Big ideas reap big benefits for seniors

Nissa LaPoint

A group of Bishop Machebeuf High School seniors got big ideas about their faith—and won big after they shared it.

Sister John Peter Clarke, O.P., charged the 11 seniors in her Catholic leadership class with the Big Idea Project, an assignment to create a four-minute video depicting a need in the community and a solution based on Catholic social doctrine.

Senior Clare Lowrey and her classmates worked to show middle school students—who may experience loneliness and low self-esteem—that God is merciful and loving. They spent their Monday nights at St. Thomas More Church’s Bible study for children to participate in discussions and share their own lives.

They learned patience, self-motivation, perseverance and leadership, the seniors reported.

“Self-giving became a big part of our work,” the seniors in the “Go-Getter” team wrote. “It is incredible the outcome when you open yourself up to a person. An outpouring of self through personal storytelling, small acts of service, and investing time in others destroys barriers and builds solidarity.”

In result, the team of four seniors—including Clare Lowrey, Rebecca Haven, Faustine Sullivan and Ricky Pruneda—won a $2,000 scholarship toward college after presenting their video to a panel of judges.

The project originated from Columbine High School in Littleton and has spread to different high schools in the state. It’s focused on cultivating leadership that empowers others to reach their full potential.

“The Big Idea Project, while not explicitly Christian, fits wonderfully well with our core values and the virtue of magnanimity,” Sister Clarke said. “Students in Catholic Leadership learned from the Big Idea Project’s concepts and applications of generous leadership as well as other key sources on leadership.”

The seniors read and analyzed leadership qualities in  “Strengths-based Leadership”, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” and “The Pope and the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard.”

Another team of students spent time at St. Therese School in Aurora and realized their need for more athletic equipment. Seniors John Keyte, Joseph La Rosa and Kate Merth raised $2,000 to benefit their efforts. The Truth Finders team—made of Stephanie Montes, Stephany Vazquez, Myranda Weakland and Luke Weinmann—raised student awareness about how living one’s faith helps self-image and benefits others.

The project culminated in presenting their video, scripts and edits of their documentaries to a panel of judges. The Go-Getter team has a chance to compete at the state level and receive $1,500 toward college costs.

“The Big Idea Project is a great way for Machebeuf students not only to compete but also, and more importantly, to share the magnanimity, the mission, and the mercy of Jesus Christ,” Sister Clarke said.

“One thing I did not expect from the Big Idea Project is that we would benefit so much from this endeavor,” Lowrey wrote. “Ultimately, we learned to trust in each other. We learned that leaders lead from the front lines, but they need their fellow soldiers.”

 

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

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The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA