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home : features : people of faith

12/23/2015 9:00:00 AM
SEMINARIAN'S DIARY
Sheltering in place as Year of Mercy began
This column is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series from diocesan seminarians on their studies for the priesthood. Read previous columns under
This column is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series from diocesan seminarians on their studies for the priesthood. Read previous columns under "specials" at www.evangelist.org.
BY FRANCIS VIVACQUA


We are a people of faith, not of fear.

In September's "Seminarian's Diary" column, I wrote about the anticipation during the beginning of the semester as we prepared for the papal visit to the United States and the anniversary of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine in Auriesville.

As this semester was coming to an end, once again the campus of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where I am studying for the priesthood, was filled with anticipation.

The mood around campus related to much more than exams and thesis deadlines. Once again, Pope Francis brought excitement to the campus as we prepared for the Church's jubilee Year of Mercy to begin.

The "jubilee door" at the nearby Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception had been sealed, with the papal crest above it, and we were filled with joy and excitement for the opening of the door.

Unexpectedly, on Dec. 7, that mood was soon overshadowed with fear and anxiety. Late on the eve of the Year of Mercy kickoff, the campus was suddenly filled with police sirens and flashing lights. Cell phones rang and email alerts popped up as those on campus were told to "shelter in place."

With the spread of violence here and abroad, everyone had seemingly been on high alert already. However, this was no drill: We were informed that a custodial worker had been approached by a suspect with a weapon who demanded to know the location of our administration building.

As police surrounded our campus, some buildings had to be evacuated when the Explosive Ordinance Unit arrived to search a dorm. At 2:50 a.m., we received an alert notifying us that campus was secure and the "shelter in place" request was lifted.

Then, on the morning of the jubilee Year of Mercy, classes were canceled and we received another alert of a shooting nearby. An email from the university president notified us of his concern for our safety and told us that the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force was conducting the investigation, because it was considered a terrorist threat.

With a heightened state of security on campus, students and faculty went on with activities, including the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the opening of the jubilee door at the basilica. Throughout the day, thousands of people were in and out of the basilica peacefully, but in the early evening, the alerts began again.

In less than 24 hours, we were once again sheltering in place because of a suspect on campus. We were evacuated from the library and police strategically moved students to other buildings on campus. When it was determined once again that the campus was safe, we were notified that classes the next day would be on a three-hour delay.

As we began to move forward as a community after the events of those two days, we were reassured of our safety by the university president. Support was provided to students from campus ministry, the counseling center, the dean of students' office and student ministers, religious and priests.

To my surprise, each of those outlets was used to its full potential by students who wanted to speak to someone.

I share these events in the hope that, each day, we are reminded of God's unfailing love for us through our interactions with others. The jubilee Year of Mercy, said Pope Francis, is "dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy which the Father constantly extends to all of us."

The doors of our Church have been symbolically opened - but the mercy of God is forever within us. We are invited, during this special time, to reflect on God's love for us, how we encounter mercy, where we need mercy in our lives, how we can seek out and receive mercy, and ways we can share mercy with others.

We are encouraged to walk through the Church's doors and experience God's mercy. During these times, even amid events like those on my university campus, we are reminded that we are not a people of fear. Rather, we are a people of faith.

(Mr. Vivacqua is a native of Our Lady Queen of Apostles parish in Frankfort who was previously a teacher in North Carolina, Virginia and New York. He is now studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese.)





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