By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY | Published September 15, 2011
Parents of college-age students throughout North Georgia, and in other places well beyond this region, have been participating in a ritual that uniquely belongs to this time of year. They are bringing their students back to school.
Whether they are bringing their first college student to a new university campus or they have done this routine several times before, there is poignancy in the process. Parents bring their youngsters to a place where they hope they will be safe, successful and happy, and they will continue the process of growing up. They turn their youngsters over to professors, administrators, dorm directors, and—for Catholic parents—campus ministers who seek to assist their growth in faith.
We are fortunate here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta to have a fine cohort of campus ministers, priests, deacons and lay people who are dedicated to the faith formation of our college students. I have been making the rounds to greet the college communities at the beginning of the academic year. It is a tradition that I try to follow each year with a personal pastoral visit to as many of these campuses as I can.
I want our youngsters to know that I keep them and their futures close to my heart and very much in my prayers. These visits usually include the celebration of Mass, a chance to chat informally, and—because they involve college students—FOOD!
I am always moved by the generosity of those people who provide a meal for our college students—usually each week. These folks may be parishioners from the local community, volunteers for the campus ministry program, or merely generous helpers who have a heart for our college programs and students. They prepare covered dishes, grill enough hot dogs and hamburgers to feed the fifth army, or make tons of pasta so that our youngsters have the chance to enjoy a meal as part of their experience of campus ministry. Their kindness is deeply appreciated—not only by the young people but also by the Archbishop. Our college students find those occasions an extension of their homes, and these meals help these young people know that the Church is in the business of caring for them and nurturing them.
This gesture of care is also a source of spiritual inspiration for our collegians since they realize that these fine people do this as an expression of their Catholic faith and concern for them. The students are nurtured not only by the meal but by the example of the volunteers. They realize that giving and serving others is a direct response to the Eucharist that nourishes and sustains all of us.
I still have a few college visits on my calendar over the next couple of weeks, but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who provide this wonderful service for our young people. Most of them would be embarrassed to be publicly recognized for their efforts, so I always try to stop by the kitchen or dining facility to quietly thank them in person. I know that the campus ministers would want me to highlight their contribution to the lives of our students.
When our young people leave their homes to attend college, they bring with them the prayers, hopes and encouragement of their parents and family, but they also need to know of the prayers and support of the parish and the Archdiocese. I can think of no more fitting expression of that concern than in the generous service that these campus ministry volunteers provide. Hopefully that lesson of generosity and faith will remain with the students, who, in time, may take up the tradition for other students in the future!