Paige Cohen ’21
From February 2nd to the 5th, four Holy Cross students — Yankelly Villa ‘19, Jennifer Feraud ‘21, Motherlove Agbortoko ‘21, and myself (Paige Cohen ‘21) traveled with Robert Jones, Associate Director of the Office of Multicultural Education, to the 2019 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) in Washington, D.C. CSMG is an annual conference sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) with the professed purpose of “bringing together hundreds of participants whose faith inspires them to respond to pressing current domestic and global challenges relating to poverty, war, injustice and the promotion of human life and dignity.” Yankelly, Jennifer, and Motherlove were invited to attend the conference as part of their work as Multicultural Peer Educators (MPEs) here at Holy Cross, and I was invited because of my internship in the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning. We were all part of the CSMG’s Young Leaders Initiative, which gathers students from colleges and universities across the country to connect with and learn from one another about working toward social justice and the tenets of Catholic social teaching.
The theme of this year’s CSMG was Let Justice Flow (cf. Amos 5:24): A Call to Restore and Reconcile. CSMG organizers were open from the start of the conference about the Catholic Church’s many recent struggles, from the new revelations about clerical sexual abuse to concerns about racism within the Church, especially prompted by the USCCB’s November 2018 Pastoral Letter Against Racism. Restoration and Reconciliation were indeed the key words of the CSMG, acknowledging the Church’s institutional shortcomings but also highlighting the important social ministry that is still occurring within the Church and reaffirming the Church’s commitment to safeguarding the dignity of all peoples.
Over the four days of the conference, we attended a variety of panel discussions, reflection sessions, and community workshops, touching on a range of subjects, including racism, immigration policy, the environment, crisis pregnancies, affordable housing, nonviolence, and many others. I was particularly struck by the CSMG’s commitment to diversity. Throughout the weekend, we heard from a variety of voices within the Catholic church: clergy and laity, men and women, wealthy and working class, African-American, Asian-American, Native American, and Latinx. I was reminded of the true meaning of the word “Catholic:” universal. The CSMG stressed that the Catholic Church is not just for one group of people; it is for all. After a year of scandal and betrayal that has left me questioning the core values of my childhood faith, I was encouraged to hear from all of these voices and to see that the Church carries on, attempting to do better and to minister to and protect the dignity of all people.
On Tuesday, the final day of the conference, CSMG participants broke into state delegations to make advocacy visits to Capitol Hill. Rob Jones, Yankelly, Jennifer, Motherlove, and I traveled with the Massachusetts delegation to meet with Representative Jim McGovern, the congressman representing Worcester. In our meeting, we stressed some key issues: finding permanent legal solutions for Dreamers and TPS holders; maintaining protections for unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers; funding poverty-reducing international development and humanitarian programs; preserving funding to nutrition programs; investing in affordable housing; and supporting environmental stewardship. Representative McGovern expressed a shared interest in and commitment to addressing all of these issues.
I came away from the conference both encouraged in having met a diverse, vibrant community of Catholics committed to social justice, but also aware of my own responsibility to bring my new knowledge of these pressing social justice issues back to the Holy Cross campus in my work as a CBL intern and beyond. I would encourage any Holy Cross student who has the opportunity to attend a CSMG in the future as a way to bring greater context to Holy Cross’ mission to be “men and women, for and with others.”