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Amid apparent waning faith, some colleges encourage students' religion

Elms College

A new Gallup poll shows that show overall, the United States is a religiously diverse nation – yet New York’s Capital Region, Burlington, Vt., and Springfield, Mass. are among the bottom 10 religious metro areas.  WAMC’s Michael Masciadrelli explains how some college campuses help are helping college students keep their faith close to them while living on campus.

On a college campus, it may seem difficult for those students to actively practice a religion. However, many colleges provide students opportunities to grow spiritually and develop their faith away from home.

In Chicopee, Elms College was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph, who instituted Christian values into the school. Director of Campus Ministry at Elms and a Sister of St. Joseph, Sister Carol Allen, says many of their students actively participate in religious activities.

“We have 27 students that participate in a Deanery Scholar program. They come together three or four times on a semester, and we share mass and then we have some sort of input session. We have service trips to Baltimore, Maryland, Mandeville, Jamaica, New Orleans, Louisiana, and a new one we started this year to San Jose, CA. We must have had 35 to 40 students participate. We run a Dorothy Day program which means you move to campus a week early, whether you are a commuter or a resident. You live on campus and go out and do ministry with the Sisters of St. Joseph. So we have like 45 to 50 students that participate every August. We have a couple prayer groups on campus, we have an alternative to Thirsty Thursday, to Thoughtful Thursday. They do different activities and is all student lead. I’m amazed always at the depth that students are willing to explore those things that are deepest in their hearts.”

Sister Carol notices the differences in the world for college students today compared to the time she was growing up through the church. Again, Sister Carol of Elms College.

“I think the challenge for young people today is there world is much more fluid than the world I grew up in. I think with the development of technology, which puts people in instantaneous contact with each other, is somewhat a distraction. But I think the Church hasn’t been able to balance with the new technology. )We all have iPads, iPhones, cell phones, TVs, HD, traditional. Then there’s Twitter, Facebook, all the programmatic things. Everything is vying for student’s attention. Now I’m not really talking about drive thru mass, but I think technology has something to offer us and we should learn how to blend the modern world with our church.”

Being a Christian on a college campus may seem to be quite the challenge. Sophomore student at Western New England University, Jonathan Pierre, discovered the difficulty of practicing his Catholic faith with the busy lifestyle at school.

“Being away from home as a college student to keep my faith strong in college, is pretty tough because it’s all about meeting friends, doing all kinds of new experiences and adventures and you know attending class and gaining all this new knowledge. I’ve gone through Catholic schools all my life. Before lunch we would each say a prayer and after lunch we would even do the rosary. At college, when you go to lunch or dinner, or breakfast at the dining hall, the minute you sit down you don’t have that peace and quiet time as you did in high school.”

Despite Jonathan no longer being enrolled at a catholic school and now attending college, having his faith to fall back on leads to some advantages.

“It makes you build up your morals and values, when you meet people you have a different way of looking at things with your Catholic faith. We see the world differently. Everyone has an open mind about things. It basically makes me a better person all-around because in the situations where you’re tempted to do things, you remember the lessons you learned in Catholic school, from the bible, in mass.”

With the election of the new pope, Pope Francis from Argentina, the Catholic Church has taken on quite a change. The Spiritual Life Coordinator at Western New England University and Catholic, Sheila Hanifin, sees the changes taking place with the Church in the U.S.

“There is only about seven percent of Catholics in the United States. They’re in Latin America now. People coming to this country from Latin America are building up our church now. The country has changed and will continue to change."

Sheila enjoys leading the organization open to any college student’s religious background.

“I wanted a multi-faith environment, even including atheists, agnostic, you can’t shut out soul to anybody. Whether you’re Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever, you’re going to run into each other. And so you hope everyone taking in their faith can put it to work for them.”

According to the 2012 March Gallup poll on religious behavior in the U.S., “About a third of Americans now report that they seldom or never go to a religious house of worship.” But Sister Carol believes Christians will be resurgent. She says if they can keep in mind the main values of the religion, it could lead to a more peaceful community and world.

“We are always about developing ourselves to be that better person. Be the one that can turn the other cheek, be the one to go the extra mile, be the one to forgive when our hearts are hurting, be the one to love the person that’s the most difficult to love. That’s what we are being asked to do. Go to service trips, go get involved in your community, go to the homeless shelters, go to the soup kitchens. We need to be that difference in the world.”

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