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University hosts annual service project and prayer service for Walk the Walk Week

Over the weekend, the eighth annual Walk the Walk Week continued with a service project co-sponsored by student government and a prayer service at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on campus.

Walk the Walk Week (WTWW) is a series of University, department and student-sponsored events designed to address diversity and inclusion at Notre Dame. The week honors Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. Due to the campus-wide observance of MLK Day, WTWW programming takes place Jan. 16 to Jan. 27.

The second of this year’s keynote events was a prayer service at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, featuring reflections by the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church.

Curry was elected as presiding Bishop in Nov. 2015, and since then, he has served as the Episcopal church’s chief pastor, spokesperson, president and chief executive officer (CEO). His ministry has focused on racial reconciliation, climate change, evangelism, immigration policy and marriage equality, according to his biography on the WTWW website.

Curry gave the sermon following music from the Voices of Faith Gospel Choir. He began with a note of gratitude to King’s legacy.

“[This week observes] his legacy by continuing the work. A legacy is nothing if it ends with the person whose legacy it is. But if there are those who continue that work and live into it, then the legacy lives,” Curry said.

One way WTWW seeks to “continue the work” is through the service project addressing housing insecurity in South Bend. Volunteers gathered Saturday morning in Duncan Student Center to sort and package donations for local organizations.

Heather Asiala, the program director for strategic initiatives with the president’s office, discussed the origins of the service project.

“The service project really started out as a way to capture this idea of Martin Luther King thinking about the beloved community. How can we make the community that we live in a more equal and just place for everyone?” Asiala said.

The president’s office worked with campus ministry and the office of public affairs to reach out to local organizations and assess the needs of South Bend. Asiala said that they responded overwhelmingly by saying that South Bend has a lot of housing insecure and people experiencing homelessness. WTWW organizers created two types of kits to donate to the community — a “welcome home” housing kit including laundry and hygiene products and a cleaning kit for people moving from transitional housing to a more permanent home.

Asiala noted the campus community’s willingness to help.

“People are hungry to do something,” she said. “We wanted to give students, faculty and staff the opportunity to give back in a more meaningful way.”

Sofie Stitt, the student body vice president, said that student government worked with the president’s office to expand WTWW this year. Student government will also host a panel on the school-to-prison pipeline and the Black Excellence Dinner on Wednesday, Jan. 26, featuring a keynote address from National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) president and CEO Derrick Johnson.

Stitt attributed much of the success of the service project to student government’s director of Diversity and Inclusion – Race and Ethnicity Eliza Smith.

“Being able to be in this position and support her and the whole [department] team has been fantastic,” Stitt said.

Asiala said that around 200 volunteers helped out Saturday morning. First-year Dorothea Watson was excited by the high turnout.

“To see all the people that are here is absolutely insane to me,” Watson said. “I think it sort of symbolizes how everybody is supposed to do the walk together, be together and band together. That’s another aspect that we’re witnessing right now.”

Curry also referenced King’s idea of the beloved community.

“I’m so thankful that [Notre Dame is] raising up students to take their place in this country and the countries of the world, for they must help us create beloved community from our jangles of discord and disharmony,” Curry said. “[King] said over and over again: ‘We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools.’ The choice is ours: chaos or community?”

Curry said that America will not fulfill this vision of the beloved community until they honor the ideals of the nation, including “e pluribus unum,” or “out of one, many.”

“When one person loves another as much as he or she loves themselves, then ‘e pluribus unum,’ then America, becomes possible,” he said. “Jesus taught us that.”

Contact Katie Muchnick at kmuchnic@nd.edu.

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Community mourns losses during transgender day of remembrance

Editor’s Note: This story contains mentions of violence.

Community members gathered around the Grotto on Monday evening for a prayer service in remembrance of those who lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence. PrismND and the Gender Relations Center (GRC) co-sponsored the vigil.

Molly Doerfler, PrismND president, led the memorial in mourning for the 32 known transgender people who lost their lives to acts of violence based on gender identity in 2022.

“These victims, like all of us, are loving partners, parents, family members, friends and community members,” Doerfler said. “They worked, went to school and attended houses of worship. They were real people who did not deserve to have their lives taken from them.”

According to Doerfler, 2022 has seen an uptick in legislation that does not uphold the dignity of transgender and gender non-conforming persons.

“In addition to praying for those who lost their lives, we pray for quality of life for the living and an end to discrimination,” she said.

Doerfler encouraged community members to participate by coming forward to light a named candle to place by the Grotto.

“Tonight, we will read the names of those who have died and light a candle in their memory to proclaim the importance of life, the value our people bring to society and the human dignity that all people have,” she said.

Thirty-two lost names and stories were then delivered aloud, starting with Regina Allen.

Brianna Chappell, Notre Dame student government director of LGBTQ+ initiatives, was one of eight student speakers sharing the epitaphs of those murdered in acts of anti-transgender violence.

Kathryn ‘Katie’ Newhouse was a 19-year-old Asian American neurodivergent transgender woman,” Chappell stated. “She was an Illinois native who had a passion for hiking, sightseeing and advocating for trans rights. On March 19, 2022, she was killed by her father in Georgia before he died by suicide using the same weapon.”

Raymond “Ray” Muscat, Chappell continued, was a 24-year-old grocery worker described by coworkers as a kind soul with a glowing smile.

“On May 8, 2022,” she said, “Muscat was shot and killed by his girlfriend in Independence Township, Michigan.”

After the last name, Kenyatta “Kesha” Webster, was called, prayer intentions were offered by sophomore Elijah Mustillo for the souls of all those murdered this year, and in years past, as a result of anti-transgender violence.

Following intentions, Mustillo invited those gathered to join in praying the Lord’s Prayer. Then, everyone shared a sign of peace.

Arlene Montevecchio, GRC director, closed out the memorial at the Grotto, thanking student leaders of both PrismND and the GRC.

Montevecchio directed students to “safe spaces” on campus —naming PrismND, the GRC, campus ministry and the University Counseling Center (UCC) as “folks on campus who want to provide a safe and inclusive community here.”

Before concluding, Montevecchio urged the audience to remember the victims names that were just read off and cautioned about the continual dangers of anti-transgender violence.

“Some of these cases involve clear anti-transgender bias. In others, the victims’ transgender status may have put them at risk in other ways, forcing them into unemployment, poverty or homelessness,” Montevecchio said. “These deaths also highlight the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. May all of us continue to work for justice, peace and love in our world, today and every day.”

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu.

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Viewpoint

All roads lead to the Grotto

When I returned to my hometown in Northern Virginia for summer break, I felt a kind of dissonance almost immediately. My first few days were spent taking strolls and drives with friends, meandering streets that once felt so familiar, but now felt so different. My elementary school had been torn down, replaced with the bare bones of some new monstrosity, and the lookout spot that was the centerpiece of my youth was no longer open past sundown. Needless to say, it took a few weeks to feel like myself again—it took many trips to my favorite coffee shop, many late-night catch-ups and many journal entries. Of course, I missed my school friends and the daily stimulation of college life, but, perhaps more than that, I came to realize that I missed the Grotto. 

Throughout the summer, I found myself craving a safe place in my hometown where I could cry and unpack my emotions and feel everything — a place where I could be alone but amongst others. I found myself desperately trying to fill this void, desperately trying to find my Grotto. I tried going to the Basilica of Saint Mary, the one with the high ceilings and ornate paintings, but it didn’t feel right; I tried sitting along the Potomac River, the moonlight glistening against the water, but it didn’t feel right; I tried sitting in my car in the high school parking circle listening to nostalgic music, but it didn’t feel right. Nothing quite had the magic that I found at the Grotto; nothing could compare. 

Right when I thought I’d tried every place worth trying, I felt a strange calling to go to the hill by my house. I had just finished tutoring my neighbor and needed a moment of solitude, so I sat perched on that grassy hill for an hour, hearing the whoosh of cars combined with the crickets, feeling the rush and the stillness all at once. I looked at all the drivers passing by and began to think about all their lives, all their homes, all the complexity of their relationships and jobs and families. But thinking of all these worlds I would never know didn’t make me feel small, it made me feel like a valuable part of a beautiful whole. There I was, alone, an outsider watching from a quiet hill, but, somehow, I was so bonded to all these drivers. I was bonded by the humanity and beauty of being in the same place at the same time as all these perfect strangers. 

That’s when, for the first time since I’d been home, I felt that overwhelming, gut-wrenching Grotto feeling, a feeling of warmth and familiarity like the smells of our youth or the taste of our favorite foods. On that hill, I was transported to those cold South Bend nights, clinging to my wool coat, my fingertips turning blue, as I walked toward the Grotto. I was transported to the moments I saw the glow from the cavern, the moments I felt the warmth and love from hundreds of candles representing hundreds of people and intentions. 

Without a doubt, what makes the Grotto is the people. Without people, the Grotto wouldn’t be illuminated with candles each night; without people, the Grotto would serve no purpose. I’ve always felt the Grotto was a place for everyone to feel everything, regardless of background or religious belief. At the Grotto, all are welcome. Some Grotto-goers are Catholic, some aren’t; some go after nights out partying, some go after class; some go to pray, some go to sit and watch Tik Toks in peace; some go when they need a good cry, some go every single night. Some Grotto-goers go in packs, some go alone; some light candles for their best friends, some light candles for people they haven’t even met yet; some light candles in hopes of a good test score, some light candles in the wake of a bad test score. Grotto-goers come in all shapes and sizes, with all different needs and desires and lives. They are much like the drivers on the busy street by my house. 

Maybe my Grotto will always be that hill by my childhood home; maybe, later in life, my Grotto will become a person or a feeling or a prayer, but I’m learning that we all have a duty to ourselves to bring the Grotto everywhere we go. We all have a duty to be more human to each other, be the flame in the vacant corner. The Grotto is not just in Notre Dame, Indiana. The Grotto is in those moments you looked out for a perfect stranger; the Grotto is in that friend who is there for you unconditionally or the song that always puts you in a good mood. Here, the Grotto is our comfort place, but I’m convinced that all roads lead to the Grotto, even if those roads take you far, far away from Indiana.

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog, or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu.