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St. Kate’s representatives deliver Vatican keynote on international students

Director of Campus Ministry Laurie Svatek and Marta Pereira, campus minister of retreats and spirituality traveled to the Vatican this week.
Director of Campus Ministry Laurie Svatek and Marta Pereira, campus minister of retreats and spirituality traveled to the Vatican this week.
Photo by Ashley de los Reyes ’15

St. Catherine University representatives delivered the keynote "The Situation of International Students in North America" at Vatican City yesterday.

Director of Campus Ministry Laurie Svatek and Marta Pereira, campus minister of retreats and spirituality, delivered the keynote during a two-day study meeting regarding “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of International (University) Students” led by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

Among several points, Svatek and Pereira’s address included the existing political and economic policies towards international students; human and spiritual needs of international students in North America and existing pastoral care offered to them; and recommendations for the pastoral care for international students, not just in North America, but worldwide.

Before their trip, Svatek and Pereira answered some questions about their involvement with the Vatican council.

How did your role as keynote speakers come together?

Svatek: I’m the current chair of the executive board of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association (CCMA). In that role, I have been part of study groups at the Vatican in the past. Having the experience nationally and also here at St. Kate’s and other campus ministries positions prepared me, as well as St. Catherine University, to be part of the conversation.

I am presenting not simply on St. Kate’s experience of international students, but on the experience of international students across the continent. The work that we’re doing is in collaboration with representatives from Canada and Mexico. We’ve been meeting via Skype for several months and developing a presentation among us from North America.

Since Marta had such significant input on the presentation, I invited her to come along and be part of this study session. It’s exciting to gather with people from all over the globe talking about the experience of international students, how they respond to those needs and how the Church could collectively work toward some solutions.

What are some of the challenges and recommendations you’ll address at the council?

Svatek: In North America, a common theme is immigration—we are bringing forward recommendations for the Church to be involved in immigration and Visa requirements so that the Church can have a voice in shaping a more just and timely way of people coming to our country.

Another important topic is financial aid and the situation of cost. There’s no national aid that’s available to students coming to the U.S., even though they contribute a significant amount to our economy while they’re here. Right now, international education is only accessible to those who have families that can afford to pay for it. It’s not accessible to everyone and that we see as an injustice.

The Catholic Church more than other faith tradition has a history of making a formal statement about something. That could be one of the things that comes from this — as a recommendation to our bishops here in the United States or to the Vatican as a whole — to say these issues [facing international students] are something of high importance.

The benefit for St. Kate’s is that we’re coming back with new information that’s not available to everyone at this point and we can begin a dialogue on this campus.

Why is this issue so important to the Church?

Svatek: For us here in the United States, much of what we do as Catholic campus ministers, whether it’s at a state school or a Catholic institution, is directed toward people of all faith traditions. We do that because we are Catholic. There’s this sense of inclusion and universality and community that is really of high importance and part of the core of our Catholic identity here at St. Kate’s as well.

As Catholic campus ministers, one of the challenges that we’ve identified is that often times, our educational background doesn’t give us the depth in other faith traditions that we really could benefit from having when we’re serving diverse populations.

Pereira: That’s really important not only because campus ministers at a Catholic university should be open to all these diverse populations, but also because many of our international students come from countries that are not Christian. In these situations — culture shock and being lonely in their faith — they need our support. How do we offer a pastoral care that goes beyond to the person and who they are?

How do you feel about this honor?

Pereira: For me it’s really exciting because I was an international student in high school and then I was an international student in college. I’m an international worker, too, so I understand the culture shock and how difficult it can be for a student to go through the process of finding herself in the midst of an environment that is so foreign, especially in faith practice. I think it’s a great thing that the Church is looking at this.

Svatek: I am proud to be invited and supported by a University that values diversity so much. While we’re a Catholic institution and I’m a Catholic woman and that’s been my training, we are a very diverse University and we really see God in all people. To have the opportunity to bring our experiences here into global conversations and then to bring the conversations back here to shape how we think about our students and how we can better respond to their needs — I just think it makes me a better campus minister and it makes St. Kate’s a place that offers better campus ministry for students.

And as an added piece of excitement for me — this time, we have a Pope who is very verbal about meeting people where they are. I’m excited to see how his presence and model of leadership will help shape the conversation we’re having.

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Oct. 10, 2014 by Sharon Rolenc

See also: Catholic Identity, Social Justice, Students