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“What Are Our Special Responsibilities To the World’s Poor and Powerless?”

By Marybeth Kearns-Barrett ’84, Associate Chaplain

Marybeth Kearns-Barrett ’84This past spring when we planned the session entitled, “What does it mean to be a Holy Cross student?” for Gateways, our new summer orientation for first-year students, we turned naturally to our mission statement. Studying the four questions in the opening paragraph, we decided to have different faculty and administrators address each one. I was asked to address, “What are our special responsibilities to the world’s poor and powerless?”

I believe that the quick consensus of the planning group to have the associate chaplain discuss the question of our responsibility to the world’s poor and powerless is significant. For us at Holy Cross, this is not simply an academic question – though certainly we expect that it will be addressed academically in students’ course work and research. Likewise, it is not simply a humanitarian question, though often the spiritual underpinnings of our responses are not explicit. At Holy Cross, we believe this is a question rooted in our identity as a Jesuit, Catholic college. We believe that ultimately this is an inquiry sparked by God – by a growing awareness of one’s gifts and how they might be shared in conjunction with our conviction, rooted in the Cross, of God’s refusal to abandon those who suffer and God’s invitation to us to do the same.

While deciding who should address each of these questions was easy, trying to imagine how to present this question of the poor and powerless to a group of 18-year-olds and their parents was not as simple. How do we invite people preoccupied with so many other legitimate concerns, such as: “Will I succeed in this new environment? What happens if I don’t like my roommate? How will we afford these tuition payments?” to consider in the light of faith, the impact of their education on their responsibility to the world’s poor and powerless?

After considering various approaches, I decided to share with these new members of our community the stories of current students who have wrestled with this question. I am happy to report that finding stories to tell was not a problem. In my seven minute slide show, I shared the responses of six students: Brendan McDermott ’99 and his work for Habitat for Humanity in Africa; Kathy Cosgrove ’99 and her efforts with SPUD in Worcester; Yusuf Gulleth ’00 and his trip to Appalachia; Erin Moulton ’98 and her initiatives with Students for Life and violence against women; Meg Doe ’98 and her delivery of medical supplies to people in Iraq; and Chi Bang ’97 and his encounter with the people of Mexico. While the work of these students is as varied as the students themselves, there is a common thread in their understanding of themselves as having God-given gifts to share.

I think this prayer written by Chi Bang ’97, himself a Buddhist, at the end of his participation in the Mexico Program sponsored by the Chaplains’ Office captures well the spirituality of our students as they are engaged with the poor and powerless:

My feet have been washed; scales have fallen from my eyes.
Parents have sacrificed things we do not see.
God knows no boundaries; thus love knows no boundaries.
Let my eyes and ears be the teacher of my soul.
Let the breaths of these people set my sail along the journey of life.
Late night chats that inspire and inquire.
Ambient places that give life to me.
Hidden beauty in the streets of poverty.
The sweet music of laughter, friends anew shaking hands.
Teach me to offer as I have been offered.
To touch as I have been touched.
I long for the day for it to rain.
Rain down on this dry land, rain that will feed and cure.
But most of all, a rain that will shower and cleanse us with Love.

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