Local high school students had the chance to ask difficult questions about their faith and the moral dimensions relevant to the modern-day challenges they encounter, at Canisius College's inaugural Be the Light Youth Theology Institute.
Hosted over the summer, the six-day faith leadership experience brings to campus rising sophomore and junior high school students from Western New York, to deepen their understanding of themselves as people of God.
"The Be the Light Institute introduces high school students to what the Jesuits call 'a faith that does justice,' namely Catholic philosophy and theology viewed through the lenses of Ignatian spirituality and pedagogy," explained Stephen Chanderbhan, Ph.D., director of the Youth Theology Institute.
With guidance and support from religious studies and theology faculty, Jesuit clergy and several Canisius undergraduates and alumni, including President John J. Hurley, institute participants explored the Catholic Church in the modern world and the Jesuit order. They delved deep into what it means for something to be a basic right, from a Catholic philosophical perspective. Students considered the poor and marginalized, and reflected on the ways in which they are called to minister to them, through direct services and by addressing the systemic causes of injustice. They also engaged in different service-immersion experiences each day. Students prepared lunch for residents at St. Luke's Mission of Mercy; visited with asylum seekers at Viva la Casa; comforted Alzheimer's patients at Bristol Home, and cleaned and weeded various community gardens.
"At Canisius, we're ideally situated to help students understand how issues of justice are truly present in an urban setting like Buffalo, and how faith and reason can form their responses to these issues," notes Chanderbhan.
Students graduate from the institute as changed people.
"The experience brought me closer to God by working with those in need," said Shannon Callaghan from Orchard Park High School. "The purpose of the institute was to 'return people to themselves' and I couldn't have learned how to do that to such a profound degree, without immersing myself in service. I am now more confident and focused. I got my 'light' back."
"My experience at the Institute was amazing," added Sandy Stahl, also from Orchard Park High School. "It strengthened my faith and love for God. I learned to be more outgoing and not be shy about being with people, no matter the circumstances. I also learned we're not 'helping' people but rather just being with them and comforting them. I would definitely recommend the Institute to anyone interested in becoming deeper in their faith."
Established in December 2015, the Be the Light Youth Theology Institute at Canisius is supported by a $583,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment. It coincides with a larger youth theology initiative supported by the Lilly Endowment, which seeks to identify and cultivate a cadre of theologically-minded youth who will become leaders in church and society.
"Young people today want to make a difference," says Christopher L. Coble, Ph.D., vice president for religion at the Lilly Endowment. "Programs like the one at Canisius connect them to faculty and religious leaders who will help them explore that longing by drawing more deeply on scripture and theology as they make decisions about their futures."
Students of any faith tradition and those of no faith tradition are welcome to participate in the Be the Light Youth Theology Institute at Canisius College.
To learn more about the program, visit www.canisius.edu/btli or call the Office of Campus Ministry at 716-888-2420.