When I was the age of our students, President Kennedy instituted the Peace Corps. Joining it was something I wanted to do. I wanted to dedicate my life to working on behalf of the poor and vulnerable, especially in other parts of the world.
But, by choice and by chance, my life took other paths. In the later years of college and in grad school, I met with friends often who chose options that led them to follow the path that I had hoped to take. They were my best friends and they chose to go to Latin America in the late ’60s and early ’70s, a time of great intellectual ferment regarding the rights and dignity of the poor. When they came home, they spoke to me about what they saw and heard.
I was fascinated, but I was in graduate school for English Renaissance literature by then and following a path much removed from the explosion of thinking about social justice occurring in other parts of the world. Fortunately, I married my wife who, by chance, was early on exposed to Latin American liberation theology and made that her central passion in life. I learned vicariously from her about the great thinkers and courageous actors who lived and worked for social justice: Archbishop Romero, the four American religious, and the Jesuits in El Salvador–all modern martyrs for justice. She explained to me the central ideas of liberation theology and I could see in her how motivating these concepts were.
Finally, now–35 years into my career–through the gift Cabrini gave me of the faculty study trips to Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico, and Guatemala, I was finally able to experience first-hand what I had followed from afar for decades.
In each country, I was moved by the Global Solidarity I experienced as a gift from the people whom we met. In each case I was embraced, literally and figuratively, by people I had never met but who conveyed to me that they felt connected to me because we shared a common desire for brotherhood and sisterhood. Whether it was faculty members at Cabrini schools in Brazil, Cabrini sisters in Guatemala, freed slaves in the Amazon, or the remarkable family who put their lives on the line to free these slaves, in each instance, their faith and dedication to their fellow humans was vibrantly alive and inspiring.
Now, each day, I am motivated by the remembrance of them and the many others whose lives are models of courage and justice-seeking. I am now at a phase of my career and life when I want to work whole-heartedly to help others experience what I have had the privilege to feel. And so Global Solidarity is something I think of constantly. I am fortunate to have vivid experiences, memories, emotions, pictures, of people who truly live the “preferential option for the poor.” These people help me keep fresh a sense of interconnectedness across borders. I work hard daily through reading and teaching to expand my knowledge and emotion to include new areas, new challenges, new regions.
Just as the faculty study trips began my experiential connection with living exemplars of social justice, on a daily basis now our partnership with Catholic Relief Services helps me to deepen my knowledge of the many ways in which Catholic Social Teaching is being implemented, in conjunction with many other organizations of similar dedication. Through in-depth discussions with CRS personnel, reading CRS websites each day, and using CRS materials in all of my courses, I am developing, I hope, a more systematic understanding of central concepts like Solidarity, Integral Human Development, Peace Building, and Economic Justice.
And so now I am constantly thinking of how others might become similarly inspired by Global Solidarity, whether it’s our students, our colleagues, or the wider population. I think much of how we develop life-long “habits of the heart” so that we deepen our commitment each day. I think about how systemic change is needed for progress to be made, and what are the many ways to effect systemic change. Every aspect of every course is a means for me to explore those principal concerns right now.
This has been a winding path I have followed so far, and I am excited by the prospect that I feel I am just beginning.