UNCA Catholic group spearheads inclusivity

By Kevin McCall 

Arts & Features

kmccall1@unca.edu

             Photo by Kevin McCall                  Ariel Akuneme, Sophie Ross, Sarah Bradley and David Mayeux at Cafeteria Catholic.

Members of the Catholic Campus Ministry find strength in its small community and its diversity at UNC Asheville as it attempts to own up to the Catholic Church’s past.

According to David Mayeux, the campus minister at UNCA, the Catholic faith has been used to legitimize reprehensible actions throughout history.

 “We need to find out why and how. Own up, face the truth and make restitution,” he said.  

20-year-old Ariel Akuneme said she joined the community once she heard about them.

“I looked them up, emailed them and I met them at the Rocky Palooza event and ever since then I’ve been part of them,” Akuneme said.

Another member, Sarah Bradley, said she encountered the group through a tabling event and was surprised after learning of the group’s acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“I was raised Catholic, but certain circumstances led me to resent the church,” Bradley said. “I walked up to them and asked them how they feel about gay people and they responded ‘Oh, we love them,’ and I was like, hang on, this goes against every preconceived notion I have about you guys.” 

According to Mayeux, Catholics need to confront and confess to how the church treats members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“We need to own up to the fact that when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, we have not treated them with the God-given dignity that we are taught every human person has,” Mayeux said.

Bradley said the Church often represents itself as hateful and discriminatory to the LGBTQ+ community, which has led to the lasting negative impression people have when considering Catholicism. 

“Sometimes people representing the Catholic Church do not represent it correctly. There’s serious religious trauma that comes from that misrepresentation,” Bradley said.

According to Bradley, the group is not vocally opinionated and usually is very welcoming to anyone. 

“A big preconceived notion I had about the Catholic Church was that they’re always judging you,” Bradley said. “That’s really not the case, especially with this group. They don’t judge you for anything. They really won’t give you their opinion unless you ask for it, which I think is a really good way to go about things.”

Mayeux said members of the Catholic community must acknowledge Catholicism’s problematic history and own up to it in order to better itself.

“The more we become accountable for our history, the more we’re realizing how much the American Catholics participated in slavery and racism in this country and we need to come to terms with that and own up to it,” he said.

Certain groups are already making amends by confronting the Church’s past.

“At Georgetown University, the Jesuits have started a program to make monetary restitution to families of the descendants of slaves that were owned by Jesuits at Georgetown,” he said.

Akuneme said the group attempts to reach out and aid marginalized communities. 

“Reaching out to the black community and being a part of Black Lives Matter, we try the best we can to make life equitable,” she said. “We like doing projects that help reach people that need us the most.” 

According to Sophie Ross, an active member of the group, the Catholic Campus Ministry attempts to differentiate themselves from how the religion is often represented. 

“Catholics in the media are often represented as uneducated, ignorant, malicious and intolerant,” Ross said. “I think that the Catholic Campus Ministry differs from that because all our members are pretty educated. They’re very charitable people.”

Akuneme said the negative reputation of the Church colors the opinions of others around campus, sometimes leading to confrontations. However, the group maintains its willingness to accept anyone.

“I think the reputation of the Catholic Church does do a lot of negative harm to us here. Once a person spat on our table,” she said. “Most people, when they see we’re Catholic, they get a little concerned because they think we’re gonna be hateful towards them, but really we’re not.” 

According to Akuneme, negative views towards the Church come from its reputation as well as some acts it has not owned up to.

“I think the issue is the Church’s reputation and things the Church has done and not made amends for,” she said.  

Ross said she enjoys the group’s small sense of community and the genuine friendly relationships that they form, but despite this, Ross said she would like to see additional people in the group.

“I like that it’s kind of a small community and that there is a sense of comradery and I like getting into theological discussions with people,” the 21-year-old said. “I suppose it would be nice if we had more members.”

Bradley said the group welcomes anyone to join, regardless of their beliefs. 

“We’re not trying to convert you, if you just want to hang out with a bunch of Catholics, that’s OK,” Bradley said. “We have an event every Tuesday at noon called Cafeteria Catholic and you can just come up and eat with us.”

Akuneme said she hopes the Catholic Campus Ministry can reach out to more communities and give them the proper aid and resources they need. 

“I just hope we can do more to reach out to the oppressed and marginalized communities in UNCA and be a better service to them and to make up for the harm that the Church has done in the past,” Akuneme said.