Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Night 75° Clear
News >  Education

‘Building Bridges’: 2 Gonzaga students participated in a dialogue with Pope Francis on migrant issues

Gonzaga students Anasofia Gutierrez, left and Shyh Saez participate with a group of over 100 students from Catholic or secular universities in a videoconference with Pope Francis titled “The Building Bridges Initiative” on Thursday.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga students Anasofia Gutierrez, left and Shyh Saez participate with a group of over 100 students from Catholic or secular universities in a videoconference with Pope Francis titled “The Building Bridges Initiative” on Thursday. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Two Gonzaga University upperclassmen were among 130 students from 21 countries to take part in a dialogue Thursday with Pope Francis on matters concerning the care of migrants and refugees.

Shyh Saenz and Anasofia Gutierrez joined students representing 58 universities in the Americas, Canada and the Caribbean for a videoconference Thursday to participate in the process leading up to what’s known as the synod of bishops, a worldwide assembly of religious delegates that will advise the pope on a particular topic.

The synod of bishops will not take place until October 2023. Last fall, the pope launched the two-year process leading to the synod starting with the diocesan phase, during which input is gathered from local parishes, lay movements, schools, universities, religious congregations, neighborhood Christian communities, ecumenical communities and other groups.

In the spirit of this process, Thursday’s videoconference – titled “Building Bridges” by the event’s host, Loyola University Chicago – saw students think up ideas to change certain environmental or economic structures for the betterment of migrants and refugees. The participating students are all migrants or are related to migrants.

“The problem of migration is one of the most serious problems we have to face,” Francis said through a translator. “People who are forced to leave their land or need to run away … This develops a whole form of pilgrimage, but who welcomes these people? Who receives them?

“We have to understand one thing: Migrants have to be received. They have to be accompanied,” he continued. “Migrants must be promoted and migrants must be integrated.”

The videoconference was streamed Thursday on Loyola University Chicago’s YouTube page.

Kevin Brown, who works in Gonzaga’s Mission and Ministry office and religious studies department, got an invitation from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles to choose two students to participate in the event.

Brown said in a statement Saenz and Gutierrez immediately came to mind as “both of them have been active in efforts on campus to work toward racial justice.”

Saenz, a junior communication studies major from Hayward, California, is the student tri-chair on Gonzaga’s Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and is a goalkeeper for the women’s soccer team. Her grandparents came to the U.S. from Mexico.

Gutierrez, a senior psychology major from Renton, Washington, is a student ambassador and the advocacy coordinator for the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the Gonzaga Student Body Association. Her parents immigrated from Mexico.

When Gutierrez last week brought up her involvement in the “Building Bridges” videoconference while attending Gov. Jay Inslee’s visit to Gonzaga for a climate change forum, the governor then named her “Washingtonian of the Day” on the spot.

“Getting to speak with influential people on our campus is always great, but getting to speak with the most influential person in the world among the Catholic community is an opportunity, I think I would be dumb not to jump at,” Gutierrez said.

While she doesn’t actively practice, Gutierrez said Catholicism “resonates with me as part of my cultural identity” that’s intertwined with her Mexican heritage. Saenz, meanwhile, was raised Catholic.

“I’m very big on using my faith in order to serve for the common good and try to find ways to close injustices,” Saenz said. “This initiative, specifically, was exactly doing that.”

Students were split into regional groups beforehand to prepare their ideas, with Saenz and Gutierrez grouped with others from the western United States.

Going into the conference, Saenz said she was interested in promoting solutions more for immigration issues in the U.S., while Gutierrez said she wanted to make sure the concerns and needs of migrant communities were properly communicated with the church.

Saenz and Gutierrez, who were not among the student representatives to interface with the pope directly Thursday, acknowledged the dialogue as a first step in a larger process.

“It’s something that we hope to continue working towards,” Saenz said. “I think, for the most part, we raised concern to the issues that are happening right now.”

Gutierrez added, “Obviously, we’re not going to be able to fix this with a 12-minute conversation with the pope. If you could do that, then my guess would be it’s not going to be a good solution or why haven’t you done this in the past.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.