Share the Journey: Interfaith pot luck invites all faiths to listen, learn

November 28, 2017

There’s something about sharing a meal with someone that is more than just getting food to satisfy hunger or catching up. Walls come down. It is a chance to let your hair down, so to speak, set the craziness of the world aside, and just be with someone. You get an opportunity to share your thoughts and hear about theirs.

The same is true when you share a meal with about 30 strangers. Last month the Catholic Newman Center at the University of Houston hosted its fourth Interfaith Potluck. Everyone was invited, but specific invitations were sent to faith-based organizations on campus.

We’ve had Muslim students (both Shiite and Sunni), Jewish students, Hindu students, Christian students and students who were searching. There, while we share latkes, chana masala, vegetarian pizza and special desserts brought by students, walls are broken down and friendships are formed.
“In my table there were Baptist, Muslim and Catholic students. We listened carefully, we laughed and we shared dinner... All of us were curious to learn about each other beliefs, our ideals and our differences,” shares CSO student Andrea Fernández Velázquez.

At the end, we share what we found interesting from the table discussion in a large group. It’s amazing to hear what we have in common while also recognizing the true differences that exist. Some are inspired by how someone talks to God; another is intrigued by how someone views those who are different as brothers and sisters. Sometimes, students learn that they do not know as much as they like about their own faith and leave intent on learning more. In some way, it seems that almost everyone leaves a little different because of this time together.

I think this is what Pope Francis had in mind when he kicked off the “Share the Journey” campaign. We are all invited to welcome migrants and refugees in a personal way, in a way that brings hope to people who have faced such difficulty. We can listen to them, find out what makes them who they are, their joys and sorrows. Encounter puts faces on statistics.

This year we are excited because the Catholic Newman Center at the University of Houston gets to participate in a unique way. We have just become one of a few Newman Centers to have Catholic Relief Service (CRS) ambassadors. These four students receive training on what CRS does and have been tasked with staying aware and getting the word out on campus.

CRS ambassador and Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees (PAIR) volunteer Jeremy Brandt said, “I’ve been volunteering as a mentor for refugee youth in Houston for a little over a year now. Being a CRS Campus ambassador allows me to show my fellow students the connection between the Church and the cause that I care about.”

Our CRS ambassadors worked with United Muslim Relief and PAIR along with CRS and Refugee Resettlement Catholic Charities for A New Home: Refugee Resettlement in Houston, a day-long symposium on Nov. 9 that highlighted what refugees experience, need and how they have made a positive impact on culture.

Pope Francis’ call to reach out is clear, “‘Share the Journey’ invites us to see through the eyes of others rather than turning a blind eye... Not just to see, but to look. Not just to hear, but to listen. Not just to meet and pass by, but to stop...”

Through events like this over the next two years, we hope to come together with our refugee brothers and sisters and break bread together as a family.

Claire McMullin is a campus minister from the University of Houston.