Young people grow in love and mercy at Ignatian Teach-in

Fr Greg Boyle SJ with members of the Home Boys team
Fr Greg Boyle SJ with members of the Home Boys team

Around 2,000 young Catholics from across the USA, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and El Salvador have taken part in the 19th annual 'Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice' in Washington DC. The annual gathering provides opportunities for attendees to learn, reflect, pray, network, and advocate in the context of the Catholic faith tradition. A significant portion of those taking part were young people, aged 16-22, representing Jesuit and other Catholic institutions and the Teach-In theme for 2016, ‘Mercy in Action’, was chosen to mark the closing days of Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy. Sponsored by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, the weekend invited participants to “grow in a love which is courageous, generous and real”. [Pope Francis]

Several Jesuit initiatives provided stalls at the Teach-In, with information, badges, pens and t-shirts. Some invited visitors to write inspirational messages on table cloths and tee-shirts included the famous quote from Pope Paul VI, 'If you want peace work for justice'. The Ignatian Solidarity Network, Jesuit Volunteer Corps and America Magazine were joined by guest stalls run by such groups as Nuns on the Bus, the Catholic Labour Network, Jubilee USA and the National Catholic Reporter. Various internship schemes were also on offer, including programmes with the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach and Sojourners. Among those who attended from the UK was Justice and Peace worker, Ellen Teague from the Columbans in the UK, who described it as “an amazing event”.

More than a suggestionFr Jim Martin SJ with Ellen Teague at the Ignatian 'Teach-in'

The first evening of the Teach-In concluded with a moving prayer service to commemorate Jesuit martyrs for Justice, especially the Jesuits killed in 1989 in El Salvador. “Their witness was a key inspiration for the initiation of the Teach-in,” says Ellen. “Candles were lit and the hymn 'The Lord hears the cry of the poor' sung. Chris Kerr of the Ignatian Solidarity Network received a great cheer when he said: "When Jesus said 'love your neighbour' it was more than a suggestion".

Greg Boyle SJ, founder of Home Boys and author of Tattoos on the Heart, which is based on his experiences working with gangs in Los Angeles, spoke at a popular workshop about the post-election role "of those of us interested in social justice". He said he would continue to be concerned about social justice and the rights of minorities, reporting that "gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope". He was cheered when he said "this loss reminds us of what we care about - loving compassion and kindness". He insisted that "we must avoid demonising President-elect Trump and those who voted for him" and continue to take inspiration from Pope Francis who gives such a wonderful witness such as the recent visit to a prison to meet prisoners.

James Martin SJ, who is editor-in-chief of America magazine, encouraged the young people who took part in the Teach-In to speak out on behalf of the marginalised and do it with a sense of hope. "By virtue of your Baptism you are also the Church," he told them.

“The Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice represents the future of our Church,” said Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network. “Attendees, particularly young people, will be inspired to respond to Pope Francis’ call as people of mercy, striving to build a more justice and sustainable world.”

Later today, the young people plan to visit Capitol Hill to lobby their politicians on Criminal Justice Reform and on Immigration Reform.