“I believe that the deepest call this week will be the call of Christ,” said Rev. Ken Gavin, S.J., as he spoke to students and staff at Saint Peter’s Prep last week. Gavin, president of the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) in the U.S., celebrated the opening liturgy on March 23 for the school’s Arrupe Lecture Series – a weeklong summit focusing on a particular matter of social justice. The summit included a panel of Holocaust survivors, a keynote address from a Sudanese refugee, a visit to the United Nations, and documentary screenings, among other events.
Gavin introduced the year’s theme – genocide – by discussing the JRS, an apostolate of the Society of Jesus that provides humanitarian aid to displaced refugees victimized by acts of conflict. “It is not enough to say that you've learned about the long history of genocide," he said. “Christ will invite you to focus your eyes on the eyes of total strangers… the most vulnerable among us. And as you look deeply into the eyes of the crucified people of our world, Jesus will call you to see brothers and sisters.”
The series is named for Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the late superior general of the Jesuits. Arrupe charged the Jesuits with their modern mission – to form “men and women for others.”
It was important that the week begin with a Mass. “Our Catholic, Jesuit faith asks us to contemplate what kind of response our faith dictates from us when it comes to matters of injustice,” said Ryan Heffernan, Prep’s director of Campus Ministry. “A focus throughout the Arrupe Series is to catalyze in our school community a ‘faith that does justice’.”
A panel of Holocaust survivors spoke to the student body two days after Gavin’s Mass. Ed Bindel, who grew up in Poland during World War II, told of how only one in six European Jews survived the Holocaust. “Sometimes…I imagine that there are five others…standing behind me, who cannot be here to talk with you – because of prejudice, because of genocide, because of hatred,” said Bindel. “It still boggles the mind."
A 20-foot timeline, exploring contemporary issues of genocide, was displayed in the school and surrounded by first-hand pictures of conflict-torn regions provided by the United Nations. Art, English, history, modern language, religion, and science teachers integrated lessons on genocide into their curriculum during the week.
The series closed with an address by Elizabeth Kuch, a young woman who fled Sudan at the age of 5 and grew-up in a Kenyan refugee camp. “Her story of oppression and hope was a fitting conclusion to the week,” Heffernan said.