We write with humility at the challenge placed before Catholic students at Brown University. Though it may not be obvious to the general University population, Catholicism plays a large role in the lives of hundreds of students on campus. Each week, over two hundred people gather in the upper room of Manning Hall to celebrate Mass. In fact, the Brown-RISD Catholic Community is the largest religious community on campus.
In light of recent opinions columns that have appeared in the Brown Daily Herald, we feel the need to speak out about our lives as faith-filled students. While we do not claim to speak on behalf of all Catholics on campus, we do offer insight into our own personal experience as members of the BRCC.
Most of us in the BRCC were born into Catholic families. However, we are not Catholic because of the environment in which we were raised, the customs, beliefs and traditions in our daily lives, or the pressure to be Catholic imposed by adults, peers or role models. Belonging to the Catholic Church is not simply a matter of voluntarism, but a matter of faith with roots that run deep in our personal histories and the global history of the Church and apostles. In understanding the broad, even overwhelming, context for our personal faith development and individual choice to be Catholic, we can begin to explore the more specific aspects of our religion.
Although there are problems with the human Catholic Church — many that we certainly agree need to be addressed and in fact are being addressed — our motivation to practice Catholicism originates outside of this. These issues cannot be assumed to characterize all of the followers of this large branch of faith.
With over 1.1 billion members of the Catholic Church worldwide, we do not pretend that our unity comes from unanimous agreement of all members of the Church; rather, it is our belief in God that unites us. We are not Catholic because we agree with every action of the Church hierarchy or of individual Catholics, but because we assent to the idea that the Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has something revelatory to say about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our hope is in this redemption story found in our tradition and Scripture.
In this continuous process of examination and inquiry, the importance of a supportive community cannot be overlooked. For us, the BRCC serves as an encouraging foundation as we live our faith with its distinctive challenges. We are given the opportunity to gather and pray together several times a week as a community of believers. Through our service to our local community in Providence, the greater United States and populations abroad, we embody Catholic social teaching, which insists on the Gospel's call to a society based on justice and human dignity. Informally, we have established friendships that transcend our unique identity at Brown as Catholics and found ways to incorporate our faith and tradition into our personal vocations whatever our specific field of interest may be.
A recent Herald column ("Toward a more productive dialogue on the Catholic Church and religion," April 19) clarifies several aspects of the Catholic religion that were misrepresented in previous opinions columns. We offer sincere thanks to Adrienne Langlois ‘10 for discussing many of the challenges Catholic students face and offering rational advice for moving forward. Standing strong and refusing the easy solution of dismissing Catholicism or religion as a whole because of hardship in the Church and misinterpretation of doctrine and beliefs deserves gratitude. This struggle is one we all inevitably face as people of faith.
Lastly, we invite all members of the Brown community to attend Mass, to speak with the more than 900 Catholics on campus and to participate in any of our many service projects in the community, in order to observe Catholicism in action and witness the diversity within the Church. Projection of criticism towards an international body is acceptable and sometimes painfully necessary, but one must be careful not to judge a group of individual believers on campus as a result.
One of our favorite aspects of Brown is the genuine concern of the student population for various social issues, both close to home and worldwide. Our nearly uniform goal at Brown to help create a world in which all people are equal and treated with genuine respect gives us hope. Just as we have been challenged continuously throughout our lives because of our faith, we now challenge the Brown community. Perhaps working toward tolerance among ourselves is a great step toward the justice we feel all people deserve.
Lauren Crapanzano '12 and Josh Rodriguez-Srednicki '12 are members of the Brown-RISD Catholic Community.