Franciscan University offers safe haven for Jewish students experiencing antisemitism  — By: Catholic News Agency

The Portiuncula Chapel on the campus of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. / Credit: Robert Pernett via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

CNA Staff, Oct 18, 2023 / 19:07 pm (CNA).

Franciscan University of Steubenville has announced the creation of an expedited transfer process for Jewish students in danger of antisemitic discrimination and violence on campuses across the United States. 

The announcement comes amid violence in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip. 

“With our fellow Christians around the world, we are praying for justice and peace,” said Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, president of Franciscan University. “But with too many universities preaching tolerance but practicing prejudice, we feel compelled to do more.” 

He added: “We are witnessing a very troubling spike in antisemitism and serious threats against Jewish students. We want to offer them the chance to transfer immediately to Franciscan.”

Despite record-breaking enrollment this school year, the Catholic university said it is willing to make the proper accommodations for any additional students. 

“Our community will welcome them with generosity and respect,” Pivonka said. “Our religious differences will not cause any conflict. On the contrary, at Franciscan, our radical fidelity to Christ and the Catholic faith demands of us fraternal charity toward our Jewish brothers and sisters, as it does toward all people.”

Aware of the many Jewish students who may be experiencing hostile environments on their campuses right now, Pivonka invited other Catholic institutions to join Franciscan University. 

Dr. Stephen Hildebrand, vice president for academic affairs and a theology professor at Franciscan, spoke with CNA about the work the university is doing to welcome these potential new students.

He explained that work is being done to rally support from the local community so that the needs of these students can be met, such as having a place of worship and the ability to receive a kosher diet. 

While students are more than welcome to take classes in-person on campus, Franciscan will be offering online classes that can be started in the middle of the semester.

“My guess is that some of them, especially if they’re suffering persecution, might want to have the safety of home but have the opportunity to continue their education, so we have the ability to run online courses that we could start in the middle of the semester,” Hildebrand said.

The professor likened the current war to the Holocaust, where millions of Jews were systematically murdered in German-occupied Europe between 1941 and 1945.

“The way Hamas went door to door and executed families, just simply executed them, whole families — the last time this kind of thing happened was during the Holocaust,” he said. “So, it’s at the top of everyone’s minds and the world didn’t respond so well the first time around.”

He added: “So we would love it if Catholics, if the Catholic Church, if Catholic universities, if we get it right this time. We don’t want to fail in our love for them as we have in the past.”

Hildebrand urged Catholics to “speak out against antisemitism” and to think about what they can do, whether it be “simply lending your voice, it could mean material support, it could mean agitating for your alma mater not to treat the Jews this way or to be complicit in antisemitism.”

“We see this as a small way, a small thing we can do, to really love our Jewish brethren and to have solidarity with them, to let them know that we recognize what is happening to them and that not only do we oppose it, but we’re willing to help them.”

When it comes to extending the initiative to Muslim students who might face prejudice as well because of the current war in the Holy Land, Hildebrand said that if Muslims in the U.S. found themselves in similar circumstances, he hopes the school would respond with equal generosity.

“At Franciscan, we follow the teaching of the Church and so our fraternity does not stop with the Jews, of course,” he told CNA. “I haven’t seen a lot of persecution of Muslim students at American universities and if that turned out to be a widespread problem, I would hope we would respond with equal fraternity to them. But the Jews obviously have a special place in the Christian heart and the Christian mind, the Christian dispensation, but when you read the Vatican II teaching on these sorts of things, our fraternal obligations, do not stop at our Jewish brethren even though we have a special bond with them. The Lord commands us that our love should know no bounds.” 

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