By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Many Catholic colleges seem to value interfaith work and are willing to keep learning how to do this more successfully.
This is true for big universities, like DePaul in Chicago with an enrollment of nearly 24,000, and small campuses, like Alvernia in Reading, Pennsylvania, with about 2,400 students, even if their approach is different.
"It’s in our DNA to be open to other religions," said Mark Laboe, associate vice president of university ministry at DePaul, who said the university has Muslim and Jewish chaplains and provides sacred spaces for prayer for many faiths.
"We’ve done something, but we have long way to go," he said Jan. 29 during a conference sponsored by the Interfaith Youth Core in conjunction with the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities’ meeting in Washington.
The Interfaith Youth Core is a Chicago-based organization that works with college campuses on religious diversity issues.
On the first day of the gathering, college leaders shared what has worked on their campuses: primarily service projects involving students from many different faiths and informative sessions so students can learn more about other religions and break down stereotypes they might have.
Laboe noted that the campus has many students from different faiths and also, an even bigger challenge — the rise of religiously unidentified students.
"We’re starting at different places" with these students, he noted.
Sister Carol Ziegler, a Sister of Notre Dame and chief mission officer and executive director of the Abrahamic Center at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio, said the key to getting interfaith efforts off the ground is to gain allies. You need the support of the administration, faculty and local partners, she said.
And Colleen Kuhl, director of campus ministry at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, said any interfaith efforts have to go beyond the campus. At Loras, she said the students learn about other faiths primarily through service projects.
"Like others, we have institutional commitment to service," she said, noting that "it is nothing new to any of us: the idea of helping people at the margins is common to all faiths."
Jay Worrall director of the Holleran Center for Community Engagement at Alvernia University in Reading said the interfaith efforts at his campus are different than at other colleges because the emphasis is not on accommodating or working with students of other faiths, since most of the students on campus are Catholic.
Instead, the challenge is to help Catholic students understand about different faiths, which happens through lectures, service work and participation in a community-run interfaith program.
"We have a lot going on trying to make connections," he said.
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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.
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