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Catholics in America – ‘Hope, promise and commitment’ on a daily basis

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Not all of the profiles in this series need be saints or politicians or famous authors. There are plenty of “unsung heroes” who qualify to be included.  Some I work with on a daily basis.

The staff at Fairfield University’s flagship Center for Faith and Public Life is involved in research, events, initiatives and programs which strive to positively impact the church and world in dynamic and crucial ways. And while this isn’t a promotional piece for us (OK, maybe a little bit), Rick Ryscavage, S.J., Melissa Quan, Julie Mughal, Danielle Corea, Becca Constantine, Elyse Raby and the extensive team of faculty involved with the Center certainly fit the bill in thinking about a life centered on placing traditional Judeo-Christian values and social teaching in dialogue with contemporary American and global society. Plus our frequent wine and cheese gatherings always include some great political and theological debates which are worth the price of admission.

Detailing the Center’s important work in this forum will be difficult. In broad strokes, some of our many initiatives working for the betterment of all people include:

— A mixed method sociological, legal and moral study of undocumented students in the 28 American Jesuit colleges focused on human dignity.

— The Strangers as Neighbors academic workshop project seeking to establish new frameworks for religious language in immigration studies and discussion about exactly “Who is our neighbor?” (Lk 10:29) in this context.

— The Impact India 2021 study, in concert with the Jesuit universities in Mumbai and Chennai, analyzing the sex ratio imbalance crisis in the Asian nation stemming from male child preference, gender selective abortions, and resulting family dynamics.

— The God and Modern Biology initiative to demonstrate the coexistence and points of consonance between Catholic doctrine and contemporary scientific research.

— The JUHAN project network, a global collaboration among Jesuit higher education institutions to prepare undergraduate populations to respond to national and international humanitarian crises more knowledgeably and effectively.

— Sponsoring conferences over debates surrounding sex trafficking, human rights, social justice, gender equity, and women’s empowerment.

All of these are complemented by extensive service learning, charitable and volunteer opportunities, multiple events at the United Nations and the nation’s Capitol fostering engaged citizenship, academic and popular lectures on a wide variety of topics given by well-known scholars and personalities, and rigorous interdisciplinary conversation on the role of faith in the public square beyond an internal privatized life of “praying, paying, and obeying.”

All of these efforts seek to embody the Jesuit mandates to produce “men and women for others” and to view education not as pre-professional credentialing but rather as cura personalis (care for the entire person) where one fosters development along social, intellectual, moral and holistic lines. In addition to many cardinals, politicians and global business leaders, Camden native and Youngstown Bishop George Murry, S.J. supports our work regularly and vocally.

To learn more about any of these efforts, contact Fairfield through its website (www.fairfield.edu/cfpl).

In this Easter season, every Christian needs to reflect on what the stunning reality of the empty tomb says to us about God’s presence and human destiny and social interaction and authentic love. How are the tensions of every life — between body and spirit, between emboldened proclamation of religious identity and welcoming inclusivity, between what we are and what we ought to be — played out not only in the inner drama of our souls but also in our experiences as part of the human community? Who are we as believers and what does it demand of us spiritually, philanthropically, civically, daily?

Alas, the CFPL cannot provide compact readymade answers for these questions. But, as I am lucky enough to know firsthand, it can and does cultivate a greater appreciation for dynamically encountering them from within a perspective of hope, promise, and commitment.

For that, its visionaries and supporters are truly underappreciated American Catholic heroes.

Michael M. Canaris of Collingswood is an administrator at Fairfield University’s Center for Faith and Public Life and is on the faculty for the Department of Philosophy, Theology, and Religious Studies at Sacred Heart University.