On March 31, more than 100 college students, faculty, women religious, clergy, and members of the general public joined Dominican Sisters of Hope at The Center at Mariandale for a conference entitled Pope Francis at 10: Enduring Legacy, Future Vision. It was funded in part by a catalyst grant from Collegium.
Co-sponsored by Iona University, Manhattan College, Mount Saint Mary College and Sacred Heart University, the intergenerational day of dialogue and reflection included talks, panels, and discussions on Francis’ papacy from the lens of women and the Church, synodality, care of Earth, and care of the poor. Nancy Pineda-Madrid, PhD and James Martin, SJ offered keynotes, and the day ended in group discussion about further action steps for students, faculty, and pastors.
Carl Procario-Foley, Mariandale’s Executive Director noted the unusually wide age range of panelists and attendees, “This conference was intentionally intergenerational, striving to highlight the voices and perspectives of college students along with the faithful Vatican II Catholics who have championed Pope Francis’ vision.”
The audience and presenters engaged in passionate discussion about pressing issues facing the church and the world, including the oppression of women and members of the LGBTQ community, and the need for ecological conversion on an individual as well as systemic level. Pope Francis received praise for his efforts at reform and his pastoral response to those excluded from full participation in the Church, even as many attendees expressed frustration with the slow pace of change.
In her keynote, Pineda-Madrid highlighted the growing problem of femicide around the world, particularly in Latin America and native communities in the US, noting the impact of the recently-repudiated Doctrine of Discovery in allowing this violence and oppression to grow and fester. She also engaged questions about what constitutes “credible Christian hope” in the face of such evil and urged everyone to “stand in solidarity with women and girls.”
Addressing the conference via Zoom, Martin identified Laudato Si’ as Francis’ greatest contribution as pope. Before Francis, the environment was “seen as a scientific or political issue,” he said. “Laudato Si’ made it a spiritual issue.” He also praised the pope’s reform efforts, saying the institutional church must engage issues of racism and injustice in order to engage young people. He also praised sisters for their longstanding work in these areas, saying “sisters are always my heroes…[they’re] always at the forefront.”
Attendees took hope from the sense of community and common purpose fostered by the conference. They lifted up the intergenerational aspect of the dialogue as especially important. Reflecting on the day, Mount Saint Mary sophomore Stephanie Costi said, “It really felt like we had a place here…and were a part of something that was bigger than ourselves.”
In a breakout discussion for college staff, Dr. Kevin Ahern, professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College challenged fellow campus ministers and professors to keep the conversation going. “Young people have a desire for full participation in the church. It’s an invitation for us.”
Mount Saint Mary Senior Marichen Montel-Hertling’s assessment of the day echoed both sentiments. “I feel like I was just surrounded by youth, and I don’t mean youth [as] in age,” she said, “the people here are so openminded, and I think it’s so refreshing. I’ve never felt that in the church….this was very inspiring for me.”
Faculty concurred. “What I loved was that so many youth and young adults had such insightful, wise, encouraging, informed things to say,” said Dr. Cristina Traina of Fordham University. “I have a hope for the future, because these are some really smart, devoted kids who have faith in each other and the world.”
Prioress Catherine McDonnell also commented on the significance of hope evident throughout the day. “A commitment to Hope is at the center of our mission as a congregation,” she said. “Creating spaces that foster hope is key to our legacy.”