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Rowing Into the Deep: 2,000 Gather at the 20th Annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice

BY ISN STAFF | November 14, 2017

“Coming from an immigrant family, for the past two years, I have felt alone caring about immigration. This weekend, I learned that I am not alone. My Teach-In teammates won’t let me be alone. The 2,000 attendees who showed up won’t let me be alone. And God won’t let me be alone. A speaker said that to row into the deep, we have to have a sturdy boat and lots of rowers. Thank you for giving me a Teach-In full of other rowers.” [Alex, Loyola School, New York City]

From November 4-6 in Washington, D.C., the 20th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice did just this—built upon a network for justice, equipping attendees to “row into the deep”—to be challenged and strengthened in order to build a greater, stronger, more enduring love of justice and ability to work for change.

2,000 delegates from more than 120 Jesuit and other Catholic high schools, colleges, parishes, and other ministries gathered from November 4-6 for the 2017 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice.

This year’s gathering focused on the Ignatian concept of magis, which is, in the words of Pope Francis, “the fire, the fervor in action, awakening those who have become dormant.”

A host of presenters challenged attendees to expand their understanding of racial equity, the immigrant experience in the U.S., environmental justice, gender equality, LGBT inclusion, and reform in the U.S. criminal justice system, amongst other issues.

A delegation from Homeboy Industries, a non-governmental organization providing hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women, presents a breakout session on “Homeboy Advocacy: Community Organizing to Create a Community of Kinship.”

Energy at the event was high but solemn through the weekend, as stories shared at various presentations and through interpersonal connections grounded participants in the lived realities of many of the issues discussed. “This weekend, so many people have had the courage to say hard things, hard personal experiences and hard truths about our society,” shared Tiannah, a senior at Loyola School in New York City. “When I feel my response and see others’ response to their courage—the tears of shared pain and empathy and the shared conviction to work for change—I wonder if my voice, my story might resonate with some people.”

Fr. James Martin, S.J., led many attendees in a discussion of his book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity on Saturday. “You can’t feel anything but hope and joy when you meet these amazing young people, whose hearts and minds are committed to Gospel justice,” shared Martin that evening.

The weekend’s first keynote speaker, Fr. Bryan Massingale, a member of the theology faculty at Fordham University and racial justice scholar, emphasized the pervasive injustice of racism, emphatically stating that “racism is our most central justice challenge. Every social justice challenge is entangled with racism. Every one.” He framed much of his discussion around the class of 2018, a group of students who have seen national events centering around race during each year of their high school or college education. Massingale called upon the Ignatian concept of magis as the “sacred holy restlessness that leaves us unsatisfied. It is that longing for more that breaks our hearts and breaks us open, so that we can become co-creators of the new,” calling on participants to action: “What is now does not have to be. Therein lies the hope. And the challenge.”

  On Saturday morning, keynote Sr. Patty Chappell, SNDdeN, executive director of Pax Christi USA, addressed her anti-racism work. She spoke of the disease of racism, stating that “there has never been an equal playing field in the legal systems, the political systems, the religious systems, the educational systems, the social service systems, the economic systems and within the family systems” and diving into the racism present in our society’s approach to criminal justice and the opioid crisis in relation to race. She called upon delegates—both white people and people of color—to “row into the deep” of combatting racism: “This is our moment in history, my brothers and sisters and WE MUST shout from the housetops the injustices that we see all around us…for unless we do, we have no right to speak of, much less desire the peace that we all so deeply crave.”

Maria Stephan, senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace, ended the Teach-In as the third keynote speaker, discussing the essential work of peacebuilding. She touched on numerous historical and present-day accounts of effective non-violent resistance for social change. She called upon attendees to work together for change in uncertain times, reminding that “all of the major advances in human rights and human dignity were brought about by people who rowed out into the deep, organized, and resisted….Faith in action really means something. The Jesuit style of trouble-making stays with you for a lifetime.”

Beyond Teach-In speakers, breakout sessions, policy briefings, and networking events, more than 1,400 individuals participated in advocacy meetings during Advocacy Day, on Monday, November 6, on Capitol Hill, specifically advocating for the Dream Act and a racially-just criminal justice system.

José Cabrera speaks at the 2017 Advocacy Day Public Witness.

José Cabrera, a senior at Xavier University and immigration reform activist, and Miguel Garcia, Jr., with Homeboy Industries, speakers at the Advocacy Day public witness, shared their personal stories to illustrate the need for humane, comprehensive reform in the immigration and criminal justice systems.

More than 1,400 individuals advocated on Capitol Hill for the Dream Act and a racially-just criminal justice system. [Photo credit: Doris Yu, Jesuits of Canada and the United States]

Check out the 2017 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice video archives.
Full list of generous 2017 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice sponsors.

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