Category Archives: Global Interfaith Movement

Colombia…4 months later

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(by Justine Carlson)

Human dignity is not negotiable.

This was a nugget of wisdom that I learned back in December while I was in Bogota, Colombia. It speaks volumes as to how one would answer the Vincentian question; What must be done? There is more that needs to be done than I realized. I was catching up with an old friend the other day and he asked me about my trip to South America a couple months back. I was taken back to the place where forgiveness, human dignity, reconciliation, faith, education, and power were normalized and brought into a new light.

 

One of the several greatest lessons I learned in Colombia was how education, religion, politics, and social justice can be intersectional. I am still trying to figure this out today as I witness several minority groups suffering and not provided with the same rights as the majority. As a Roman Catholic, my continuing question is how can I be an ally? How can I help? My time in Colombia has made me appreciate religious diversity, even more so than I did before. While most the country identifies as a Catholic/Christian country, how one lives out their faith there is different based on the individual through education, political participation, giving back to their local communities, and many other ways.

 

Another highlight that I took away from this experience was their approach to nonviolence. In Colombia during this time, part of the national peace agreement had passed, which grants equitable and equal human rights for all. This was a true historical moment for them. One last piece of wisdom that I’ll never forget is that faith is about uncertainty. Similarly, to the United States, many are uncertain of what their future will hold for them. It is not as easy as it sounds, but having a small bit of a hope and/or ounce of faith is how the people in Colombia that were experiencing trauma, homelessness, violence, whatever it may be, continue living the fullest life. Faith through resilience.

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Vincentian Service Day brings students closer to community – News – The DePaulia – The student newspaper of DePaul University

 

DePaul students and faculty participated in DePaul’s annual“Vincentian Service Day” May 4, where students

Courtesy of Taj Simmons: DePaul students garden outside of the Zakat Chicago Community Center dur- ing Vincentian Service Day May 4. This is the 13th year the community service event has been held.
Courtesy of Taj Simmons:
DePaul students garden outside of the Zakat Chicago Community Center dur- ing Vincentian Service Day May 4. This is the 13th year the community service event has been held.

volunteer at sites across Chicago in a super-charged day of service. DePaul volunteers cheerfully flocked to McGrath Arena at 8 a.m. on Saturday where they partook in some interfaith prayers and were sent off to their respective service sites. The cheerful demeanor of all those present was derived from the knowledge of the good they were doing in their community.

 

DePaul’s Jewish Life coordinator, Matthew Charnay, took a moment to describe the idea behind Vincentian Service Day.

 

“It is something that staff and students look forward to all year. The chance to get out into the community and do work with your fellow classmates is such a positive experience,” said Charnay. “The ability to stand in solidarity with not only peers, but fellowChicagoans, people of faith and standing together as a community, not just a school community but a world community, is a highlight for the entire university.”

 

It seems that Charnay voiced exactly how DePaul students feel about this day. “(Vincentian Service Day) is important because it teaches DePaul students to look beyond themselves,” said Taj Simmons, DePaul junior andVSD team leader. “Too often in college we become self-absorbed and block out what’s going on all around us, and Vincentian Service Day really gives us a chance to go beyond what we know.”

 

Simmons also noted how much it has expanded over the years.

 

“It’s grown so much since I was a freshman. My first year, all of the service groups started inside of the (St. Vincent de Paul church) before leaving for their work. Going from that to the quad last year to McGrath Arena this year is just an amazing leap forward. I never thought there would be so many people dedicated to taking action to keep Chicago as glorious as it is, but now that I know there are, I can’t help but feel elated.”

 

Charnay echoed Simmons’ sentiment in regards to the day’s steady growth over the years. “We keep expanding the number of service sites that we visit and this year we even had students and families come to DePaul for activities.  It will only continue to grow. When you have such a great program and everyone involved can see the wealth of positivity and justice that is the end product, it makes it very easy to keep growing that program. I can only see it getting bigger in years to come.”

 

The community members who benefited from this day had positive things to say as well. Laila Muhammad, director of Zakat Chicago Community Center gushed about DePaul students who planted a vegetable garden at the community center. “The students were very helpful. The garden really brightened up the area,” said Muhammad. “It’s something that will continue to benefit the community. Last year when we had the garden, a boy had never had red lettuce before, but now he asks for it like candy. It can change a person’s life and encourage more nutritious eating.” In this way, one day of service can have lasting effects on a community.

 

“I think (the service day) is great,” said Muhammad. “I think that it shows DePaul’s understanding of the holistic approach to education. You can’t just teach in the classroom, you have to go out and experience life.”

 

That appears to be precisely what DePaul’s Vincentians in Action are hoping to achieve. Indeed, Charnay said “It is one thing to talk the talk, but when we give students the outlet to walk the walk of service, they have a chance to experience firsthand the mission that drives this university to new heights.  To take something theoretical (and) intellectual such as the ‘dignity of every human life’ and make it tangible, the lesson is better received, and it gives students time to reflect on their work.”

Vincentian Service Day brings students closer to community – News – The DePaulia – The student newspaper of DePaul University.

By Anne Malina

Published: Sunday, May 12, 2013

Updated: Sunday, May 12, 2013 20:05

 

Digital Story: Realities of El Salvador

So 5 months ago I went to El Salvador for a Service Immersion Trip. And once I returned, I wrote a small blog about my experience, “Realities of El Salvador.”

This quarter, I took a digital story class and we were asked to talk about something impactful. A digital story is a short film filled with photographs and audio. It is simple, easiy and to the point. With this assignment, of course my trip to El Salvador stuck out at me. It has definitely been a couple of months, but that experience is still with me. I hope you enjoy my work, and here is my digital story:

Digital Story: Laura Mena

Peace,

Laura E. Mena ’14

Spring Quarterly Interreligious Celebration: Life, Death, and Social Justice

Life, Death, and Social Justice

As the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings circulated around the news outlets, the DePaul University community stood shocked and worried. All of the faculty, staff, and students called their loved ones, and checked up on each other’s family and friends. Coincidentally, the Interfaith Scholars had been planning for their Spring Quarterly Interreligious Celebration with the theme revolving around, Life, Death, and Social Justice. The evening usually holds four significant segments. The first, is an opening prayer, which was held by DePaul Community Service Association, University Minister Rubén Álvarez, who asked the audience to center their minds, bodies, and spirits in order to be present. The second, is the opening introduction of the theme usually done by a short talk. The DePaul community was honored to have Sr. Helen Prejean talk about her interfaith experiences and the ways in which they effected the way she perceives life, death, and social justice. The third segment of the evening was composed of short-story performances and prayers by three DePaul students, Dana Jabri (Muslim), Tom Miller (Agnostic), and Josh Sushan (Jew), each of whom reflected on occurrences of life and death in their lives. Below is Tom Miller’s reflection and story he shared with the audience.

“I want to share a story which I think touches each of these themes: Life, Death and Social Justice. And then try to explain how I addressed them as someone who identifies as an Agnostic. For the past two summers I have been volunteering at a summer camp called Camp Courage. This camp is only a week long. This is a grief camp for people who are connected to a recent death. There are about 40 or so kids who go there each year, all between the ages of 6 and 13. Each and every one of these kids lost someone close to them, parents, friends, aunts, uncles, even siblings.

I remember very clearly the story of Alex. Alex was about 9 years old when I was introduced to him. I soon learned he had a twin brother. Alex liked to swim and was on a swim team. One day their mom drove them to a swim meet. But as they were on their way to the swim meet, a garbage truck sped through a red light and crashed into the car Alex’s mom was driving. Alex’s twin brother was instantly killed and the crash only mildly wounded Alex and his mother.

When I was talking to Alex he would ask questions like, “Why did I have to live and he die?” He felt guilty for living, he felt like he was wrong to be alive, to be given life when his brother had his life stripped away because they were going to Alex’s swim meet.

 So as an Agnostic how was I supposed to approach this situation? Was I supposed to talk about the meaning of life? About Karma, an afterlife, Heaven, Hell, God? I didn’t know what faith his parents were raising him with. Should I talk about morality, or all the philosophical ideas I have been learning about for the past few years? Where was Social Justice? What would Social Justice say I should do? What about that garbage truck driver? Should he be thrown in jail for the rest of his life? What if it was an accident?

What was I supposed to tell to a 9 year old about life and death? Especially when I had no idea what I thought of it, or am still trying to figure out what to think of it. I did not want to tell this little boy that he will see his brother in heaven. I didn’t know that, I wasn’t sure of that. I’m still not sure of that. I didn’t want to lie. I wanted to tell him something, to comfort him, to give him something to believe in, something to give his life meaning. But should I be the one to give meaning to someone else’s life? I didn’t want to sugar coat anything, but I also knew that I couldn’t give him a long philosophical lecture based on everything I had been learning at DePaul.

What I ended up doing was listening to his story. I looked him in the eye and I smiled. I shared with him a moment of my life simply listening. The only thing I knew at that point in time was that I cared for this boy. While I have never lived his life or went through what he went through I understood that there was an intense struggle he was going through. At that moment I knew that he was not alone, and that I was also not alone. As an Agnostic I realized that I don’t know how to answer these questions, but I think we should be okay with talking about them.

Now, when I go to camp courage this upcoming summer, I’m going with the goal of trying to make kids smile. I think sometimes we forget how to smile or how to have fun and we all need to be reminded every now and then.

One of my favorite intellectuals to quote is Einstein. With all his knowledge and wisdom, he wrote this, ‘The life of the individual has meaning only insofar as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful…'”

– Thomas Miller 

Knowing that the Anti-Death Row activist and spiritual guider Sister Helen Prejean was going to present the opening remarks introducing the theme of the evening, as a group, the Scholars began to think of ways in which we could get the campus students’s ideas, thoughts, and topics they wanted to discuss after the introduction was given, as the interreligious dialogue activity for the evening. The idea was to get the students to form discussions that came from their own quandaries. So we collected questions, topics, and ideas from the 200+ students that were present. For the last segment of the evening, we invited the students and audience to participate in meaningful discussions about the ways in which life, death, and social justice effect the ways in which we percieve our faith traditions, and as students of the DePaul community.

Some of the questions suggested:

What about your religious tradition do you find life-giving?

Do you feel the responsibility to engage in social justice work? How does your personal faith tradition or belief system inform your answer?

What do you hope to do in your life before you die?

Sr. Helen Prejean talked about the tragedy of the Boston Marathon, how do we as a DePaul community provide support to the Boston community?

As the event came to an end, the faculty, staff, and students had for the last time this school year, reflected as a community on their individual faith values to the roles that life, death, and social justice play within one’s life.

– Dana Jabri ’15

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife

HeavenA Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife

Near-Death experiences otherwise known as NDE’s are controversial. Thousands of people have had them, but many in the scientific community have argued that they are impossible. Dr. Eben Alexander was one of those people.

A highly trained neurosurgeon who had operated on thousands of brains in the course of his career, Alexander knew that what people of faith call the “soul” is really a product of brain chemistry. NDE’s, he would have been the first to explain, might feel real to the people having them, but in truth they are simply fantasies produced by brains under extreme stress.

Then came the day when Dr. Alexander’s own brain was attacked by an extremely rare illness. The part of the brain that controls thought and emotion (and in essence makes us human) shut down completely. For seven day Dr. Alexander lay in a hospital bed in a deep coma. Then, as his doctors weighed the possibility of stopping treatment, Alexander’s eyes pooped open. Her had come back.

Alexander’s recovery is by all accounts a medical miracle. But the real miracle of his story lies elsewhere. While his body lay in comma, Alexander journeyed beyond this world and encountered an angelic being who guided him into the deepest realms of super-physical existence. There he met, and spoke with, the Divine source of the universe itself.

The story at first sounded like a wild and wonderful imaginings of a skilled fantasy writer. But it is not fantasy Dr. Alexander says. Before he underwent his journey, he could not reconcile his knowledge of neuroscience with any belief in heaven, God, or the soul. That difficulty with belief created an empty space that no professional triumph could erase.

Reading this book has continued to remind me of how great God really is. It doesn’t matter who you are or what traditions/belief you come from, God uses anyone at any moment in their lives to carry out his work.

By: Webster Vital

Pope Benedict’s Resignation

Pope Benedict during his Resignation Speech
Pope Benedict during his Resignation Speech

The Pope Resigned?

Wow. This is all I have to say.

I was getting out of class and I checked my Facebook newsfeed. All the statuses dealt with Pope Benedict XVI and his resignation. I was shocked, there was no way this was happening, I checked CNN’s website and read this: Too tired to go on, Pope Benedict resigns.

As a Catholic, I panicked a little. Who will be our next pope? When will this be decided? I had so many questions and then I started to really think about the pope’s decision. As Pope Benedict gets older, it is only obvious that he would like to rest and enjoy his life. Still, I did not see this coming especially because Lent is around the corner. No pope has resigned in over 600 years. I didn’t even think it was possible for a pope to resign.

I remember seeing him when I went to World Youth Day a couple years ago; I was astonished at the whole experience. I was only a few feet away from him!

We’ll see what the next few weeks bring. Until then, if you are interested read Pope Benedict’s full statement.

Peace,

Laura Mena ’14

Being Present as a Form of Healing: QIRC Reflection

Dialogue in the happening...
Dialogue in the happening…
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Vincentian Art Exhibit

I think I’m getting the hang of Quarterly Inter-Religious Celebrations (QIRC). This was my second QIRC on staff, and 4th or 5th QIRC overall, I believe. It was very different going from hosting to presenting on the evening’s theme, Healing A Wounded World Through Art, – I found the former to be significantly less challenging than the latter, which is stressful for obvious reasons. That said, I had a fantastic time.

One of the things that caught me off guard was how empowered I felt in my religious identity while speaking about it to others. In the past, I have been unwilling to identify with a specific tradition or faith because I had been unwilling to claim ownership over what I believed. I understand now that this is because I had been looking for the ‘perfect’ religion. Without ever realizing it (and, indeed, oftentimes hiding behind a mask of feigned ambivalence), I was hailing religions like cabs – only to leave each taxi the second that their route to my destination varied from the one I desired. ‘There’s got to be a cabbie that has thought about this route before, someone who knows exactly what it is that I should do,’ I thought to myself. Since then, I have come to understand that only I can chart this route, because only I have had my life of experiences. As a result, I’ve begun to take ownership over what I believe; love it even. And it seems as though now that I love what I believe, people are more interested in hearing me talk about it – and now that people want to hear what I have to say about Buddhism rather than what others have to say,  it is easier for me to find delight in my identity. I want to hear what I have to say. I suppose that is the healing that I will take from the QIRC as a whole.

Islamic Art Exhibit
Islamic Art Exhibit

I also couldn’t possibly write a reflection without commenting on Morgan Spears’ performance. God, what a stupendous, brave, and vulnerable piece of art. And how much more challenging and perfect could it have possibly been for our night’s theme? I had personally invited her to perform, but had no idea that her poem would be so personal and self-revolutionary. I think the most powerful part of the entire evening for me was when, after Morgan performed, she came over to my booth to thank me for asking her to be a part of the evening. She looked me in the eyes with an expression that said ‘sorry if that got out of hand…I kind of lost track of myself’, and I told her that she was incredible, and then she just smiled and we both laughed and hugged. She said that she was super nervous to open herself up the way she did, but I could see in her face how grounded and lucid the experience had left her feeling. Morgan’s performance, more than perhaps anything else at the QIRC, invited the audience to engage in radical transparency, heartfelt expression, and most importantly, the kind of listening that one can only learn by calling out for God and enduring the silence before Her/His reply.

Until next quarter!

Josh Graber ’14