Santa Clara University

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Alum of the Week

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Grace Carlson, Casa Bayanihan Co-director

My time at Casa de la Solidaridad fortuitously changed my life in the best possible way. While studying anthropology and theology in my undergraduate career at Fordham University, my time in the Bronx community left me thirsting to make lasting connections in my own life and with the world. I wanted to know what it was like to cross borders and frontiers and discover what it means to love my neighbor. I felt attracted to learning in an expansive, new way: from classes that stretched my imagination to communities that knew what it was like to suffer, work through loss, and rebuild.

My experience in the program fulfilled these desires and more. At the Casa, I met friends in my peer community from both the United States and El Salvador who shared the same questions and hopes as me, but who also challenged me to celebrate our differences. The people in the praxis sites, especially the community of Canton el Cedro and the albergue, or shelter, in San Jacinto for evacuees during heavy rains, marked my heart and my mind. In the midst of allowing the Salvadoran reality to penetrate my life, I felt completely supported by the staff, especially in terms of allowing my spirituality to flourish and breathe new life. The healing I found walking with the people in El Salvador through the Casa program was tremendous and gave me the freedom to say "yes" to deeper calls in my life.

After graduation, I worked in the Nativity Schools of San Jose, California as a teacher for "at-risk" youth who had recently come from Central America. Through this experience, it became clear to me that I wanted to commit my life to walking with those who are most vulnerable, to living more simply, and to sharing in a faith community that seeks justice. Later, the opportunity to transition careers and co-direct Casa Bayanihan in the Philippines, the sister program of Casa de la Solidaridad, became another crossroads in my life and one that I have not regretted.

Training for the co-director position in El Salvador and later working in the Philippines has only affirmed an awareness of the fragility and dignity of life. I feel so blessed to have the friendships of community members and the privilege of guiding students in Casa Bayanihan. More than ever, I believe in Peter-Hans Kolvenbach's call to cultivate a "well-educated solidarity." There is an urgency for a challenging love, one that calls us to faithfulness to our friends who experience injustice. These friendships around the world and the hope I see in the students calls me to recommit to both the joys and the struggles of this work, even when faithfulness does not seem outwardly successful. I have a debt of gratitude to all of these friends who selflessly guided me and all the other students of Casa de la Solidaridad through the witness of their lives. They give me great hope, and in these relationships, I see glimpses of radical love and signs of what the martyrs called the Kingdom of God.

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