Brother Iñigo Riola, F.S.C.
What is the Lasallian core principle, ‘Concern for the Poor and Social Justice?’ The definition given by Saint Mary’s College about this core principle is: “We are in solidarity with the poor and advocate for those who are suffering from injustices.” Solidarity. Poor. Advocate. Injustice. These are important but broad constructs. What do mean by being in solidarity with the poor? Who are the poor? How do we advocate for the marginalized? What are the different forms of injustices?
In order for us to answer these important questions, I would like to offer three steps that may guide us in our pursuit to live out this Lasallian core principle. These three steps are based on the ‘Lasallian Reflection Framework’ that is used by the Lasallian Family in the Philippines. These are: conscious experience, critical reflection, and committed action.
The first is conscious experience. When I arrived here in California on August 26, 2020, exactly one year ago, one of the visible challenges in the state was homelessness. I have been to California several times in the past but homelessness was more evident when I arrived here during the height of the pandemic. I have read articles about this issue yet I was not able to fully understand the situation without meeting homeless people firsthand. Thus, I decided to visit several homeless encampments in Oakland and Berkeley, to see the situation, listen to homeless people, and learn more about their plight.
Conscious experience is an important step for us to show concern for the poor and the marginalized. Here at Saint Mary’s, we shall be learning concepts and theories about poverty and injustice. Yet learning about these challenging realities does not end in the four walls of the classroom. We are challenged to get out of our comfort zones to be able to see and to feel the suffering of marginalized peoples. Consciously experiencing leads us to ask more questions and to seek answers to these questions.
Second is critical reflection. After consciously experiencing the plight of homeless people in the East Bay, I then asked myself, why is this happening in the richest country in the world? I came from a developing nation and it is quite difficult to comprehend the paradox of the presence of poverty in the world’s economic superpower. After those initial visits, I began to reflect further and used this topic in one of my courses in the doctoral program and started researching about the issue in order to understand it better.
Critical reflection leads us students to ask the question why poverty and injustice are present in our society. We reflect and see if there is a disconnect between theories and reality. As we go further in our collegiate journey here at Saint Mary’s, I hope that we allow ourselves to be reasonably disturbed by the realities around us and continue to ask that question: why?
The third is committed action. After seeing, experiencing, and learning more about the issue of homelessness, I then asked myself: what’s next? What can I do in order to contribute something and make a little difference in the lives of the homeless people in our area? Consequently, I decided to volunteer at a homeless center here in Contra Costa county.
Committed action is an integral part of Lasallian Catholic education. We cannot just be armchair experts. As Saint Mary’s students, we are challenged to be “Lasallians without limits.” We are encouraged to go out to the peripheries and respond to the diverse needs of different sectors of society who are marginalized and struggling.
Fritz Eichenberg, Christ of the Breadlines, 1951
The three steps of experience, critical reflection and committed action, can be encapsulated in one of the college’s mottos that is shared by many other Lasallian institutions in the United States and around the world: “Enter to learn. Leave to serve.” This is the true essence of Lasallian education. We enter Saint Mary’s to learn: through our courses and through different learning experiences, and hopefully, we will leave the college ready to use what we have learned and experienced in order to be of service to others.
Photo credits: Haley Nelson; Jim Forest on Flickr