Catholics on campus strive to create a presence

By Bruna Bejarano/Contributing Writer

Catholic clergy and parishioners wearing white shirts with the Archdiocese of Miami logo have become a new sight amid the more than 40,000 students registered at the University.

They are part of the archdiocese’s “revival of faith” campaign to reach out to the nearly 30,000 Catholics in the University community.

It’s an effort raising some eyebrows on a booming, secular, tax-supported institution with students from diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.

“Those are people who you can say are baptized Catholics,” said the Rev. Rigoberto Vega, who is leading the FIU campaign. “But it is very probable that a large number of these people aren’t necessarily people who follow Catholicism in their daily lives.”

The increased Catholic presence at FIU can be understood as part of a larger project of the archdiocese, which oversees and serves a population of more than 1.3 million Catholics, 60 elementary and middle schools, 13 high schools and two universities in a territory including Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

“Right now, we are in the phase of reinventing the ministry,” Vega said of the FIU effort. “We had to get our student organization re-registered. Structurally, we had to start from step one. But we are reaching out to the campus and we are seeing an immediate response, although gradual.”

Vega said the archdiocese plans to reach out to all students – practicing and non-practicing Catholics as well as those of other faiths or no faith at all.

“One of my big keys or one of the things that is being asked of me is to do more outreach,” Vega said. “Since it’s a very large university, we are trying to meet students where they are. This means going to sports events, football games, organizing barbecues. We already have a weekly routine where we have an information table to sign up students who show interest.”

The reactions from students vary greatly.

After more than two months on campus, the project has attracted the interest of about 100 students, but just a little more than 20 are currently attending campus mass.

“I don’t mind these campaigns,” Ami Nakagana said. “I love to hear opinions even if I disagree with them.”

Although the numbers are still modest, Vega speaks very excitedly about his new job.

“A lot of students don’t know we exist yet,” Vega said. “And a lot just need to be reached out [to] and invited. When they are, more often than not they will accept to become more active in their faith. We have had a good response on the part of students that desire spirituality.”

Some students, however, worry about the conflicting nature and purposes of the Catholic teachings inside a public university that claims to be gaining more and more recognition as a top-notch research facility.

“It’s not progressive. I really wish they would allow something else to come to the school,” Karina Tellez, 19, said.

With an official presence at both campuses, the archdiocese is quickly moving to promote Catholic views on matters that go beyond the fulfillment of students “desire to grow in their Christian faith and knowledge about the rich traditions behind the Catholic teachings on faith,” as stated on the FIU Catholic Campus Ministry BBC Facebook page.

In January, Vega traveled with a small group of FIU students to Washington D.C. to participate in the March for Life events.

After the trip, it was announced that there were plans to bring to FIU the Silent No More Campaign, an anti-abortion campaign sponsored and administered by Christians of different denominations.

The Silent No More Campaign, Vega said, is “exposing the secrecy and silence surrounding the emotional and physical pain of abortion” by bringing speakers who have lived the experience of abortion and “registered their regret” through the campaign’s offices or website.

This is one of many issues in which religious belief strikes at the roots of secular, tax-supported institutions, which, by nature, support a view of man based on scientific knowledge and principles of acceptance of truths apart from divine revelation.

Also by nature, Catholicism and Silent No More Campaign can only have one view of abortion and other relevant cultural and political issues, including marriage and the use of contraceptives.

“I don’t support it,” Benazhir Maratuech, 22, said. “I think women should have the freedom to do what’s best for them. In fact, if there is something we can do to prevent [the Catholic group] from coming, I would do it.”

Vega recognizes that the Church faces challenges even amongst Catholics in regards to issues ranging from contraceptives to abortion.

“In America and in most western countries you will find that a large number of Catholics are very nominally Catholics,” Vega said. “And like in any institution, the larger it grows, the larger a portion of that group that is less and less identified with the core beliefs of that particular organization or institution.”

This story was researched and written for JOU 3300 Advanced News Writing taught by Dr. Fred Blevens in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

1 Comment on "Catholics on campus strive to create a presence"

  1. Excelent article, well written and show both sides…. congratulations!!

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