The 2007 Lent season began at St. John’s last week with a Mass and prayer service for Ash Wednesday at St. Thomas More Church. There are numerous other events being held at St. John’s during Lent, all of which are open to all students, regardless of their religious beliefs.
According to a flyer distributed by Campus Ministry, the Journey Lenten Program, a program that includes prayer, small group discussion and scripture study, will be held every Wednesday between noon and 1 p.m.
If students are politically inclined, they can travel to Albany on March 13 for an opportunity to “speak for those who have no voice” and lobby New York State representatives.
For those looking for a more extended period of prayer and reflection, there is the Spring Retreat, taking place from March 23 to 25.
“The retreats, which are based in Catholic spirituality, are also appealing to other students because they offer an opportunity for students to reflect on their faith,” said Stephen DeBlasio, the director of faith formation and liturgy in Campus Ministry.He added that another important Campus Ministry event taking place during the Lenten season is the annual Walk for the Homeless on April 6, which coincides with Good Friday.
DeBlasio mentioned that getting involved in existing Campus Ministry events, such as the Midnight Runs, Habitat for Humanity, or volunteering at a shelter or soup kitchen would also be a good way for students to “tie the ideals of service, spirituality, and leadership into Lent.”
Senior Grace Holinski stated that she has been involved in many of Campus Ministry’s Lenten events.
“I volunteered during Service Day, I did the Breast Cancer Walk, and I also did the Walk for the Homeless on Good Friday two years in a row,” she said. “The Walk for the Homeless in particular made me feel like I was part of such a good cause.
“I actually asked Campus Ministry if it was necessary to be Catholic to participate before I signed up for the walk, but they said absolutely not,” she added. “They encouraged me to get involved. It’s such a nice feeling to be welcomed by Campus Ministry, especially because there’s no group for Orthodox Christian students like myself.”
There are, however, other groups on campus that provide students of differing faiths with an opportunity to participate actively in their faiths.
One group, the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, is made up of numerous Christian denominations. The group holds weekly meetings in which members participate in singing worship, a sermon, message or bible study, and prayer.
“Every now and again, the meeting is replaced by a movie or game night,” said senior Bryan Roessel, a member of the ICF. “There are also a lot of small group Bible studies that are affiliated with the ICF. Typically, in the Spring semester, we’ll have some big event with other Christian groups on campus.” “It seems to me that here at St. John’s, no one really cares what religion you are,” he continued. “In my own personal dealings with Campus Ministry, and those of people I’ve known, I’ve found that they don’t push Christianity especially.”
Another group, the Jewish Students Association, focuses on issues relative to the Jewish community.
“At our meetings, we focus on issues such as a Jewish perception of marriage, but you don’t have to be Jewish to join,” said JSA president Mark Khandorov. “We want to form a community and we try not to alienate anyone. Queens is such a diverse place, so it’s important that we’re able to promote tolerance and individuality.
“Some people might be turned off because St. John’s is a Catholic university, so we try to create a comfortable atmosphere and enhance the learning experience of those students,” Khandarov added.
Last semester, the group celebrated the holiday Sukkot, while this semester they will be hosting a Passover Cedar on March 22.
There are also various interfaith events that take place on campus. “We try to have an interfaith program at least once a semester to promote discussion,” DeBlasio said. “This year we had an event around Thanksgiving with a number of student groups.”
At the beginning of this semester, the Jewish and Muslim Students Associations held a joint luncheon.
“The events going on 3,000 miles away don’t change the fact that we have a lot in common,” Khandarov said.
DeBlasio echoed that sentiment, saying, “We want to become aware of our similarities rather than differences.”