ATHENS, Ga. — The Catholic Center at the UGA began the 2006 academic year in mid-August. The standing-room-only-crowd at an opening Mass with nearly 600 students was a welcome sight to the staff here. Each Sunday, the number of students attending liturgy hovers near 500.
The welcoming atmosphere continues after the Mass, where students are invited to an evening meal, provided by volunteers. When Bishop Wilton Gregory presided at our liturgy in September, he was impressed with the students, and the students were quite impressed with him, because of his easygoing manner. Moments like these remind us that “if you build it, they will come.”
This hunger for fellowship at the center spills from the Mass and the evening meal into other happenings throughout the week. Social gatherings involving camping trips, tailgate parties, movies and an upcoming ski trip are just some of the ways that the students get together. The center staff also provides a variety of opportunities for the people of this community to know their Catholic faith in ways that will prepare them to be in dialogue with our modern world. Men’s and women’s groups are held on a weekly basis, as well as Bible studies and a TNT group (theology on tap).
We currently have three JUST FAITH groups, where the students and adult community have examined justice issues in ways that have made great impacts on their lives. The community also has learned more about justice issues through Pax Christi. Each semester we have a busy person’s retreat during Advent and Lent. This retreat offers members of the faith community the chance to set aside time for prayer in the midst of their daily lives. They are given the oportunity to meet with a spiritual director who guides them on their spiritual journey.
These times invested for fellowship and spiritual renewal can best be measured by the good fruit that is extended to others within and outside our community. There are many opportunities for this campus community to reach out. At Oasis Catolico, a nearby trailer park for many Mexicans, students are given the opportunity to tutor, coach and do other mentoring services. Bags of food for the poor, a Thanksgiving dinner for the elderly at Denny’ Towers and outreach to the poor through agencies in Athens are just some ways that the community puts its faith into action.
Protest at the statehouse in Georgia and participation at the annual demonstration at the SOA in Columbus, Ga. have helped the students and the community to address injustices that the poor and marginalized face each day. We are currently in the throes of trying to implement the Province’s invitation to twin with one of our poor parishes. We have been in contact with Tony Wilson from Lima, Peru.
Teaching religious education to the more than 200 young people would be impossible without the 75 volunteers who show up each Wednesday evening. Most of the volunteers are the students, and one can only imagine how well received these teachers are by kids in grammar school. Offering one’s services, ministers, greeters and singing in the choir have enriched the participation at the Eucharistic celebrations.
We try never to forget our Franciscan charism here at the Center, and it is why we try to make our Francis Days before and on the feast of St Francis a real cause for celebration. The annual golf tournament this year raised $15,000 for Franciscan Helping Hands, a fund that goes toward the poor. At our annual Francis Dinner, $5,000 was raised for our residence in Ringwood.
Perhaps the highlight of this year’s Francis Days was the lecture offered by Kevin Mullen on “Catholic Medical Ethics.” His talk this year and Dominic Monti’s last year on “St Francis the Peacemaker” were both very well received. With so many good things happening in a good and welcoming and Franciscan spirit, is it no wonder that we have close to 30 people in the RCIA. Maybe this number says it all.
Thomas Vigliotta is chaplain at the Catholic Center at University of Georgia.