Keeping the Faith on Campus

Photo Credit: Catholic Student Center

Photo Credit: Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland

As Archbishop, I am blessed to make pastoral visits and celebrate the Eucharist at our parishes and Catholic schools, and also see firsthand the impact of our other institutions that reflect Christ’s love to this community through our charitable, health care and educational outreach.

Today I will be visiting the Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland (UMD) and celebrating Mass with the students there. On college campuses and whenever I encounter Catholic young adults at parishes and diocesan events, I am truly inspired by the emergence of a youthful generation whose faith is refreshingly vibrant. These young women and men provide hope to us all for the future – and those students at secular universities such as Maryland or George Washington University who proudly live their Catholic faith provide a special inspiration and laudable example to the students who attend our Catholic universities.

In a world and in academic settings where views contrary to faith are often so evident, these Catholic college students enrich others by speaking up for Gospel values, participating in the sacraments, serving the community, studying the Bible together and taking part in programs where they learn more about Catholic teaching, and also by joining each other at social and recreational events. They are rightly enthusiastic in their Catholic identity, knowing that it is only in the truth and love of Jesus Christ that the problems of the world can be solved, and so they desire to more fully to live the faith.

The Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington has an inspiring exhibit on the life of that holy pastor, and one gallery shows him going on camping trips and outings with college students when he was a priest in his native Poland, with a pair of his skis and tennis shoes displayed nearby. His devotion to bringing Jesus to young people later reached a global scale when he became Pope and inaugurated World Youth Day. That same exhibit highlights those gatherings includes a quote to young people attending World Youth Day at Toronto in 2002: “You are the men and women of tomorrow. The future is in your hearts and in your hands.”

Over the years, millions of young adults and teen-agers from around the globe would joyously celebrate World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. The next worldwide gathering will be in July in Kraków, Poland, the city of Saint John Paul II and Saint Faustina Kowalska, the “apostle of Divine Mercy,” and the theme will be: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Locally, for those who would like to participate but cannot make the trip, on July 30 the archdiocese is co-hosting “Kraków in the Capital” on the campus of The Catholic University of America for a day-long World Youth Day stateside experience.

Whenever I visit and pray with Catholic young adults at events such as this or at our local universities, I find hope-filled enthusiasm. Sometimes I have the opportunity to join them for a meal afterward, and hear about their faith journeys. At one such previous visit to the UMD Catholic Student Center, a young woman told me how friends had invited her to join them at Mass, and she felt so much at home that she decided to join the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.

Outreach to Catholic students at Maryland’s flagship university began in 1933 and the Catholic Student Center recently marked its 50th anniversary of serving students there. The center’s logo shows the Maryland Terrapin with a halo, with that cartoon turtle offering a joyful reminder of the witness of faith that this campus ministry has offered to generations of students. Many of those graduates have gone on to serve our communities, our country and our Church in countless ways through their professions and their outreach. Others have answered the call to religious life and priesthood. Indeed, in recent years I have had the privilege of ordaining several new priests who were once “Catholic Terps” at the University of Maryland.

How fitting it was, that when Pope Francis offered his historic address to Congress last fall, he made a special point of noting our nation’s “young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations.” It was fitting too that at the Canonization Mass for Saint Junípero Serra, where those assembled included many students from area college campuses, the Holy Father should encourage people to emulate the missionary spirit of that new saint: “So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ!”

Offering the richness of an encounter with the life, love and truth of Jesus is something that our Catholic college students are bringing to their campuses and to our world. In this way, the students become the teachers, and their unapologetic expression of faith is something we can all learn from.