By Alexa Binkowitz
On Tuesday, Jan. 31 the Office of Mission and Catholic Identity hosted an event, “Welcome the Immigrant & the Refugee” in solidarity with the Muslim and international students at Sacred Heart University.
This event, which was held in response to President Donald Trump’s immigration restrictions of several Middle Eastern countries, worked to assure Sacred Heart’s international students that they are supported and welcomed at the University.
The Chapel of the Holy Spirit hosted a full house of students, faculty and members of the community.
“Today is an opportunity to come together in prayer. This is not a political event. Today is a moment for us, as a community of learners, coming together as we journey together, to pray to our God, by whatever name you call her or him,” said President John J. Petillo during the opening welcome.
On Monday, Jan. 30 Petillo sent an email to the Sacred Heart community assuring kindness and support to the international students who may feel affected by Trump’s immigration policies.
While there have been positive reactions to Petillo’s statement released to the community yesterday, there have also been some negative reactions.
“One parent demanded that I retract my statement. That was not going to happen. Because of those views, she and her husband would not make a significant contribution to the University,” said Petillo. “Let me be very clear, the mission of this University and its commitment to social justice, and my conscience are not for sale.”
However, President Petillo remained loyal to the mission statement of Sacred Heart University, as well as the importance of support to students of all races and religions.
“I think students benefited from this event because it showed the urgency of this situation and this executive order, and how it not only affects immigrants across the country but also students here at Sacred Heart,” said junior Leah Ferriby. “This event made me proud to be a Pioneer because it proved that we will stand up against oppression and discrimination regardless of political affiliation.”
Throughout the event, Sacred Heart’s mission statement, which depicts the university as an institution of tradition, spirit, kindness and community service, was highly represented.
“Today’s theme is to the core of our mission,” said Petillo. “We will welcome you, and embrace students of all races, nationalities, creeds. We will walk with them on their journey, and I hope that whatever your political views may be, you will walk with me and all of our students.”
The event featured readings from the Qur’an, Catholic prayers and songs of peace sung by members of Sacred Heart’s choir, Cory Robinson and Sarah Sullivan.
“Today’s service was an amazing experience. Like the speakers said, this event wasn’t about politics or anything of the sort, it was just a powerful display of Sacred Heart’s welcoming of diversity on campus,” said junior Ryan Borchardt.
Father Anthony Ciorra also offered a message of peace and hope for equality to the community.
“We’re here today to pray because what we’re dealing with is not a Christian problem, not a Jewish problem, not a Muslim problem, not a Hindu problem, it’s not even an American problem. It’s not a Democratic or Republican problem. It’s a human problem,” said Father Ciorra.
The Catholic Intellectual Tradition played an important role during the event, as Father Ciorra, Father Bruce, and President Petillo all referenced the importance of kindness and understanding to the Catholic faith.
“Our tradition is one that speaks of inclusion. Our tradition is one that brings together every human being. So, we are bringing together diverse religions, cultures, nationalities, gender, and everyone. We are all under the big tent of God’s love for us,” said Father Ciorra.
Some students who attended the event were moved by the support and diligence represented through the readings and faculty statements.
“This event reminds us all that we stand together and we are not alone. We go to a school where we are supported by not only our friends, but our peers and faculty members,” said sophomore Sarah Riccio. “It highlighted the fact that we are all human and reminded us that life is bigger than just us. It’s about our school community, our town community and our place in the world as a whole. It reminds us how important compassion is every day in our lives, even in the smallest acts of kindness.”
Feelings of hope, support and tolerance were evident throughout the event, which highlighted the importance of justice and equality to Sacred Heart’s community.
“I hope students got a sense of awareness, a sense of excitement and passion for social justice and inclusiveness out of this event,” said Petillo. “I hope this moved their hearts.”