Bring in the Grad Students
Three graduate students from UConn attended the 10am Mass last weekend as part of a class assignment. Each of them is a secondary school teacher, earning a Master’s degree in Education. This project was about accepting cultural diversity in the classroom. They were supposed to attend an event or activity of a culture other than their own. In this case, none of the three had a particularly strong religious background and had no first-hand experience of Roman Catholicism whatsoever. They knew only what could be gleaned from newspapers or from the most general of sources.
After Mass, we arranged to have a cup of coffee in the rectory so the three could have a chance to chat with the whole parish team about their experience. I think I can say that it was a mutually enlightening conversation! For instance, I asked what preconceived notions and ideas about Catholics did they bring with them that morning and if any of those ideas were either changed or supported. They glanced at each other, grinning a little, and finally one of them admitted that they hadn’t expected to enjoy it as much as they did. They were pleased with the sense of welcome they received right at the door of the church, taken by the number of people in attendance, and surprised that the words from the pulpit weren’t about hell and damnation and fire and brimstone. They were curious about many of the things they have read in the headlines like the process of the Papal election and the scandals that have upset the Church in recent years.
We tried to point out the diversity that exists in the Church at large, that, although many things unite us globally, Catholics differ in their interests and concerns. We explained how parishes have unique personalities and how even the different Masses celebrated within the same parish on a weekend might each have a particular tone.
Overall, I think it was a wonderful opportunity to trade ideas and to discover what the parish, the Church, even the world, looks like through a different lens. Sometimes it’s so easy to become isolated in a narrow perspective and forget that we’re part of a larger picture; that the path to God is wide and will not be limited to any one avenue. Exchanges like this go a long way in helping to clear up misconceptions that lead to prejudices and base-less animosity.
So bring in the grad students, I say! Bring in anyone who wants to learn and has an open mind. It makes the Kingdom of God more visible and real. And this was all accomplished, please note, with just a little coffee and conversation after a whole-hearted and well-crafted gathering of a community of people at