Six years in the making, Campus Ministry’s very first international social justice immersion trip brought 10 St. Kate’s students and 2 staff members to the far-away land of Peru. The group traveled through Lima, Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Puno from January 18 to 29.
This trip, as with others the ministry organizes across the United States and its annual Rome Pilgrimage, gave participants “the opportunity to explore and live out their faith, and learn more about connecting with [our founders] the Sisters of St. Joseph,” said Laurie Svatek, Campus Ministry director.
The itinerary included five days with the American-born and Peruvian Sisters of the CSJ province in Lima — and plenty of opportunities in neighboring communities to better understand the South American country.
"Our trip to Peru emphasized care for the earth, and how our care for it — or lack of care for it — impacts culture and economics, and lives of people in Peru," she added. "We also looked at how, in many ways, that translates to life and culture in the U.S."
For Veronika Paprocka ’17, the J-term abroad was a chance to build on her pilgrimage to Rome over Holy Week last year. “I’d seen the Church in this one light,” she said, “and Marta [Pereira, a former campus minister] urged me to go to Peru and see the Church in another, different light.”
Like Paprocka, Svatek views the Campus Ministry trips as a call to broaden one’s way of living. “When we are bold in our faith and our spirituality, and take that leap into the unknown, we are able to immerse ourselves in other cultures and experiences outside our comfort zone,” said Svatek. “It puts us in a place where God can speak to us in ways that may not happen here, when we’re with all of our comforts and distractions.”
The complexity of social justice issues
Aside from exploring the international CSJ connection, the St. Kate’s students and staff also delved into Peruvian history, culture and social issues. Their time in Cuzco was spent studying the historical roots of the indigenous cultures and spirituality that still influence life in Peru.
Students learned about the topic of mining in Peru, a complex and often divisive national issue sitting at the intersection of the country’s economic, ecological, and class factors. While the presence of mining companies impacts Peruvian communities in some very negative ways, it also provides many Peruvians with the means to help lift their families out of poverty — creating a difficult moral dilemma with no easy answer.
“We had a conversation with a Maryknoll Sister who had been in Puno for a long time, working with an NGO group that focuses on helping local communities advocate for their rights when it comes to mining corporations,” explained Svatek. “And the next day, we had conversations with university students, some of whom were graduating in mining.”
“There seemed to be a disconnect between mining as a profession and what it does to people and the land,” said Paprocka. “Those were two very different conversations.”
St. Kate’s students wrestled with the topic, while also realizing that their position as visitors meant that it wasn’t their place to come to a conclusion.
“We discussed afterwards the difficulty of the situation,” Svatek says. “As a student, how much do you really know about the reality of the business you’re going into? And even if you know, do you make a choice that is contrary to what might be in the best common good so that you can better the lives of not just your immediate family, but relatives far beyond?” she said. “These are really tough issues that we discussed with our students.”
Connecting the St. Kate’s experience
The student travelers have since had plenty of time to reflect on those three weeks in Peru. Their memories remain strong of that transformative experience.
“The trip couldn’t have come at a better time for me,” said Hannah Keuler ’17, a public health major with a double minor in Spanish and statistics. Keuler had a Peace Corps interview scheduled upon her return and found herself very stressed in anticipation of it. “But each day in Peru, I got a little less anxious about the interview,” she added. “I think that we really found the saying about ‘living in the moment’ to be true while we were there — just by being with the people of Peru and truly living in those experiences that we shared with them.”
Paprocka, who graduates with a history degree in fall 2017, agreed. “It was really an opportunity for me to expand myself and my view of the Church,” she said.
“For me” added Keuler, “it was connecting my St. Kate’s experience to a bigger world that’s out there and finding the ties between what I’ve learned in my classes and what’s out there. Campus Ministry trips are just a different way of traveling.”
Svatek says that Campus Ministry has “laid a very strong foundation for going back in the future," and that the next possible social justice trip to Peru may happen in 2019.