“The main reason we call it ‘Solidarity Week’ is because we don’t want students just to see issues of injustice,” explains Mr. Jeff Sullivan, SJ, campus minister and Arrupe Service Program coordinator. The presentations helped students relate to complex issues on a personal level. “This is what Pope Francis means when he said that ‘each and every one's existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.’”
In the morning class periods on April 11, Beth Knobbe, author and relationship manager at Catholic Relief Services
(CRS), presented students with a broad overview of the global refugee crisis. Knobbe discussed the resettlement of refugees and explained how CRS is providing support to those displaced in communities both domestically and abroad.
“What was most interesting about Ms. Knobbe’s work was the apparent solidarity and teamwork between the volunteers and those they help,” says Venessa Agyemang ’18. “The volunteers listen and work hand-in-hand with the local people, not for them. I think that creates a more memorable impact and it makes their work more effortless.”
In the late morning and early afternoon, students listened to the experiences of Metasabia Rigby and Mustafa Altaie, former refugees who are now active with Voices for Creative Nonviolence
, a Chicago-based organization that began in 2005 and challenges U.S. economic and military warfare waged in the Middle East.
Rigby was born in Ethiopia and came to the United States by way of Turkey and Croatia. In January 2016, she became an intern with Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Later that year, Rigby traveled to Calais, France, to advocate for the rights and needs of displaced refugee youth after authorities demolished a vast tent city there. Rigby is now pursuing a graduate degree from the School for International Training, and her interests include peacebuilding and conflict resolution.
Altaie fled Iraq with his family after he was kidnapped, tortured and released. He discussed his relocation to Arizona and his current experiences as a high school student in the U.S. In response to harassment he faced from other students, Altaie decided to form a peace club.
“It really surprised me that Mustafa was in our grade and has gone through so much,” reflects Brian Vance ’17. “His goals are so inspiring and his story is something that will stick with me.”
At the end of the day, Br. Joe Schenk, OFM, and Maria Joachum of Catholic Charities spoke to students about the resettlement of refugees. Br. Schenk provided information and statistics about the plight of refugees around the world, and students learned how Catholic Charities is providing assistance to refugees specifically in the Chicago area.“The speakers were able to provide a face and a narrative to the refugee experience,” says Sullivan. “Stories like those told by Metasabia Rigby and Mustafa Altaie enable students to be in solidarity with those who are facing injustice. Afterward, it was moving to see several of our students approach our speakers and offer words of encouragement, support and gratitude.”