By Tucker Redding, SJ Catholic News Service

         WASHINGTON (CNS) — Nearly 2,000 students came to Washington Oct. 22-24, for the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, described as the largest annual Catholic social justice gathering in the United States. 

Jesuit students concerned about social justice gather in Washington
for the 25th anniversary of the Ignatian Family Teach-In for
Justice Oct. 22, 2022.
CNS photo/courtesy The Jesuit Post

         The participants — from Jesuit high schools, universities, parishes and groups -- spent their time listening to speakers and workshops on social justice issues, praying and speaking with legislators on Capitol Hill.

         This year marks the 25th anniversary of the event hosted by the Ignatian Solidarity Network.

         The first teach-in was hosted under a tent in Fort Benning, Georgia, near the military school formerly known as the School of the Americas, where participants protested the school's link to human right violators in Latin America, including the training of Salvadoran soldiers responsible for the murder of six Jesuits and two women at the Central American University in 1989.

         Today, the annual teach-in has moved to Washington and incorporates many social justice issues, but its focus of bringing injustices to light remains the same.

         Participants still draw inspiration from the Salvadoran martyrs, whose pictures line the main stage and are the focus of a prayer service held on the opening night of the conference each year.

         A persistent theme at this year's gathering was recognizing the work and experiences of social justice advocates in the past and the need to collaborate in current and future work for justice.

         Keynote speaker Bill McKibben, a climate activist, reminded participants of the ongoing climate crisis and its impact on the poor and vulnerable. "In Pakistan, people are enduring the worst floods since Noah, yet they are responsible for less than 1% of greenhouse gas emissions," he said.

         He also marveled at the advances that have been made in renewable energy as well as our reluctance to embrace these technologies as a society.

         McKibben lauded the efforts that have been made by the younger generation in fighting climate change and warned that this should not get the older generation off the hook.

         "You need older people too! You know what old people do? They vote, and in large numbers. Old people also ended up with most of the money. If you want to take on congress or Wall Street, you want some old people backing you up," he said.

         Michael O'Loughlin, a contributor at America Media and author of "Hidden Mercy: Catholics, AIDS, and Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear," spoke to young adults at the conference's Solidarity on Tap event.

         In this conversation-style presentation, he talked about the history of the Catholic Church's response to the AIDS crisis and spoke of his own desire as a gay Catholic to learn more about the compassion that members of the church showed the LGBTQ community in the 1980s.

         Maka Black Elk, executive director for Truth and Healing at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota — one of the few remaining Jesuit schools serving an Indigenous community in the country — also gave a keynote address.

         He spoke about the tragic history of Indian boarding schools that has come to light and the Catholic Church's involvement in some of these schools. He also talked about his Catholic faith as an Indigenous person. 
Jesuit students concerned about social justice gather in Washington
for the 25th anniversary of the Ignatian Family Teach-In for
Justice Oct. 22, 2022.
CNS photo/Doris Sump, courtesy The Jesuit Post

         He said the historical Catholic Church and the faith itself are not always the same thing and stressed that people should recognize the atrocities that have been done in the name of faith, while recognizing that is not the faith itself.

         Olga Segura, a freelance writer and author of the book, "Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church," also addressed the group and spoke about how movements like Black Lives Matter taught her to appreciate her Catholic faith, a faith that calls believes to solidarity and to seek justice, especially for the most vulnerable.