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Providing Peace and Community

It is tranquil, refreshing and engaging, all at once. It happens at a time when the space appears in semi-darkness, but has a pocket of light that spectacularly invites us to connect. One can be alone with their thoughts, but verbally expressing one’s wishful intentions is encouraged and fully supported by those who surround them. And when the time comes to offer a sign of peace, the favored reaction is not shaking hands, but rather hugs, big, genuine, loving hugs.

Welcome to Wednesdays at 9 p.m. in Founders Chapel. Welcome to the University of San Diego’s Mass for Peace and its community.

“When I think about Wednesdays at 9 p.m., I usually think of attending Mass for Peace with friends,” says Teddy Castro, a junior English major. “After a long day, it’s nice and relaxing, it’s a nice break in the middle of the week for me and my friends in a great atmosphere.”

Kimberly Ho, a sophomore accountancy major, said her attendance at Mass for Peace and for USD’s popular Sunday evening masses, strengthens her relationship with God as well as friendships she’s gained through participation in University Ministry’s Pre-Orientation Retreat in August 2015.

“Everyone from Pre-O invited us to come to Mass. I felt that by attending Mass, I could find a family at USD. At Mass for Peace, I like how intimate the setting is and how you can be one with Christ,” Ho says.

Mass for Peace, which began at USD in 1999, has a different vibe than the 12:15 p.m. daily Mass or Sunday nights at Founders Chapel.

University Ministry Chaplains, Father Michael White, C.S.Sp., and Father Gino Correa, OFM, alternate as celebrants. The traditional Catholic Mass enjoys an even deeper meaning during Mass for Peace. It brings forth a special closeness among the audience, such as having students contribute prayer intentions aloud and to form a heart-like circle that goes completely around the altar as a respectful nod to USD’s affiliation with the Religious of the Sacred Heart. Music on some nights is performed under minimal lighting with just a few Founders Chapel student choir singers and Choir Director Annette Welsh strumming her guitar. Students come as they are — one student reader was so comfortable, he delivered it while wearing a hockey jersey — and when they can, even if they arrive a few minutes late.

Seeing Founders Chapel dimly light during Mass for Peace is different, too. The lighting, which Castro describes as “feeling more personal,” shines mostly on the altar along with candles. It adds to the Mass’ enjoyable “calming” effect, says Maurissa Sayama, a junior behavioral neuroscience major.

“I feel at home, that this is a chance to be at peace for the world as well as inner peace,” Sayama states. “This helps me collect my thoughts and to be present in the moment.”

Sayama recently did a reading during Mass, giving her a greater sense of attachment. “I like to volunteer to do the reading because I want to be a part of it, I like to be a part of this community because this Mass provides so much for me.”

Community and community building is truly evident when Mass for Peace is a destination for campus groups and activities that reflect on and support a week- or month-long awareness celebration for a social justice issue.

November, for instance, is Black Catholic History Month, a designation University Ministry notes “challenges each person to dedicate themselves to the establishment of a more just society in which the human dignity of all is recognized, reverenced, and protected. The Mass for Peace contributes to its recognition through a special intention of racial peace, justice and reconciliation.”

Mass for Peace offers a loving, welcoming sense of belonging for an individual and an entire campus community to benefit from each Wednesday evening.

“I feel really energized when I leave here because the homily really speaks to me and helps me go about my week with a better perspective in life,” Ho states. “It always calms me down because I can get anxious when I’m trying to figure out life. Being here helps to relax and center myself.”

— Ryan T. Blystone