From The Hoya: Building a Better City

Originally published on 7th April 2017, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s rotating column in The Hoya, entitled The Round Table. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, is published every other Friday.

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Image Credits: Paul Luke Keh

By: Hunter Estes

Washington, D.C., has been my home for more than just my time at Georgetown. I moved here when I was 12, after my dad was transferred to the Pentagon, and I have loved this city ever since. Having lived here for a few more years than most, I feel that I have a more complete view of D.C., one that includes much beauty, but also much struggle.

When I first moved to the nation’s capital, I was awestruck by the monuments and the statues and reveled in the symbols of liberty, freedom and tradition that stood throughout the city. Unfortunately, I think the magic of this city can often cover up some of its deeper faults.

I have come to see the deeply entrenched poverty that consumes one in five D.C. residents. I saw one of the fastest-growing homeless populations in the United States, with a 34.1 percent growth in the past six years. I saw monuments rising into the sky, but at the same time saw high school graduation rates remain as low as 42 percent. I witnessed the enduring legacies of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence, but also noticed rising crime rates becoming legacies of their own.

At Georgetown, we often talk about the wonderful ways we can interact and engage with the city. We hike through the District with friends in an attempt to “break the bubble,” on a constant search for new, hip places and events to try, rooms to escape and art galleries to appreciate. The fact is that D.C. has plenty to offer, and could easily keep somebody excited for four years, especially with school to occupy most of the time.

Yet, our city, in many ways, is splitting apart. In some places, new businesses flourish and real estate prices are booming. In others, infrastructure is crumbling, and schools are failing. We, at Georgetown, have the opportunity to either isolate ourselves or become an integral part of the rebuilding of D.C. As members of this community, we have a duty to invest more than what we get out of the District. We are called on to be a part of the solution.

The first step to helping the city is active reflection. Only then can we truly start to both appreciate the greatness and recognize the failings of our city. If Georgetown is to play a role in the revitalization of Washington D.C., then we should do so in a uniquely Georgetown way: a uniquely Jesuit, uniquely Catholic way. Jesuits take part in the daily Examen, in which they think back through their day and look on how they succeeded and how they failed. Reflection is rooted in our history, and I believe we should begin this process by reflecting on where we have succeeded and failed as a school.
Many of our failures stem from lack of awareness, and the only way we can help is by being informed. We can change this in small ways, through town halls and forums, bringing in speakers to talk about local issues. So often, we focus our attention on national and international affairs, but if we want to change the world, the easiest place to start is in our own backyard. People are left without homes just outside the front gates, and too often even Georgetown food banks are short on both food and volunteers.

But we have also succeeded in many ways. I believe we need to build upon the success of groups that engage with the city more tangibly. By tutoring children and volunteering in food shelters, we can help make immediate change.

How much has been accomplished if, at the end of four years, all that we have gained is a series of letter grades from classes? There is so much more to our education on the Hilltop. We are called to a higher sense of service, to not only take from this city, but to give. By increasing our school’s integration with the community we can have an immense effect on D.C.’s future. We can help this city change, and we are called to as Hoyas.



“Lord, who is my Neighbor?”: A perspective on Charity

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By: Paul Luke Keh

“Those whom the world rejects must move you the most!”

– St. Louis de Montfort

In this period of Lent, Catholics all over the world are called to engage in fasting, penance and charity, in our preparation for the passion of our Lord on Good Friday and His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Since previous blog posts this Lent have spoken of fasting and penance, I write today to share my perspective on charity and works of mercy as Catholics.

The Catholic church has long emphasized an option for the poor, and as Christians we are called to be present and to give to the less fortunate. Pope Francis has repeatedly called us to serve the poor and to always keep them in our prayers in his message:

“Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid.”

– Pope Francis, Evagelii Gaudium, 187

I have no doubt that we all feel a strong connection to helping the poor, and indeed the Knights of Columbus in Georgetown have been very active in our efforts to be present to those who are poor in our midst. We are called to respond to Jesus’s message

“… for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

-Matthew 24:35-36 (NRSV)

But I feel that Christian charity and works of mercy means so much more than just giving to the poor and those in poverty.

To me, it means being there for those whom the world reject, in every sense of the word: it means being there for people suffering from drug addiction, to stand with undocumented migrants. It means being present to those who come from broken families and relationships, to be with refugees and religious minorities, to be willing to stand up for those that society frowns upon even if that means that we are judged by others for doing so.

Modern society has sometimes made it easy to judge a person’s worth by their economic potential, by their ability to contribute, by the amount of “right” they have done in their lives. But everyone has done wrong in their lives, and no one has any say in conditions of their birth: to despise them for what they have done or who they are is to reject Jesus and the message He gave us, for He said:

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

– Matthew 24:40

Somebody once told me to picture the scene in your life that you are most ashamed of, one that you don’t want to remember, and now imagine that that scene is now the only one that people talk to you about. That is what it feels like to be rejected by society, to be despised for the things you did, or for who you are. While the Church recognises that some things are sinful, and that some things must never be permitted, we should also remind ourselves that we reject the sin, not the sinner.

Charity and works of mercy should always be our first response to those whom the world rejects, not condemnation, so that through us the world may see the saving power of God. St Francis of Assisi is known to have instructed others to “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” This, to me, is the most powerful form of evangelisation.

This period of Lent is a time for introspection and preparation. Let us pray for the courage to give of ourselves to those who need our help most, and to have the humility to ask the Lord, who is my neighbor?

“… Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

– Luke 10:36-37

A Monday Blog Post: Being Active in Faith

I write to you all on this federal holiday observed in remembrance of the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in order to introduce a new series of posts that will continue for the rest of the semester. The new Monday blog series will be a chance for members of Georgetown’s Council 6375 of the Knights of Columbus to engage their faith and to create posts that encourage reflection, learning and thoughtful dialogue within the Georgetown community. It is my hope that the many varied interests of the members of our council will enliven this page from week to week and will encourage the type of introspection and insight that occurs for many within the walls of a church on Sunday to enter into the rest of the week.

I think that it is appropriate at the present time to reflect upon some of the words of Dr. King, who wrote in his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963 that: “If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”

In this passage, Dr. King expressed his disappointment with many, but not all of the clergy in his place and time, whom he saw to be silent in regard to, or even supportive of the dominant system of segregation that still pervaded his society. However, his statement is still thought provoking today in the twenty-first century. It spurs people of faith to confront their own consciences and beliefs in the light of the example of the early church, and the strong faith of the martyrs, such as Saint Lucy, patron saint of eyes, who was blinded and killed during the Roman persecutions of the early fourth century.

Perhaps the best way to engage with the words of Dr. King in our own lives today would be to hear the call of Mary to the servants of the wedding at Cana from yesterday’s Gospel reading. In commanding the servants to follow her son, Mary said: “Do whatever he tells you”.

Let us all remember that in order to bear relevance upon our lives, a faith must be an active one. Let us show by our actions that we do not belong to an “irrelevant social club,” but to a dynamic community in which we hear the call to go out and “[d]o whatever he tells [us].”


Regarding the Jesuit Ministry in Bolivia

During the course of Jesuit Heritage Week, I decided to explore the history and impact of the Jesuit community in my home country, Bolivia. In 1492, Columbus reached the Americas, setting off an era of exploration and exploitation. By the beginning of the 16th century, different religious orders were arriving to evangelize to the indigenous populations. The Spanish Crown demanded that local populations be civilized, so they could be organized, taxed and put to work more efficiently. Concentrating their empire in the western highlands of South America, the oriental jungles remained mostly unexplored. Here, an estimated four hundred thousand Guarani people lived in small tribal communities. During the 17th and 18th century, the Jesuits obtained royal permission to explore and convert the Guarani people to Catholicism, along with founding large autonomous settlements.

By building these Jesuit Reductions, the priests hoped to save native Guaranis from slave trade and war, primarily through religion. As Spanish conquistadors continued the eastward expansion through the jungles, more and more locals left for the Reductions. At their height, the largest settlement reached forty thousand people. With Jesuit help, these settlements became autonomous and had a booming economy. Indigenous people were introduced to new skills and technology that allowed them to develop new architecture, music and art. The Guarani had always been fierce warriors, and with Jesuit help they trained local armies to defeat slavers and other warring tribes. Armies as large as four thousand people, with cavalry and muskets protected the new settlements against Portuguese excursions.

In 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from the reductions by the Spanish government. The Guarani settlements continued to thrive with the knowledge they had gained from the Jesuits. Today, several reductions have grown into large towns, still led by the priests and their faith. Beautiful churches, created with a blend of European and Guarani cultures, decorate the town squares. Today, Father Nawrot S.J. has been working in Bolivia to restore Jesuit and Guarani music. Bolivia is the only country in Latin America that still holds the wealth of baroque music that was created in the Reductions. Even after the expulsion of the Jesuits, the Guarani continued to create their own music.

Written By: Jorge Melgar

The Moral Implications of Extreme Poverty

“I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.” – Pope Francis at the 2014 World Economic Forum

Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the 12th President of the World Bank Group, chose to open up his recent address at Georgetown with the details of a personal conversation with Pope Francis. While Dr. Kim could be simply accused of “playing to his audience,” he noted the profound effect of Catholic social ethics on his own ideological background. Despite being Catholic myself, I wondered how true this statement could be. How could a secular institution like the World Bank Group, grounded in the financial realities of this material world, become intertwined with an ancient faith with a mission enshrined in the mysterious and spiritual? I had heard the words of Dr. DeGioia in the introductory remarks as he referenced Georgetown’s ethos and the new sense of global interconnectedness, and they all sounded normal upon initial reflection. Despite their familiarity, they underscore the fundamental belief that we can positively and drastically affect the direction of human development. Together, the Church and the World Bank can actually begin to build the Kingdom of Heaven envisaged by the Gospels in the here and now.

Inspired by the preferential option for the poor encountered in Scripture, the World Bank has sought to enable the poor and eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. We find ourselves at a point in history when progress is tangible and has been demonstrated by achieved development goals of the last several decades, yet we must remain cognizant of Francis’ concern that, in many ways, we are still very far from the “End of History” heralded by some political scientists. For Catholics it can often seem sufficient to maintain a life of personal prayer and empathy for the poor, but we cannot disregard the opportunity placed at our feet and continue to tolerate an “economy of exclusion.” It is imperative that we attempt to make the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth by valuing wealth as a means rather than an end in itself. By providing the poor and marginalized with a renewed sense of purpose and dignity, we can begin to empower them and promote an economy that works for everyone. While all this may seem idealistic and intangible, there are very tangible reasons to promote economic equality. Echoing the arguments of development economists like Amartya Sen, the Church hopes provide the resources necessary to promote the full flourishing of each individual, both materially and spiritually.

The Church seeks to be a pastoral presence in a world defined by greed and indifference. Just as the Jesuits emphasize the notion of cura personalis in their schools, the entire Church hopes to provide nourishment of all forms for her faithful. While God may be omniscient and omnipotent, He has still provided human beings with the grace of free will. Just as Jesus did not blame or ignore the poor in the Gospels, we must be especially careful that we do not become complacent with inequality and extreme poverty. Ignatian principles remind us that we should truly be present to those around us, and underscore the necessity of reflection in order to become present to our own needs and desires. This drastic step requires that quantitative and qualitative aspects of development work together in an unprecedented way. We are called to aid in this great effort that finally recognizes the humanity and capability of each individual currently suffering in poverty. If development agencies can learn to better serve one another in the next few decades, wealth might actually begin to serve all of humanity. The Church will finally see the Kingdom of Heaven made manifest on Earth, through the combined work of bureaucrats, businesspeople, and even priests.

Written By: Jared Ison

The Case for Catholic Stewardship

“Take good care of creation. St. Francis wanted that. People occasionally forgive, but nature never does. If we don’t take care of the environment, there’s no way of getting around it.” – Pope Francis

Since the start of twentieth century, the United States has almost eradicated hunger, cleaned most of the lakes and rivers, and removed the dark ash clouds from the sky. Although climate change seems to be on the world’s docket, it seems pointless to talk about it here in the United States, because we clearly have our act together.

However, what if the United States chose to dismiss the environmental problems that are taking place in other countries? Things may be appear to be fine where we live, but this is far from the truth in many developing nations. The Old Testament provides inconclusive evidence of the true meaning of stewardship. Jesus never spoke about recycling and renewable energies when He gave His Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus did teach us, though, was the need for us to help the least fortunate among us. Many of the effects of climate change – desertification, unsustainable farming, harsh storms – have emerged as serious environmental problems. Christ would certainly not have promoted our country’s over-consumption, which is a veritable wellspring of global climate problems.

One of the main arguments certain Catholics make against environmentalism is that some people treat it as a religion. While this might be true, is that necessarily a bad thing? If a non-believer will never accept Jesus into their life, then at least they still feel the call to do good, which is something the Catholic Church promotes. Although we are living in an ever-increasing secular society, we must not be afraid to find common ground with our non-religious brothers and sisters, and the fight against climate change can be a uniting force for good.

For green-minded Catholics, do not be afraid to care too much. People across the globe are suffering from our ignorant over-consumption, and it’s high time Catholics recognize the Church’s view on this. “Creation is a gift,” Pope Francis states. Instead of sticking to our stubborn political views, let’s accept Christ’s call to be good stewards for two of our greatest gifts: the Earth and our fellow man.

Written By: Max Wolfgang Rosner

We Remember Them

             In a poem that I first heard over ten years ago (which can be read here) nearly each stanza ends with the simple line, “we remember them.” As we all know, this year marks the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks and I find myself reflecting on my own memories of that day and the many turns my life has taken since then. Of the day itself, I remember very little, likely because subconsciously I do not want to remember. However, the memory I have of my father’s death and the deaths of the numerous brave men and women that day is not the whole picture, but rather the beginning of a transformation that can only be fully appreciated at its completion.

       Image      Twelve years ago today we remember a terrible act of violence which devastated the country and world. Yet, alongside this violence there exists a great amount of bravery and courage, an outpouring of love and compassion. And here we are all confronted with a creative challenge, to couple this tragedy with love, an act of violence with compassion, and grief for those we lost with gratitude for the example they and others have shown us. I myself see and experience this dichotomy in a very real and personal way.

             I was nine years old when my father died and was absolutely devastated by what had happened. However, with all of this grief and pain weighing heavily on my life, one year later I came to America’s Camp, a week and a half camp founded for children whose parents died in the September 11th attacks. It was here where my life changed again. Whereas I found myself dead inside after the death of my father, this camp revived me and opened me up to an amount of joy that at the time I thought impossible. Even now I can barely find the words (if indeed they exist) to describe all that this camp has done for me. Though looking back I see that this camp marked the first time since my father’s death that I actually felt human again. And this transformation is due in large part to the community all of us kids formed together; there was one other thing that I will never forget that was key to what made this camp so great. It was the raw outpouring of love given by all of those involved in the founding and running of this camp.

             The three men who founded it, Jay Toporoff, Jed Dorfman, and Danny Metzger saw the act of violence committed on September 11th, 2001 and responded with nothing short of pure love for those affected by it. And being there, that feeling and joy was palpable and touched every fiber of your being. Whether we were dancing after every single meal, waking up early to jump in the lake, knitting and beading, or simply relaxing around the bunk talking to each other, each moment was invigorated with a profoundness, joy, and love that is simply indescribable. Twelve years ago, my life was ruined by an act of hatred and violence, but shortly thereafter, I was given new life through a far more powerful act out of love and compassion.

AC Candle             So while I mourn the tragedies we remember today and the loss I and many others have experienced, I also remember the love and goodness that showed through that day so many years ago. The love of my father and the bravery and courage he and so many others lived out… to the point of giving their lives in the service of others. And the love which so many people showed me through America’s Camp and elsewhere that helped to restore me to being. Another phrase I first heard from America’s Camp, is that “it is better to light a candle, than curse the darkness.” These people lived that message out with an enormous amount of love, and in today’s world, let us take their example to heart as we too encounter a world full of violence, hatred, and injustice.

Kieran Halloran is a Senior in the SFS and is the Advocate of the GU Knights of Columbus.