Creating Welcoming Campus Cultures During a Pandemic

Millennial writer Marcus Mescher writes:

Competing for our attention amid concerns about student retention, revenue loss and pedagogical efficiency is a mental health crisis that has been simmering for years and is now threatening to boil over.

In her book iGen, psychologist Jean Twenge describes a “sudden, cataclysmic shift downward in life satisfaction” among young people. She warns this is “only the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to a mental health crisis made worse by screens that leave many young adults feeling more anxious, depressed and lonely.

As studies continue to show causative links between time spent using social media and higher rates of mental distress and social isolation, we have to find a way to interrupt the cycle of dependence on digital tools, which is especially challenging during stay-at-home orders and remote learning….

I am not arguing for in-person education in the fall. In the absence of a vaccine and without guarantees about universal compliance to wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing and other safety measures, students, staff, faculty, administrators and our friends and family will be at risk not only of contracting the virus, but also long-term health effects including damage to the lungs, heart, brain and immune system.

The essential question we need to ask ourselves as educators and members of Catholic institutions is how can we best encounter, accompany and empower our students in the midst of this crisis….

Formation happens more through relationships than individual dispositions or actions; we are what we repeatedly do together. For this reason, we have to be intentional about integrating self-care and mental health into our relationships as families, friends and communities for work, school or worship.

By leveraging existing networks as communities of practice, we can show that mental health is a priority by how we talk about mental health (as essential to everyone’s health and wellbeing, not just an issue for those with a mental health condition), how we order our day (making time for prayer, reflection or meditation) and how we check in with each other (beyond “How are you?” and the trite “busy” or “fine” responses).

These are first steps toward building a culture of holistic health and well-being.



Pope: The Pandemic Has Exposed How Much Damage is Caused by Extreme Economic Inequality

via the Vatican:

In this time of uncertainty and anguish, I invite everyone to welcome the gift of hope that comes from Christ. It is He who helps us navigate the tumultuous waters of sickness, death and injustice, which do not have the last word over our final destination.

The pandemic has exposed and aggravated social problems, above all that of inequality. Some people can work from home, while this is impossible for many others. Certain children, notwithstanding the difficulties involved, can continue to receive an academic education, while this has been abruptly interrupted for many, many others. Some powerful nations can issue money to deal with the crisis, while this would mean mortgaging the future for others.

These symptoms of inequality reveal a social illness; it is a virus that comes from a sick economy. And we must say it simply: the economy is sick. It has become ill. It is the fruit of unequal economic growth — this is the illness: the fruit of unequal economic growth — that disregards fundamental human values. In today’s world, a few wealthy people possess more than all the rest of humanity…..This is an injustice that cries out to heaven! At the same time, this economic model is indifferent to the damage inflicted on our common home. Care is not being taken of our common home. We are close to exceeding many limits of our wonderful planet, with serious and irreversible consequences: from the loss of biodiversity and climate change to rising sea levels and the destruction of the tropical forests. Social inequality and environmental degradation go together and have the same root (cf. Encyclical, Laudato Si’, 101): the sin of wanting to possess and wanting to dominate over one’s brothers and sisters, of wanting to possess and dominate nature and God himself. But this is not the design for creation….

We forget that, being created in the image and likeness of God, we are social, creative and solidary beings with an immense capacity to love. We often forget this. In fact, from among all the species, we are the beings who are the most cooperative and we flourish in community, as is seen well in the experience of the saints….

When the obsession to possess and dominate excludes millions of persons from having primary goods; when economic and technological inequality are such that the social fabric is torn; and when dependence on unlimited material progress threatens our common home, then we cannot stand by and watch. No, this is distressing. We cannot stand by and watch! With our gaze fixed on Jesus (cf. Heb 12:2) and with the certainty that His love is operative through the community of His disciples, we must act all together, in the hope of generating something different and better. Christian hope, rooted in God, is our anchor….

May the Christian communities of the 21st century recuperate this reality — care for creation and social justice: they go together —, thus bearing witness to the Lord’s Resurrection. If we take care of the goods that the Creator gives us, if we put what we possess in common in such a way that no one would be lacking, then we would truly inspire hope to regenerate a more healthy and equal world.

And in conclusion, let us think about the children. Read the statistics: how many children today are dying of hunger because of a non good distribution of riches, because of the economic system as I said above; and how many children today do not have the right to education for the same reason. May this image of children in want due to hunger and the lack of education help us understand that after this crisis we must come out of it better.


Fr. James Martin: Know the Gospels and Church Teaching, Vote Your Conscience

Partisan priests and even bishops have begun campaigning for their preferred party and pressuring Catholic voters to follow their lead, causing unrest among quite a few American Catholics. Fr. James Martin, SJ. offers some simple advice to those hearing such messages:

Neither a bishop, nor a priest, nor a sister, nor anyone, can or should tell you how to vote. They can point out important issues, but how to vote is up to your conscience. Know the Gospels and church teaching, and then vote as your own conscience demands.

As Pope Francis said, the church is supposed to “form consciences, not replace them.”

I’m writing this now because I’m being deluged with questions like this and Catholics telling me that their bishop or pastor is telling them they’ll be “going to hell,” or they can only vote for one party. That’s false. You’re an adult with a conscience. Use it and be at peace.


Conspiracy Theorist Bishop from Texas Endorses Bizarre Right-Wing Video

Christopher White reports:

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, has endorsed a video that includes anti-immigrant remarks and homophobic slurs by a priest of Wisconsin in which the priest claims, “You cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat.”

The video was released Aug. 30 by Fr. James Altman, pastor of St. James the Less Catholic Church in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and has since received more than 298,000 views.

In the 10-minute video, set to ominous music and dark lighting, the priest slams Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington D.C., for his criticism of President Donald Trump’s photo-op and appearance at the St. John Paul II National Shrine earlier this summer. He also criticizes Jesuit Fr. James Martin and his closing prayer at the Democratic National Convention; refers to participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects immigrants who entered the United States as minors from deportation, as “criminal illegal aliens”; and calls climate change a hoax….

On Sept. 5, however, Strickland took to Twitter to share the video and thank Altman for his “courage.”

“If you love Jesus & His Church & this nation…pleases [sic] HEED THIS MESSAGE,” wrote Strickland….

As for Strickland, who in recent years has emerged as one of the most partisan members of the U.S. hierarchy, endorsement of Altman’s video does not mark his first foray into promoting fringe or extremist clerics.

In 2018, when a former papal nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, issued a letter against Pope Francis charging that he mishandled clergy abuse claims and called for the pope’s resignation, Strickland issued his own letter saying he found Viganò to be credible and asked his priests to read his letter in all Sunday Masses that week in August 2018.


Pope: The Preferential Option for the Poor Must Shape Our Response to the Pandemic

via the Vatican:

The pandemic has exposed the plight of the poor and the great inequality that reigns in the world. And the virus, while it does not distinguish between people, has found, in its devastating path, great inequalities and discrimination. And it has exacerbated them!

The response to the pandemic is therefore dual. On the one hand, it is essential to find a cure for this small but terrible virus, which has brought the whole world to its knees. On the other, we must also cure a larger virus, that of social injustice, inequality of opportunity, marginalisation, and the lack of protection for the weakest. In this dual response for healing there is a choice that, according to the Gospel, cannot be lacking: the preferential option for the poor (see Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium [EG], 195). And this is not a political option; nor is it an ideological option, a party option… no. The preferential option for the poor is at the centre of the Gospel….

At the beginning of His preaching, He announced that in the Kingdom of God the poor are blessed (cf. Mt 5:3; Lk 6:20; EG, 197). He stood among the sick, the poor, the excluded, showing them God’s merciful love (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2444). And many times He was judged an impure man because He went to the sick, to lepers… and this made people impure, according to the law of the age. And He took risks to be near to the poor.

Therefore, Jesus’ followers recognise themselves by their closeness to the poor, the little ones, the sick and the imprisoned, the excluded and the forgotten, those without food and clothing (cf. Mt 25:31-36; CCC, 2443). We can read that famous protocol by which we will all be judged, we will all be judged. It is Matthew, chapter 25. This is a key criterion of Christian authenticity (cf. Gal 2:10; EG, 195). Some mistakenly think that this preferential love for the poor is a task for the few, but in reality it is the mission of the Church as a whole, as Saint John Paul II said. (cf. St. John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 42). “Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor society” (EG, 187).

Faith, hope and love necessarily push us towards this preference for those most in need, which goes beyond necessary assistance (cf. EG, 198). Indeed it implies walking together, letting ourselves be evangelised by them, who know the suffering Christ well, letting ourselves be “infected” by their experience of salvation, by their wisdom and by their creativity (see ibid). Sharing with the poor means mutual enrichment. And, if there are unhealthy social structures that prevent them from dreaming of the future, we must work together to heal them, to change them (see ibid, 195). And we are led to this by the love of Christ, Who loved us to the extreme (see Jn 13:1), and reaches the boundaries, the margins, the existential frontiers. Bringing the peripheries to the centre means focusing our life on Christ, Who “made Himself poor” for us, to enrich us “by His poverty” (2 Cor 8:9),[2] as we have heard….

Many people want to return to normality and resume economic activities. Certainly, but this “normality” should not include social injustices and the degradation of the environment. The pandemic is a crisis, and we do not emerge from a crisis the same as before: either we come out of it better, or we come out of it worse. We must come out of it better, to counter social injustice and environmental damage. Today we have an opportunity to build something different….

The preferential option for the poor, this ethical-social need that comes from God’s love (cf.  LS, 158), inspires us to conceive of and design an economy where people, and especially the poorest, are at the centre. And it also encourages us to plan the treatment of viruses by prioritising those who are most in need. It would be sad if, for the vaccine for Covid-19, priority were to be given to the richest! It would be sad if this vaccine were to become the property of this nation or another, rather than universal and for all. And what a scandal it would be if all the economic assistance we are observing – most of it with public money – were to focus on rescuing those industries that do not contribute to the inclusion of the excluded, the promotion of the least, the common good or the care of creation (ibid.). There are criteria for choosing which industries should be helped: those which contribute to the inclusion of the excluded, to the promotion of the last, to the common good and the care of creation.


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Air pollution is much worse than we thought by David Roberts: “The evidence is now clear enough that it can be stated unequivocally: It would be worth freeing ourselves from fossil fuels even if global warming didn’t exist. Especially now that clean energy has gotten so cheap, the air quality benefits alone are enough to pay for the energy transition.”

This Is Inequity at the Boiling Point by Somini Sengupta: “Extreme heat is not a future risk. It’s now. It endangers human health, food production and the fate of entire economies. And it’s worst for those at the bottom of the economic ladder in their societies.”

It’s not just about abortion: What ‘pro-life’ means for Catholics in the 2020 election by John Gehring: “Trump’s Catholic allies working to reduce Catholic identity to a single issue are out of step with the church’s long-standing approach to politics and the common good. Though claiming to defend the faith — and even questioning Biden’s — they have traded centuries of church wisdom that challenges both parties’ ideological preferences for raw election-cycle tactics.”

Real Life Horror Stories From the World of Pandemic Motherhood by Joan Williams: “This crisis should help us finally recognize that mothers are raising the next generation of citizens; motherhood is not a private frolic like hang gliding. In June, Senator Cory Booker introduced legislation that would, in a simple and straightforward way, protect all mothers — and fathers, and other family caregivers — from employment discrimination. That’s long overdue but we need much more.”

A suburban Catholic school teacher was fired after refusing to return to class due to COVID-19. Others teachers are demanding Catholic schools go remote. by Javonte Anderson and Sophie Sherry: “Standing outside of the archdiocese office, a new group calling itself Arch Teachers for a Safe Return decried the school system’s decision to proceed with in-person learning despite growing COVID-19 cases. “We believe that the archdiocese is putting people in danger,” said the Rev. C.J. Hawking, of Arise Chicago, an interfaith workers rights group.”

5 Ways You Can Participate in Social Change by Eric Clayton: “A simple truth guides the way people of faith approach injustice: We are called to protect — and prioritize — the most vulnerable. Why? Because, as God’s children, we know that we all belong to one another. That’s why we can boldly proclaim that Black lives matter — Black folks are most vulnerable to police brutality and systemic racism. That’s why we refuse to discard the elderly in a false choice between reopening the economy and protecting our grandparents.”

Pandemic creates lifesaving ripple effects amid devastating loss by Carmen Paun: “It’s hard to find a silver lining amid a coronavirus pandemic that has brought unprecedented death and economic devastation across the globe. But some researchers say they are seeing one positive development come out of the health crisis, thanks to policy experiments that would have been impossible in normal times. New policies aimed at combating health threats ranging from excessive alcohol consumption to urban air pollution have potentially long-term implications, researchers say, long after the world has gotten the pandemic under control.”

Fascism is back. Blame the Internet. by Timothy Snyder: “Despite all the happy talk about connecting people, the Internet has not spread liberty around the world. On the contrary, the world is less free, in part because of the Web.”

Heat, Smoke and Covid Are Battering the Workers Who Feed America by Somini Sengupta: “Summer days are hotter than they were a century ago in the already scorching San Joaquin Valley; the nights, when the body would normally cool down, are warming faster. Heat waves are more frequent. And across the state, fires have burned over a million acres in less than two weeks. One recent scientific paper concluded that climate change had doubled the frequency of extreme fire weather days since the 1980s.”