Around 2,000 young Catholics attended the weekend's nineteenth annual 'Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice' in Washington DC. They gathered on 12 November from Jesuit high schools, colleges and parishes across the United States.
There was interest in the various internship schemes on offer, including programmes with the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach and Sojourners. Stalls providing information, badges, pens and t-shirts were provided by Jesuit initiatives - Ignatian Solidarity Network, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, America Magazine and guest stalls run by such groups as Nuns on the Bus, the Catholic Labour Network, Jubilee USA and the National Catholic Reporter. Some stalls invited visitors to write inspirational messages on table cloths and tee-shirts included the famous quote from Pope Paul Vl, 'If you want peace work for justice'.
Rebecca - from a Jesuit parish in Kansas City with 15 participants - said it was "good to bring people together who are excited about social justice". She was expecting a hopeful experience amidst "a very discouraging election result which left many people dispirited."
Greg Boyle SJ, author of 'Tattoos on the Heart', based on his experiences working with gangs in Los Angeles, spoke at a popular workshop about the post-election role "of those of us interested in social justice". He said he would continue to be concerned about social justice and the rights of minorities, reporting that "gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope". He was cheered when he said "this loss reminds us of what we care about - loving compassion and kindness". He insisted that "we must avoid demonising President elect Trump and those who voted for him" and continue to take inspiration from Pope Francis who gives such a wonderful witness such as the recent visit to a prison to meet prisoners.
James Martin SJ, who chaired the session, encouraged the lay people to speak out on behalf of the marginalised and do it with a sense of hope. "By virtue of your Baptism you are also the Church" he told the young people.
A huge variety of workshops included speakers on the 2014-present water poisoning crisis in the city of Flint, near Detroit. There was clapping when one Flint resident complained, "how can we be the wealthiest country in the world and allow this to happen?". 'Operation Hydration' is trying to ensure that water is regarded as a basic human right. It was reported that the victims of lead poisoning and their champions are looking at Catholic Social Teaching on Care of the Environment and refocusing on honouring "the abundant gifts God has given us."
The first evening was concluded with a moving prayer service commemorating Jesuit martyrs for Justice, especially the Jesuits killed in 1989 in El Salvador. Their witness was a key inspiration for the initiation of the teach-in. Candles were lit and the hymn 'The Lord hears the cry of the poor' sung. Chris Kerr of the Ignatian Solidarity Network received a great cheer when he said: "When Jesus said 'love your neighbour' it was more than a suggestion".
On Monday, the young people plan to visit Capitol Hill to lobby their politicians on Criminal Justice Reform and on Immigration Reform.
For more information read: www.ignatiansolidarity.net