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Saint Peter’s University Reflects on the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice

The Saint Peter’s delegation at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in 2022.

Every year, faculty, staff and students from Jesuit institutions across the country gather together at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington, D.C. Attendees are invited to come together to learn, reflect, pray, network and advocate for social justice.

The event is hosted by the Ignatian Solidarity Network in memory of the six Jesuits and their two companions who were martyred in El Salvador in 1989. The Office of Campus Ministry at Saint Peter’s University regularly organizes a group of community members to attend the weekend-long gathering.

According to staff at Saint Peter’s Office of Campus Ministry, “We come together each year in the spirit of the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador, using their lives and ministry as inspiration for examining the injustices of today and discerning how we might engage in them. The Teach-In is a place where people are empowered, re-energized, inspired, challenged and supported by a community that sees faith and justice integrally linked.”

This year’s gathering, which was held on October 22-24, marked a significant milestone, as it was the 25th anniversary of the event. In honor of this occasion, various members of the Saint Peter’s community took some time to reflect on their personal experiences at the Teach-In.

Carmen Benitez ’22

My time at the Ignatian Family Teach-In was a beautiful experience. It was a weekend full of hope, difference and community. Saint Peter’s Office of Campus Ministry has opened different doors for me and this one was a huge opportunity that enabled me to grow. Initially, I had no idea what to expect or what I would see. I just knew I was going to learn about immigration and social justice issues that were happening in America. I ended up hearing powerful stories that twist your heart and make you reflect on what is important in life.

The stories that stood out were the ones told by two students who started a program to make DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students feel safe on their campus. The students shared stories of DACA students who didn’t know their status because their parents feared for them. The DACA students also shared that they couldn’t attend certain trips because of their status and that they became ashamed of their situation. I personally have many friends who are DACA students, but never thought to ask how they felt about their situation. It was encouraging to hear how DACA students experienced love and support from the campus ministry office and at the Ignatian Family Teach-In.

During the Teach-In. I also had the opportunity to talk to different people and learn about services I never knew existed. Most important, I was with my own community, which is the Saint Peter’s Office of Campus Ministry family. My experience at the Teach-In was one that I encourage everyone to take and learn from. We have to become a new voice for the ones who can’t speak for themselves.

Kimberly Rojas ’23

Members of the Saint Peter’s community at the Teach-In in 2021.

I attended the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in 2021. Initially, I felt anxious to be attending such a large event after everything being virtual for so long due to the pandemic. However, I was also excited for the workshops related to climate change and migration, which are extremely applicable today. From the start, the emcees were very welcoming and energetic. The room was filled with students representing their school spirit from all across the country. We had fantastic keynote speakers who knew how to engage their audience and bring awareness to the issues at hand. I learned about many ways to get involved and help in a broader spectrum.

I was very proud to see students my age and even younger being the leaders for change at their schools. It was empowering to hear how they transformed their experiences from their own obstacles into resources for others going through something similar.

I valued my experience so much that I attended the Teach-In again in 2022. This conference helped me understand a little more about what it means to be a student at a Jesuit institution: seeing our values being put into action and being a voice for those who are voiceless. I would recommend that every student attend this conference at least once during their time at Saint Peter’s.

Erich Sekel, Associate Director of Campus Ministry for Community Service

I have attended the Teach-In five times during my time at Saint Peter’s, but 2022 was the first time I was there since 2014. I was extremely impressed by how much the event has expanded and grown. It was great to see representation from other Catholic institutions outside of the Jesuit network.

In my role at Saint Peter’s, I regularly work with students on service projects in the community, but the Teach-In is a great way to interact with our students in a different capacity. Participation in the event is a great opportunity for our students because the University covers the cost and students are able to learn about important issues like climate change and immigration reform. In addition, we have the chance to connect and network with representatives from other Jesuit institutions across the country.

This year, I was particularly inspired by one of our students who attended the event for the first time as a freshman. Samantha Castro, a student who came to Saint Peter’s from California, has been involved in community service since she got to campus. However her participation in the Teach-In encouraged her to take the next step of going from service work to advocacy or justice work. I look forward to seeing what Samantha will accomplish in her years to come at Saint Peter’s.

In many ways, Saint Peter’s mission to “excel intellectually, lead ethically, serve compassionately and promote justice in our ever-changing urban and global environment” is embodied in the experience at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. The Saint Peter’s community has developed a tradition to participate in this annual event to engage in a dialogue of faith and justice and to experience the company of people working for change.