By Anne Marie Amacher
Peace, the history of social justice, ministry and restorative justice were among topics that 21 students from St. Ambrose University explored during a social justice retreat at Camp Shalom outside Maquoketa, Iowa, Sept. 6-7.
Kelly Bush, director of co-curricular service and justice ministry at St. Ambrose, said all students were invited and there was a waiting list for people wanting to participate. “Our campus ministry works for everyone. You don’t have to be Catholic to be involved in our campus ministry,” she said.
Because the event took place Sept. 7, the students prayed for peace in Syria and around the world to coincide with Pope Francis’ call for prayer.
Kit Evans, an activist and speaker on peace issues who recently moved to the Quad-City area, was guest speaker for the event. Bush knew Evans’ work in peace and justice would be a good fit for the retreat.
“I think the students responded in a really powerful way. They were listening,” said Evans, who spoke about restorative justice and justice in education. “I shared stories connected to social justice, peace, education and violence from my own work experience. I also incorporated two activities from Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service’s curriculum called Engaged: Exploring Nonviolent Living. I am a trainer with Pace a Bene. The activities are called “Two Hands of Nonviolence” and “Pieces of the Truth.”
One of the activities involved “peace circles.” Members of the circles were presented with a scenario in which one individual had done harm to another. One student portrayed the victim; another portrayed the aggressor; other students played the victim’s mother, the aggressor’s father, a community member and a mediator. Each student played a role for 20 seconds and then switched places to see how the same situation felt from another person’s perspective.
Kristin Upah, a junior at St. Ambrose, attended the retreat to refresh herself on the “rich history of social justice at St. Ambrose and to take time to reflect on the needs of the world and what I can do from my place in society.”
She was most influenced by the various activities with Evans. “She had such great vibes. We did a role- playing activity with her where we practiced dialogue after a crime. We had the chance to express the feelings of the victim, offender, community member, mother of the victim, and father of the offender. It was a great exercise in empathy. I think it will help me to walk in the shoes of others before judging them in difficult situations.”
In addition, Upah enjoyed building relationships that she hopes will last throughout the year as students work for justice. “I was struck most by how taking the time to recognize the human dignity in all individuals absolutely makes a difference. All people have truth within them to be recognized and appreciated.”
Sophomore Grace Filipski participated in the retreat because Ambrosians for Peace and Justice highly encouraged it. “Quite frankly it sounded interesting. I never heard of a retreat like it.”
Her favorite part was the conversation about feeling powerful and powerless. “I also loved the debate.”
Filipski said students strived to put into action their knowledge of social justice in these activities. “When at retreats like these the real reason to be there is to learn something from the people who are there, about the people you are there with, and about yourself, where you stand and how you can stand stronger as a human searching after peace.”
Evans said she and Father John Dear, a former Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award recipient, will participate in a national speaking tour about nonviolence that begins Sept. 21. For more information on Pace e Bene or the tour, visit http://paceebene.org/peb-update/john-dear-national-speaking-tour.