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Were You There: Bearing Witness

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Editor’s Note: Mary Grace Donohoe—a San Damiano Award candidate and a senior at Stonehill College in Easton, MA—reflects on how our Catholic faith and Jesus’ own suffering call us to stand up for all those around us who are suffering or persecuted.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am a student leader at my college for H.O.P.E., a program where students participate in service immersion experiences focusing on various justice issues domestically and internationally. Every Monday evening, the student leaders of these programs have meetings where we are trained to facilitate justice conversations in an inclusive, collaborative, and thought-provoking manner. Current events shaping our country cannot be ignored in these meetings, mainly because the political rhetoric and new policies emerging from the White House have targeted many of my co-leaders.

For the most part, my co-leaders and I are justice advocates and activists, but, during one of these weekly meetings, a friend of mine confided in our team that she was burdened by the struggle for justice recently and had spent most of her week feeling overwhelmed, ignored, and hopeless. She is a Somali Muslim immigrant.

These are the profound moments in our lives that stay with us, that teach us to continue the struggle for justice so that our marginalized brothers and sisters do not have to bear these burdens alone. As a white, college-educated, documented woman in the United States, it is my responsibility to stand up for the values of tolerance and inclusion when I watch my country sacrifice these values due to baseless propaganda and fear-mongering. It is now my job to organize my peers to call their Congresspeople. It is my duty to be informed and to educate. My Catholic faith calls me to not be a passive bystander when my family and peers make comments that harm the dignity of human beings they do not know and do not care to understand. This challenging of harmful narratives is what Christ meant when He said, “Blessed are those persecuted for the sake of righteousness.”

I am aware that it is my great privilege to exist in my country without fear, to wake up every morning in a home and not in a refugee camp, and to attend school and eat meals never needing to think twice about these constant factors in my life. It is my privilege to care about race without seeming self-interested. It is my privilege never to understand what real, deep, unavoidable persecution feels like, but I would be denying my faith in my nonviolent, Middle Eastern, refugee Savior to not bear witness to the suffering of those most in need of support in our world today.

Reflection Question: Are there times when you pay less attention to social issues because they do not affect you, or anyone you know, directly?

Mary Grace Donohoe is a senior at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. She is majoring in Political Science and Religious Studies and focuses primarily on peacebuilding and nonviolent movements.