By Terry McCafferty ‘22
From November 6th to 8th, the Ignatian Solidarity Network held the annual Ignatian Family Teach-In in Washington, D.C. For 24 years, the event has honored the memory and mission of the Jesuits and their companions who were martyred in El Salvador in 1989 by people trained by the former United States Army School of the Americas. Over the three days, Jesuit and Catholic schools and organizations from across the nation gathered in the Capitol to learn about, reflect on, and advocate for issues of social justice. Here are five highlights from the weekend:
1. Fr. Bryan Massingale
On Saturday, the first keynote speaker of the Teach-In professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University Fr. Bryan Massingale spoke on racial healing and reconciliation posing the question, “What does it mean to be agents of reconciliation and conversion in a world that is broken and needs deep, deep healing?”
Fr. Massingale’s remarks received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the attendees matched only by his own enthusiasm and spirit. His speech was resolute in its message that “Racial privilege didn’t just happen. It was created by social policies. Having privilege doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s the rules of the game. Now we see the cost of that game and we have to change the rules,” and it was uplifting. “I look out now and see almost 1500 examples of hope,” he said.
2. Environmental Speakers and Activists
There were several environmental speakers and activists present at the Teach-In including Keya Chatterjee, executive director of the U.S. Climate Action Network; Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James; and Paul Campion, an environmental activist who was recently part of a hunger strike.
In her speech to the Teach-In, Keya Chatterjee decisively addressed the reality of the climate crisis detailing both the threat itself and the obstacles for solutions. For years, she said, this had been a problem that people refused to act upon saying, “The problem wasn’t that people who had power didn’t know that we were putting humanity at risk. The problem was that they did know that it required sacrifice [to act]. They had to give up their wealthy donors and they were not willing to do it.”
Chatterjee went on to say, “We don’t even see the extent of how bad it is because we ignore what is happening in the rest of the world.” In her address, she directly called out Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen. Krysten Simena, and President Joe Biden for a lack of sufficient action saying “we cannot compromise with the physics of the atmosphere.” Her words on the extent of the problem were unequivocal and harrowing. “Humans will survive,” she said, “We will exist as a species, but will we save humanity? Will we be able to save what makes us human?”
Sharon Lavigne, a breakout session speaker, never expected to be involved in activism, but when a multinational $9.4 billion company, Formosa Plastics, began plans to build a plant in her neighborhood which is in a highly polluted area of Louisiana known as Cancer Alley, she felt called to act. “I started this fight because of God. God chose me. The work that I’m doing is to save my community,” she said.
The pollution from the industries there causes higher rates of miscarriages, has potential negative impacts on the brain, and exacerbates other health problems from cancer to asthma. “In St. James, they release one million pounds of toxic air pollution a year,” Lavigne says, “Money is more important to them than our lives.” The factory was also going to be on the burial sites of enslaved ancestors of current community members and nearby a predominantly black school and church. Lavigne was told she was crazy for taking on the immensely powerful company, but through her faith she found the courage and determination to do it anyway.
On the last day, Paul Campion spoke to a large group from the Teach-In at a Public Witness outside of the U.S. Capitol Building sharing his personal story and his commitment to environmental justice. “They’re more afraid of us because we’re not afraid of them,” he said echoing the words of climate martyr Berta Cáceres. In her speech, Chatterjee also referenced Campion and other people who went on hunger strike for the planet, and shared their words, “We will live full and beautiful lives. We know what is at stake. We choose to fight together.”
3. Ending Title 42 Vigil
On Sunday evening, outside of the White House in Lafayette Square, a vigil was held for attendees of the Teach-In to pray for an end to Title 42, a policy of the Biden Administration which reporter Jack Herrera called in a Business Insider piece, “the most radically anti-asylum policy in more than 70 years.” The policy is being used to reject all those seeking asylum in the United States regardless of how dire the situations they are fleeing are. With the slow, reflective guitar music of Francisco Herrera, those gathered held candles, raised up the stories and pictures of asylum seekers, and sang for them and their families.
4. Dr. Richardson-Phillips
Saint Ignatius High School’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Dr. Richardson-Phillips also addressed the Teach-In. As one of the Ignatian Network Speakers, she gave a speech titled, “Yes, Lord!” in which she talked about what it meant to be called by God. “Do you know when you are being called?” she said, “I don’t mean when your cell phone is vibrating, but when your heart and spirit are being invited. Know that you are here for a reason. God is grooming you to heal a broken world. You are here to create relationships, to create a support system. You are not here by accident.”
5. Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J.
The founder of Homeboy Industries, Fr. Greg Boyle gave the final keynote of the Teach-In in which he spoke of the importance of kinship and his experience as the leader of the largest gang-intervention program in the world. A key theme of his speech was inclusion. He said, “Everyone believes in second chances, but the world rarely gives them. Everyone believes in a God that is inclusive, but we fail to include others,” and that “We are about kinship, about connection. There is an end goal for our margins. We want to expand the circle until it includes everyone.”
Video recordings of these speeches and more from the 2021 Ignatian Family Teach-In, are available here: https://www.youtube.com/user/IgnatianSolidarity/videos
To learn more about the Ignatian Solidarity Network, visit their website: https://ignatiansolidarity.net/
To get involved with Ignatians for Peace and Justice at Saint Ignatius High School, come to Campus Ministry on Mondays during the Formation Period or email Mr. Pacetti [email protected].