Canisius College hosted a weeklong immersion experience for high school students to expose them to the wonders of faith and tragedies of injustice in the city of Buffalo. The Be the Light Youth Theology Institute welcomed 10 students from July 10-15.
Be the Light is one of 93 Lily Endowment-funded institutes for high school students to explore topics of theology within a college's specific orientation. So, the participants at Canisius received a Catholic Jesuit perspective.
"The goal of these is to give a place for high school students to explore questions about faith, justice, vocation and leadership within a Christian model," explained Dr. Stephen Chanderbhan, professor of philosophy and director of the Be the Light Theology Institute at Canisius College. "At this time in their lives, as they're transitioning through high school, whether they're in a Christian or Catholic high school at the time, onto college or wherever they may go. It's a nice bridge between their early formation and their accepting of their own faith and coming to own it for themselves."
This is the second of four years in funding.
A typical day consists of living in community in the Canisius dorms. Every morning begins with prayer and breakfast. The rest of the morning involves a service-immersion experience in the Buffalo community. The troops visited Journey's End, a refugee resettlement center and the Innovation Center on Medical Campus to see growth in the city.
After lunch, there was afternoon instruction on Catholic theology, philosophy and Jesuit spirituality. The evening offered Ignatian reflection and some free time fun.
"Our program, especially this year, has pulled away a little bit from service-based program to an immersion-based program. We have three components each day, and the first is our immersion component," Chanderbhan said. "This is more exposing our participants to issues of justice and social justice in the city of Buffalo, especially as it is experiencing rebirth and new growth."
Another site visited showed the way businesses are using intentional hiring practices to help refugees. Back USA, a tablet-making company on the East Side, hires refugees who don't have technology experience, and gives them "hope and help to move into society a little better."
"They have an intentionally diverse workforce, so that's a great model for what they call a social enterprise," Chanderbhan said, explaining a social enterprise works toward both for profit and non-profit goals.
A guest speaker from the International Institute of Buffalo spoke about refugees and immigration in the past year, how they have adapted their program in light of recent political moves, and continue to advocate and assist those who come to Buffalo.
"We're trying to give our students as many perspectives on issues of social justice, economic justice, racial justice and similar sorts of issues that are particularly present in Buffalo; showing them lights, but also showing them shadows where injustice or less than perfect practices where a light needs to be shown," Chanderbhan said.
For many of the 10 students who took part, the experience left their eyes wide open to the workings of the world.
"I learned a lot of new things," said Jayseana Jackson, 14, "like I didn't really know about immigration, but through this program, I learned how there's more than just coming here. There's the process and everything. We made new friends. We ate new foods, and tried new things. I tried five new things, even though I am not a person who likes to try new things. It was a great experience. I would like to come back next year and do it again."
After some concern about spending a week with strangers, Ian Paulsen, 16, from Williamsville, made a friend immediately, and began some deep thinking about human rights.
"I was sitting in there listening to Dr. Steve talk about philosophy and human rights. It was captivating," he said. "It made me think about, what are human rights, what defines them, why we have them and who gives them to us? The leaders here are great people because they push you to be a good person. They're not just here to tell you the rules. 'You can do this and you can't do that.' They're here to be your friend and they're here to listen to you and talk to you. I have confidence that I could tell anyone here anything about myself, and I don't think they would judge me for it."