For students involved in religious groups, the challenges of the past year – burnout, a sense of lost community, and academic stress, among others – have been compounded by another: balancing online obligations while practicing. faith and taking care of sanity.
While campus ministry and student-led church groups continued to run virtual services throughout the year online, they lacked both the attendance and community feel of pre-pandemic services. . Since returning to Georgetown and resuming in-person church services, practicing the faith has become easier and more rewarding for many students.
“Getting back to campus has been difficult as we attempt to move our previously Zoom-based activities in person and then adapt as needed, but the challenge is well worth it,” Jenna Antonacci (COL ’24), President social service of Catholic Women, wrote in an email to Voice. Antonacci, who also participates in other Catholic ministry groups, added that Catholic women have held rallies outside when possible, but have also held fully masked and indoor events.
Now that students are back on campus, church services of all kinds – from Jewish Life Friday Shabbat to Dharmic Life’s weekly Āratī – have seen more engagement. Being in person, students could now better connect with each other through worship, meditation, and shared meals.
“Harthi is every Sunday and having dinner with everyone has always been a highlight of my time in Georgetown,” said Sannidhi Shashikiran (NHS ’22), resident of the Hindu Students Association (HSA). “Not having this during the pandemic was really sad, and having it in a different way was really not the same as doing it on Zoom.”
Having a shared physical worship space is a key part of building religious communities that are valued by so many students. “It’s really nice to have a community to fall back on, to go to the masjid and to know that I can feel comfortable with everyone there, it’s really good”, Sabreen Mohammed (NHS ’24), director of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) interfaith and intrafaith relations, said. VCW Mosque open in August 2019, and this semester, Muslim Life organized a masjid open house.
Events organized and sponsored by religious groups also increased after returning to campus. Among the events held this semester was the Dharmic Celebration of Diwali (or Kartik Mela, the Festival of Lights) which included clay candles made by the HSA, a charity dinner, and student-led performances.
“We had 20 to 30 students in total, and a combination of culturally important song, dance and instrument play,” Shashikiran said.
For the Chirist Orthodox community, the major event of this semester was the visit of Orthodox Patriarch Bartholemew I, who was in the United States in October to meet with President Joe Biden and receive an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame for its environmental activism. ; Patriarch Bartholomew is known to many as the “Green Patriarch”. He blessed the Orthodox icons in the Copley Crypt, where the Orthodox community worship, and attended a dinner reception open to all students and faculty.
“It was a truly exciting experience for us – once in a lifetime really – and a true blessing and joy to welcome him to our campus. Whether they are Orthodox or not, I think that all students, or anyone really, can learn from him because he places a lot of emphasis on interfaith dialogue and environmental conservation ”, Antonia Sames (COL ’23), co-chair of the Georgetown branch of the Christian Fellowship Orthodox Church, says.
Community service, made difficult by last year’s virtual environment, was an integral part of the in-person experiences of all faith groups. This year, many service projects were interfaith, organized by a faith group but open to participation by all groups. For example, the Orthodox Christian Fellowship hosted an event in November where Dharmic, Jewish, Christian and Islamic students gathered in a tent in the Dahlgren quad to assemble hygiene kits for international Orthodox Christian charities. (IOCC).
“We order supplies and assemble kits and then IOCC will send them overseas to where they feel they need them most. So we will be working with the Catholic Women of Georgetown, the Knights of Columbus, the Hindu Students ‘Association, the Jewish Students’ Association and any other group interested in joining, ”Sames explained.
Individual religious groups have also organized their own service projects. This semester, the Muslim Students Association (MSA), for example, began working with the Rural India Social and Health Improvement (RISHI) project to make education on menstruation, as well as the reusable menstrual products themselves, more accessible in two villages in northern India: Nokheda. and Rudlai.
“There are a lot of taboos and stigma around menstruation, especially when it comes to learning to communicate better, like interventions and educational campaigns and like these villages,” Mohammed said.
As for the Hindu Students’ Association, this semester started a partnership with Prerna, an organization that fights against human trafficking in Mumbai, India.
“They are working to end trafficking in their red light district, so they help girls a lot to access education and have this path in place for them, and to work with the children of women who prostitute themselves. “Shashikiran said.
In addition to forming new relationships and undertaking service projects, students returned to campus with new spaces of worship. the Dharmalaya, a place of worship and meditation for Dharmic religions, open at the Leavey Center on November 4th. The students were defend for a permanent dharmic meditation space for years to come, and the Georgetown Dharmālaya is the first of its kind to open on an American college campus.
“This is the first time that we have had this kind of space, which has been a pretty big thing for us,” said Sargun Kaur (SFS ’23), president of the Sikh Students Association (SSA) of Georgetown.
While the SSA uses the Dharmālaya as a space for meditation, Sikh students travel off campus to their main worship space. Once a month, students visit the National Gurdwara near the National Cathedral; these trips are organized by SSA but open to all interested students.
Community development events and projects, such as the monthly trips to Gurdwara, were crucial for all groups. To strengthen their group bonds, the MSA, HSA, and JSA (the Association of Jewish Students) have established and continued mentoring programs, in which students in upper grades are matched with students in the subclass to bond with new students and introduce them to their groups.
“Everyone is very nice. I think this big / small program has also really helped build community and make friends this semester, ”Mohammed said.
The communities students found in church groups on the Georgetown campus grew stronger after the pandemic as more students took advantage of in-person opportunities offered.
“We have a Jewish Life Retreat every semester, and I attended the first weekend in November of this year. We went with Rabbi Rachel to the CCC [the Calcagnini Contemplative Center, Georgetown’s retreat center] and we just relaxed for about 40 hours. This time, the theme was specialized on [the] self, the qualities of self that you find in God and how to perfect them through meditation, ”said JSA member Melinda Blumenstock (COL ’23).
For Blumenstock, returning to campus made it easier for him to reconnect with his faith and connection to Georgetown’s Jewish community through retirement and in-person service, both of which were difficult during the virtual year.
“When I was younger I went to services every week,” said Blumenstock. “I feel like Jewish life in Georgetown has helped me reconnect. It’s not a two hour service, and not everything is in Hebrew, which helps me. It’s a great way to stay in touch with Judaism.
The return to church services after Zoom also resulted in increased engagement. ASS, for example, has seen its membership drop from around five members before the pandemic to around 15 this semester. HSA, MSA, JSA, and Christian student groups have also seen an increase in religious involvement in the student body, particularly among first graders and sophomores.
“It’s really great to see such a high participation rate from first year and sophomore students, and to see that they are so engaged and excited about everything we do on the Georgetown campus. So I’m really excited to see that moving forward as well, and now that we have the prayer space, I really think it’s going to have a big impact, ”Shashikiran said.
Challenges remain for religious groups, including social distancing requirements and budget cuts linked to the pandemic. Ministry faith groups on campus and student-led groups nonetheless persisted in addressing these challenges and allowing religious faith students to connect in ways that were not possible during the virtual year.
“There will be a readjustment to again have neighbors, smaller budgets and new ways to engage students, each of which will require grace, creativity and growth, ”wrote Matt Hall, associate director of the residential ministry on the main campus, in a Ministry Campus blog post. “We continue to engage [students] through open days, weekly pastoral reflections, one-on-one conversations, on-call response in the middle of the night, and much more.