On A Mission
By Sarah Ravits
The Office of Mission and Ministry aims to get high school students engaged in community service, scripture, and care for the environment.
With the goal of encouraging high school juniors and seniors to explore scripture and bridge the gap between faith and science, Loyola University New Orleans established the FaithActs Youth Theology Institute, a one-week residential institute that will take place during the summer of 2017. The program was funded thanks in part to a generous $600,000 grant awarded to the university from the Lilly Foundation last year.
Program organizers at the Office of Mission and Ministry, including John Sebastian, Ph.D., vice president for Mission and Ministry, and Alex Mikulich, Ph.D., were deeply inspired by the words of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, which was published in May 2015. In the letter, the Holy Father wrote: “Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of
The encyclical went on to address climatechange, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and depletion of natural resources and called for a shift in attention to the personal ethics of environmental stewardship. “The ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion,” he wrote.
The pope’s words dovetail with the objectives of Mission and Ministry employees, who seek to foster Loyola’s Jesuit and Catholic mission and identity and educate the Loyola community about its spiritual heritage.
The summer program will teach teenagers about environmental science, spirituality, and the link between the two. It will also engender a sense of compassion and togetherness for those who have been affected by natural disasters.
It promises to be an immersive experience, guiding the teenagers through the wetlands and New Orleans neighborhoods and offering social analysis, theological reflection, recreational time, personal and group spiritual reflection, and community service. Students can earn three college credits and have the opportunity to earn high school service hours.
“We will give [the students] a theological framework for ecological challenges and explore ways they can take action, addressing a social and environmental need,” Sebastian says.
Sebastian notes that many of the students coming into the program may be at somewhat of a crossroads in their spiritual lives, and the week-long institute may help set a solid spiritual foundation as they are ushered into adulthood.
“Some of them may be at the point where they’ve been confirmed and have taken introductory steps of being an active Catholic or Christian, but maybe they haven’t developed a fully formed adult faith life,” he says. But with in-depth lessons, discussions, reflection time, bonding activities, and community service, he hopes that the summer institute will help set them on a path to forging a deeper spiritual connection.
“There will be individual as well as group opportunities for prayer, liturgy, and guided reflection time,” Sebastian says. “It will be both an intellectual and a spiritual experience.”
The program seeks to recruit somewhere between 30 and 40 high school students and is currently accepting applications.
For more information, contact the Office of Mission and Ministry at email@example.com or (504) 865-3226.