Young Adults Put Mercy in Action at Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice

By Doris Yu

November 17, 2016 — On the heels of an American presidential election characterized by vitriol, 1,800 young adults from Jesuit institutions across the country gathered in the nation’s capital at the 19th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In  to learn, advocate, serve, and meet others devoted to unity and peace.

Held by the Ignatian Solidarity Network each November in tribute to the six Jesuit priests and their two lay companions who were murdered on November 16, 1989, for speaking out against El Salvador’s civil war, the Teach-In assembled young adults from Jesuit high schools, universities, parishes, and other institutions from November 12-14 in Washington, DC, and nearby Arlington, Va.

The event’s theme, "Mercy in Action," was inspired by Pope Francis' Jubilee Year of Mercy, which closes on November 20.

"To be merciful means to grow in a love which is courageous, generous, and real," the pope has said, and these young adults did just that.

The Teach-In included a candlelight prayer service in remembrance of the 1989 Salvadoran Jesuit martyrs and their lay companions.

Danny Wolfe, a student at Regis High School in New York City, said, “I think the ‘Mercy in Action’ theme emphasizes that the Catholic community is inclusive, despite the pervading idea that not everyone belongs in it. The whole point of this is that for those who may feel voiceless or forgotten, this is going to show that as Catholics, we do stand together. We want to make sure that everyone feels included and has a voice.”

"The Teach-In provides participants a space to make sense of the realities of injustice that exist in our world through a faith lens,” said Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network. "‘Mercy in Action’ provides a challenge — to enter into the ‘chaos of another’ as Fr. Jim Keenan, SJ, says, through listening, reflection and prayer on some of the most pressing issues of injustice facing our country and the world.”

Participants from Loyola University Maryland listen to the keynote speakers at the IFTJ.

The keynote speakers of the event were Jesuit Fr. Greg Boyle, best-selling author and founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention and rehabilitation program; Sr. Norma Pimentel, immigration advocate and executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley; and Lisa Sharon Harper, author and chief church engagement officer at social justice nonprofit Sojourners.

Jesuit Fr. Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, gave the keynote address.

“The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins, but only in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them,” Fr. Boyle said. “If we don’t welcome our own wounds, we will be tempted to despise the wounded.”

Fr. Boyle leads the breakout session titled “Citizens, Cities, and Law Enforcement: Perspectives on Building Community Trust.” 

In addition to the keynotes, a host of speakers offered more than 50 different breakout sessions. Some included “Conversations: LGBTQ Issues on Campus”; “The Refugee Next Door”; “Climate Change Advocacy”; “How Can Catholics Respond to Islamophobia?”; “Experiencing the Immigration Process and Its Obstacles”; and others.

Jesuit Fr. James Martin, best-selling author and editor-at-large for America Media, spoke about his recent book “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.”

For the first time, a delegation of four students and two chaperones from Red Cloud High School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota attended the Teach-In and led a breakout session titled “#noDAPL: 6 Things to Learn about the Historic Stand Against the Dakota Access Pipeline.” Savannah Jacobs, Jacob Rosales, Maioha Kingi, Almadon Swalley, Gabriella Rose Fills The Pipe, and Garrett Gundlach, SJ, gave a presentation on various facets of the struggle against the pipeline, including nonviolence, social media, treaty history, tribal solidarity, youth, and environmental impact.

“The Teach-In is a giant gathering of intelligent, motivated, and active individuals who want to work together and help create changes for the world,” said Rosales, whose father’s family is descended from Chief Bull Bear, a prominent leader of the Oglala Lakota. “I come from a community where similar interests and activism also result in gatherings, but on a very small scale.”

Rosales attended the Teach-In not only to bring the voices of the Native Americans living in South Dakota to the awareness of the participants, but also to learn from the diversity of schools and institutions represented at the event. Delegations hailed from across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and El Salvador.

Delegations from Canada and Mexico gathered during the IFTJ Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. 

“Such diversity and sharing of knowledge and experience will provide countless opportunities for me to take something away, but mostly, I wish to hear and see the perspectives of people who are seasoned in the field of social justice, and I hope to improve my own skills in that area,” Rosales said.

While in Washington, the Red Cloud delegation met with all three South Dakota members of Congress and the DC advocacy organization Center for Native American Youth.

Red Cloud High School students meet with the office of Congresswoman Kristi Noem to discuss the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Red Cloud students to recognize and celebrate their place in the Ignatian Family,” said Gundlach, a Jesuit scholastic currently serving as a campus minister at the school. “This is an opportunity for our students to celebrate their unique space in the Ignatian family, the only Lakota-Catholic institution in the network.”

Attendees at the IFTJ were given the opportunity to view the winning films of the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s “Voices From the Margins” social justice film contest, and winners of the new Moira Erin O'Donnell Emerging Leaders for Justice Award were also honored: Sara Beste (Boston College ‘05), Danny Swan (Wheeling Jesuit University ‘09) and Kristen Trudo (Loyola Marymount University ‘14). Given by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, the prize recognizes graduates of Jesuit universities ages 23-33 who have displayed a significant commitment to social justice leadership.

Far right: Francisco Herrera, official Ignatian Family Teach-In musician, led the crowd in song and prayer.

On Monday morning, participants of the Teach-In met on Capitol Hill for a public witness, gathering with signs, banners, and voices to pray, listen to advocates, and recommit to work for justice.

Students held up banners during the public witness. 

They sang, cheered and hugged in Columbus Circle, in front of DC’s Union Station, before dispersing to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers.

The public witness was held in front of Washington’s Union Station.

“Students, faculty, parishioners, alumni, current and former Jesuit Volunteers, will grow in their understanding, reflect on their faith, and move toward action when they head to Capitol Hill on Monday to advocate for humane immigration and border policies and a criminal justice system that is grounded in dignity," said Kerr. “Over the course of the three days, participants explored the need for a people-oriented approach to these issues that values the dignity of all.”

Students from Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore., prepare to meet with their senators at the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill.

To see more photos from the Teach-In, click here.

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