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Arthur Christory / Gavel Media

A Culture of Encounter in a COVID World: Arrupe Spring Program 2021

Arrupe International is one of the most popular and coveted Campus Ministry programs on campus. It is a year-long experience that includes weekly meetings and reflection and a seven to 10 day international service-immersion trip over winter break. Past immersion trips have traveled to countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean. 

The global pandemic’s travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines challenged the traditional Arrupe experience, which relies heavily on its international-immersion and community-building components. Due to the challenges of the coronavirus, the Arrupe international-immersion program was cancelled. 

The pandemic has made the mission of Arrupe more necessary than ever; it has overshadowed preexisting issues like the global displacement of refugees and migrants and caused many students to feel disconnected from our community. Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, the Arrupe Team was determined to continue its work. Arrupe invited students to participate in a 6-week small-group experience on campus focused on amplifying voices of migration. These groups met weekly this year, from the end of February to the beginning of April. The Gavel interviewed Arrupe Director and Campus Minister Emily Egan and Arrupe Student Leader Julia Sughrue, MCAS ’21, to discuss the program.

Emily stated that they chose the theme of migration because “the mission of Arrupe is to pursue a faith that seeks global justice. Pope Francis has urged people of goodwill to demonstrate care for the growing number of forcibly displaced persons around the world. We wanted to invite students to discern how their individual story relates to the larger story of the current global migration crisis."

She explained that the Arrupe Team considered how it would create a space that fostered both storytelling and community. Arrupe strives to develop a culture of encounter focused directly on listening to people. The Arrupe Team needed to find a way for students to continue to hear the stories of individuals whose voices need to be amplified and they found it, as Emily said, “Zoom allowed for this possibility of storytelling to continue.” 

The first week, groups heard from Father Romano, a BC law professor and expert on U.S. immigration law. Julia explained that Father Romano helped students better understand the U.S. immigration system by laying out the facts and vocabulary surrounding migration. The Arrupe Team wanted students to first understand migration from a structural perspective and then through hearing personal narratives. 

In the weeks that followed, Arrupe participants heard directly from those who have experienced forced migration. Emily explained that the program chose speakers from unique backgrounds, each of whom had different experiences related to migration, in order to capture the complexity of migration issues. Students heard personal narratives from an asylum seeker from West Africa, a Syrian refugee, a DACA recipient from Central America, and an undocumented worker who was deported from the U.S. back to Mexico.

"Hearing personal stories from a first-hand account makes such a polarizing topic like migration so personal,” Julia said. “I think that it’s really a way to bring disagreement to a hole,” she added. 

Her comment echoes Bryan Stevenson’s philosophy of proximity. Stevenson, an acclaimed public interest lawyer and the author of Just Mercy, argues that becoming proximate to issues of injustice and suffering makes “each person’s humanity more urgent and meaningful, including [your] own.”

Julia admired “how amazing it was that these individuals were able to convey so much in fifteen minutes. It’s so much different talking to people who lived these experiences rather than simply reading about them.” 

In addition to promoting a space for storytelling, the Arrupe Team wanted to build a community for students to comfortably discuss various issues of migration and explore their own faith. Arrupe created small group in-person meetings to foster a space for community. Many students, including myself, have either most or all classes online and are seeking out opportunities for in-person connection. 

Emily explained that groups would start their meetings discussing broad ideas. For instance, in one meeting, groups considered the question of “what home means to you.” Then, they heard directly from a refugee who had been forced out of her home. The groups would then reconsider that original question and how that speaker made them feel or changed their perspective on the idea of home. By engaging in these challenging discussions surrounding their shared humanity, students could feel a connection through solidarity and empathy with these individuals and with each other. 

The program challenged students to think differently about these issues, as Julia commented, “These conversations bring people together, and people are really willing to share and be vulnerable with one another.”

Emily added that “by putting these issues in the context of faith exploration, students were able to consider fundamental questions in a thoughtful, intentional, and loving way.” 

In congruence with the mission of a Jesuit education, students were pushed to put these ideas into action through Solidarity Projects. Emily said that the purpose of the Solidarity Projects was for students “to begin to discern how they could turn their reflection into action by contributing to the common good, as students for and with others." One group partnered with Catholic Charities to do a welcome picnic as a way to extend hospitality to recently resettled refugees in Dorchester. An additional group is helping refugees understand the T system so that they can more easily apply to jobs, while another group is showing a documentary on migration and hosting a discussion afterward. Emily explained that each group member could invite two guests: “one person who is naturally enthusiastic about the topic of migration and wants to learn more and the other less likely to attend an event about migration so that it purposefully created discussions across differences.”

Arrupe will be returning to international travel for the 2021-2022 academic year. Arrupe participant and leader applications are open throughout April. The three immersion themes are migration, racial justice, and sustainability. When Emily and Julia were asked why they would encourage students to apply, Emily said, “It’s different reading about migration statistics and taking a hike in the Sonoran desert and seeing where and how people cross the border and understanding that from an experience-based perspective.”  

Julia is graduating from Boston College this May, and her Arrupe experience has significantly shaped her plans following commencement. She explained that, as a neuroscience major on the pre-med track, she was less exposed to the issues Arrupe discusses. “The Arrupe program challenged me to think differently about these issues, and it has actually influenced what I’m going to do post-graduation. Arrupe gave me the courage to do something that I’ve always been interested in,” she says. She will be serving as a volunteer for Jesuit Volunteer Corps with refugees in Philadelphia. 

Julia encourages students to apply to Arrupe so that they can experience a “formative opportunity where you get to see a different dimension of what a Jesuit education has to offer.” Emily emphasized that Arrupe “is not a Catholics-only club. If you are interested in faith exploration, this is a space for you.” 

As people are isolated more today than ever, individuals must have opportunities, like this program, to remind them of their shared humanity. We need to get close to people and issues to gain empathy. Apply to Arrupe this month to be immersed in a culture of encounter and understanding. 

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