Pope Francis has been advocating for more interculturalism and acceptance within the Catholic Church and started his mission at World Youth Day this year. Seton Hill University (SHU) has been hard at work living what Francis is preaching.“These young people are from every continent, they speak many languages, they bring with them different cultures, and yet they also find in Christ their highest aspirations, held in common, and they can satisfy a hunger for a pure truth and an authen- tic love which binds them together in spite of differences,” said Pope Francis during his address at the welcome ceremony for World Youth Day this year.
Francis has recently been encouraging the acceptance and participation of different cultures within the Catholic Church. In the past, the church has not as proactively attended to this matter, but Francis is making it a major part of his papacy. He sees the world’s youth as the key to promoting the acceptance of different cultures and is stressing the importance of interculturalism to them.
“Our world civilization has gone beyond its limits,” said Francis in his address to the Argentine Youth on World Youth Day. “We are now faced with a philosophy and a practice which exclude the two ends of life [the youths and the elderly] that are most full of promise for peoples. There is a cultural euthanasia, because we don’t allow them to speak…”
Francis believes this so strongly, that it is intertwined into every aspect of World Youth Day. Even at mass, he stressed that we are called as individuals, but also as a community, “When we face challenges together, we are strong, we discover resources we did not know we had.”
Like Francis, SHU recognizes the importance of celebrating different cultures and including the youngest and the oldest in their events. Intercultural Week exemplifies and celebrates the recourses the university has through events like the Intercultural Mass, Kristallnacht Remembrance Service, and the Intercultural Food Festival.
“These events are an opportunity for us to see the people that are gathered and the diversity among us. They give us a sense of community and deeper understanding and acceptance of diversity,” said Sister Maureen O’Brien, the Director of Campus Ministry at SHU.
“The intercultural events are a good way to see the diversity on the campus and appreciate the cultures around us that we don’t get to experience every day,” said junior Sarah Kushnar, an Elementary/Special Education major who frequents many of the intercultural events on campus.
Francis only recently has begun his mission to encourage interculturalism throughout the Catholic Church, but SHU has been hard at work living it every day.
“In terms of developing an appreciation and respect for all cultures and all religions, we just don’t say it, we do it,” said O’Brien. “We are really modeling our commitment to be citizens of the world. What we do is being reinforced by the messages of Francis.”
Like Francis is striving, O’Brien says that SHU is striving to increase its diverse population at every opportunity.
“Our population is growing. In order to be an intercultural society, embrace differences and be committed to this society, we need to make sure we have the resources for our intercultural students so they have a good experience and our community has a good experience,” said Keisha Jimmerson.
As the Director of Intercultural Services at Seton Hill, she attends to the international students, but views her profession as more than just dealing with students from different countries.
“At Seton Hill, we say intercultural. To me, it embraces everyone,” said Jimmerson. “When I think of my office, I’ll talk to anyone. If they have an interest of being involved with things from different cultures, that’s what I’m here for. This is what Seton Hill is. We celebrate everyone’s uniqueness, it doesn’t shut anyone out.”
SHU has many long running traditions that bring people together, but the most popular is the Intercultural Food Festival.
“Seton Hill has done the Intercultural Food Festival since I was a student,” said Jimmerson. “I can see how it’s progressed. When I started doing this, we used to have it in the Greensburg Room… we outgrew the Greensburg Room.”
Jimmerson also says that there are other intercultural events that take place in the spring like Take the Day On and World Week. For World Week, the students and the faculty collaborate and create projects, make presentations and hang posters around the campus that celebrate different cultures from around the world. “World Week celebrates different cultures but also brings up different issues from different cultures. One of my work/study students created a presentation about a bombing in a mall in Kenya to bring it to light. A lot of things like this get swept under the rug,” said Jimmerson.
While the Catholic Church strives to be more accepting, Jimmerson believes SHU is already a place of acceptance where everybody can find his or her niche.
“As a Catholic institution and a place of higher learning, Seton Hill does an excellent job and holds fast
to its foundations with the Sisters of Charity to help everyone; no matter how they look, no matter what they believe, no matter their socioeconomic status,” said Jimmerson.
O’Brien and Jimmerson believe there is always room for improvement and continue to look for ways to improve and expand the intercultural activities and events on campus.