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Campus Ministry to collaborate with fellow University centers

| Tuesday, September 10, 2019

While Campus Ministry’s divisions fulfill a range of needs across campus, they are united by their shared purpose of walking with students as they grow in community and as individuals.

“Campus Ministry will be focusing on moments of encounter – meeting students where they are and learning their story,” Danielle Collins, Campus Ministry’s communications director, said in an email.

Retreats and pilgrimages can provide the space needed for students with constantly changing lives to reflect on their spirituality and discover a vital part of their identity. Campus Ministry kicked off the year with two weekends of first-year retreats to help students find their place in a new and unfamiliar environment. 

Spiritual discovery events do not end with first year but continue for older students. Designed for sophomores, juniors and seniors, the “Becoming” retreat focuses on the questions that arise as post-college life looms.

“Often these questions are riddled with the fear of, ‘What in my life might change if I ask the questions that I feel called to ask?’ How do we navigate these questions that ultimately allow us to recognize that what we deeply fear is oftentimes what we deeply long for?” Christian Santa Maria, assistant director of retreats and pilgrimages, said.

Santa Maria said the inspiration for the retreat, which is in its second year, came from spiritual needs expressed to him by students in conversation. One of the retreat’s goals, he said, is to bring vulnerability and comfort with uncertainty into students’ spiritual lives.

“These questions that are really about purpose, about, ‘How am I supposed to love and engage in the world?’ It’s a retreat that simply gives people the space and invites them to have the courage to actually ask that question,” Santa Maria said. “Not to find the answer, but just to live the question.”

The retreat’s motto, “Discover what makes your heart come alive,” points to Campus Ministry’s mission to assist students in their search for self and purpose in a chaotic world. This year, Campus Ministry’s collaboration with the Center for Social Concerns to run a seminar-pilgrimage (“seminage”) to the southern border of the United States brings that spiritual discovery off campus.

“It’s taking a look at … how we recognize that Catholic Social Teaching isn’t necessarily just rules for us to follow, but a fruit of a spiritual life. It’s looking at, how does an understanding and relationship with God have anything to do with our understanding of justice, solidarity and service,” Santa Maria said.

The course, entitled “The Spirituality of Justice,” will examine faith and love’s intersection with social issues. The class will travel to McAllen, Texas, where Sister Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities works with Border Patrol to assist immigrants and asylum seekers on a daily basis.

“You have this symbiotic relationship where faith interacts with the social structures of our country in service of the poor, which I think is a hopeful outlook in an oftentimes deeply divisive conversation,” Santa Maria said.

Vital to the seminage is the idea of creating hope through love in a seemingly intractable situation.

“The heart of the class looks at a scripture passage, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ There’s nothing private about that; it’s inherently social,” Santa Maria said. “What does love look like in public? I would go so far as to say that’s what justice is.”

In addition to the public manifestations of students’ faith, Campus Ministry seeks to assist students in their more private and day-to-day spiritual struggles. Tami Schmitz, the associate director of pastoral care, said simply being with students and reminding them of God’s love is a rewarding part of her role.

“We provide a welcome space for students to talk about matters of the heart and to know they are not alone. We can provide guidance for their prayer lives and help them in deepening their relationship with God,” Schmitz said in an email.

Schmitz added that Campus Ministry will be working more closely with the McDonald Center for Wellbeing (McWell) and the University Counseling Center to better serve students in need of guidance. Both Schmitz and Santa Maria discussed normalizing prayer and transforming it from a series of words memorized by rote into a personal and rewarding experience.

“In an age where prayer can be hard to articulate or even confusing at times, especially in the midst of all the demands of our life … prayer can almost become another expectation,” Santa Maria said. “How do I come in contact with God’s invitation to fall deeply in love? That’s what makes me excited.”

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