times than not, I am shown a portrayal of Islam that I do not recognize. When we can see the individual - the person - behind the label, we become more in sync with our own faith values and we begin to blur the lines of division and bring to light the beauty of diversity...and that takes courage. Each of my experiences has allowed me to recognize what courage truly means. It’s a kind of selfless love - it’s a love we see when Jesus - well on his way to certain death - comforts the grieving women. And it’s the kind of love that the grieving women embody standing at the foot of the cross. And as a Muslim woman, I not only grieve with the victims of senseless violence and discrimination, I continue to wear my scarf with pride as a witness of my faith and seek to treat each person as a child of God. In the Muslim tradition, we too believe that every life is sacred. For every life harmed, it is as though all of humanity and creation is harmed with it and so I leave you with an Islamic, Arabic saying - peace be upon you in Arabic - which translates to peace be upon you. Peace be upon and with you all.
Heather Valentine, Notre Dame Counselor
When I think of the cruelty and dehumanizing treatment that Jesus met when crucified on the cross, I see multiple parallels to what is going on in our country around immigration and how people are treated who come to this country. As the moderator of the Lighthouse leadership club and community activist, I recognize that we are all called to address these issues and open dialogue in our community around these topics.
When I think of the cruelty of Jesus dying on the cross, I see the connection to the immense hardships and pain in those who are fleeing violence and terror in their home country and making the arduous trek from South and Central America to the US. They often suffer starvation, illnesses, and leaving loved ones behind, only to be met with hate and fear at our borders. From tear gas to separating families, to living in cages under bridges, I cannot imagine how they feel being met with this cruelty.
Last summer, when I first heard about the zero tolerance policy of treating all people coming to our borders, many of them seeking asylum, as criminals and the mandatory separation of children from their families, I was outraged and I knew I had to do something. As a therapist who has worked with families in the foster care system and also with families who have newly immigrated to the United States, I know the true trauma and consequences that this type of separation can have on children and families.
I looked online for any resources for groups organizing around this and found Families Belong Together. I saw they were calling for nationwide rallies or marches on June 14th in response. I reached out to them and asked where the rally was in the Bay Area. They responded by telling me that there was none planned and asked if I would do it. It was one of those moments in life where I knew I had an important choice. I had never done anything like this. I thought to myself, “If not me, then whom.” So I said yes and took the plunge into the unknown.
I reached out in solidarity to the communities I am connected to, including Notre Dame. I was shocked at how much support and community I found with people I did not even know. Through Notre Dame, I was connected with the Catholic community of Father Jon Pedigo and Misa de Solidaridad and also with a Spanish radio station who helped me promote the event and reach out. In a mere 1 ½ weeks, with the help of my communities, I planned a rally at San Jose City Hall with hundreds of people in attendance.
The national outrage was spreading. Families Belong Together asked for a larger event to take place on June 30th. I again stepped up and organized that rally as well. We had around 5,000 people for that event and it was incredible. To see so many groups from the NAACP to CAIR join forces to proclaim that this type of cruelty is unacceptable, was one of the most moving experiences of my life and it changed who I am as a person. And while things are not perfect by any means and cruelty is still occuring, the mandatory zero tolerance policy was lifted after the pressure.
Jesus modeled for us how we are called to be in this world. Jesus hung out with the marginalized- the tax collector and the prostitutes. “Blessed are the poor” may sound familiar to us but was radical in its lifting up the lowest in society and giving them dignity. Jesus said “whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me” and let the little children come to me” Jesus shows us what it looks like to stand in solidarity with all of God’s people; regardless of social status or documentation papers.
I am grateful to be part of a school community that teaches the importance of the dignity of the human person, a central Catholic social teaching principle. When Jesus was stripped of his clothes, he was exposed and stripped of his dignity. How often, are our brothers and sisters stripped of their dignity, in their attempt to come to this country for a better life?
We are called to act and speak out for those facing unjust cruelty and persecution. When we see hate, when we see fear, we are called to stand in solidarity with those who are facing persecution. Immigrants coming to this country in order to save their families need our compassion, action, and to be treated with dignity and respect. I also call on you to use your voice. I am just one person but when we speak out together, our voices become more and more powerful.