By Mary F. McCarthy
There’s a program growing on campus that is described as both “radical” and “beautiful” by those involved. It’s also definitely counter-cultural. A core group of five students meets weekly to talk about sex. On most college campuses, that would probably mean discussions centered around “safe sex.” At Catholic University, however, the talk among the five is all about chaste love.
|Chastity Outreach leaders Anna Kaczmarek and Jonathon Meyer, both seniors, discuss the topic of chaste love with fellow CUA students.|
And the discussion is not limited to a handful of students. The group of five meets later each week with a larger body of about 25 students and again talks about sex and how they can spread a message of chaste love to teenagers. Then on the weekends the 25 students travel in smaller groups of five or six to speak about sex at junior high and high schools.
The students are involved in a growing Chastity Outreach program that was started on campus in 2004 by CUA student Katie Dardis, B.A. 2005. Through the group, college students use their resources and knowledge to help junior high and high school students in the city learn more about chastity and respect for life.
“As a college student, it is clear to me that many students are unaware of the subtle pressure that is put on them by society to engage in sexually active relationships,” says senior Jonathon Meyer, a member of the core team of five who helps organize the on-campus meetings and youth visits. “Very few groups exist that directly challenge this message. Chastity Outreach has been created to help young people obtain a better grasp of what it means to be a sexual human being and how we can channel our sexuality in a healthy way.”
Each traveling outreach team consists of male and female CUA students. When a team visits a school or youth group, it delivers a talk to the entire audience. Then the audience splits into separate groups for girls and boys for frank question-and-answer sessions.
Senior Karen Mahowald says she became a leader in Chastity Outreach because she was excited about the future potential of the group. “Campus Ministry does so much as it is, so to add a new program, it had to be worth implementing," she says. Dardis had worked with campus ministers for three years to form the group, so Mahowald felt that it had a solid foundation and could grow into an influential movement on campus and in the community.
Mahowald recalls that when she was exposed to the topic of chastity in junior high, the idea of people her age waiting until marriage to have sex struck her as “radical.”
“I’d seen enough of my friends get hurt already from harmful relationships at 13- and 14-years-old. What was going to happen as we got older?” Mahowald remembers asking herself at the time. She made up her mind at that point to live chastely, even to the point of not dating until she had completed high school. She realized she was not mature enough to handle the stress and the hurt that she was seeing her friends grappling with.
Now, Mahowald is using her earlier experiences to relate to teenagers. In their talks with the teens, the CUA students often share personal stories and anecdotes on why they felt called to speak on the topic of chastity.
“Being a college student, you have this four- or five-year span of credibility due to your age,” Mahowald adds. “You’re almost idolized by high school students. It’s one thing to have your parents sit you down and give you a sex talk, but it’s a different thing to have a college student talk to you.”
Through the question-and-answer sessions, she has learned that many parents are not discussing sex and relationships with their teenage children. She and the other CUA students encourage teens to be more open with their parents and engage in dialogue about their relationships. Parents have told members of the outreach group that they appreciate this, and also appreciate the way the group is presenting the topic of chastity to their children. “Parents thank us for presenting a liberating, exciting and freeing view of chastity that they wish they would have heard when they were our age,” she says.
||A group of CUA students gathers in Millennium South at a recent meeting sponsored by Chastity Outreach.|
The outreach has gone beyond teaching younger students about chastity. Beginning in February, the group started campus evangelization — speaking in CUA residence halls. They modified their usual talks to include more open discussion and dialogue on love and sex: Do the two go together outside of marriage?
“Chastity isn’t about a list of do’s and don’ts,” Mahowald explains, “it’s about learning how to love authentically. Love is doing what is best for the other person. Chastity Outreach at CUA is all about ‘building a civilization of love,’ ” she says, paraphrasing the late Pope John Paul II. “This group becomes a concrete response to the task John Paul II asked of youth: to build a civilization of love.”
“This is such a different message, but it’s embraced at this school,” says Erin Craine, associate campus minister for women’s issues and social justice. “The students have worked hard to make sure their words are always open and welcoming. Forgiveness is key.”
At “formation meetings” on Mondays the larger group of about 25 meets and discusses the teachings of the Church related to chastity — for example, what natural family planning really means, and what the Church teaches about contraception, pornography and masturbation. They also review questions received from teens during earlier question-and-answer sessions to gain insights into the types of topics the younger students are interested in.
“It’s beautiful because the [CUA] students are coming from all walks of life and experiences,” Craine says. “There are beautiful conversion stories in the outreach group. A lot of students get a lot of strength and hope from going to the formation meetings.”
“None of us perfectly lives out our call to chastity, but this ministry acts as a support group to keep each other accountable and to further educate each other on how we can be chaste,” says Meyer.
The members of the outreach “call each other to a higher level — if society sets the bar to a level, we raise it,” Mahowald says. “Campus evangelization is a small way the group impacts the university. If the 25 actively involved students know 500 more students, that’s 500 people who will learn about chastity through our witness. We have to practice what we preach. When we strive to live our lives in a chaste manner we can be sure that we influence the community on campus through our silent, yet visible witness of authentic love.”
The mission of Chastity Outreach at CUA is to bring the message of Christ’s love to teens in the D.C. and surrounding areas by promoting chastity, the value of sexuality and the dignity of the human person based on the teachings of the Catholic Church. Students interested in learning more about the Chastity Outreach program should visit http://ministry.cua.edu/activities/chastity%20outreach/chastity.cfm or call Erin Craine at 202-319-5575.