Gloria Luna, 28
Director, Office of Social Advocacy, Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Miami, Florida
-How would you describe your job/leadership role (one phrase)?
The work of the Office of Social Advocacy brings Catholic Social Teaching to thousands of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Miami and provides action opportunities to live out Catholic Social Mission. The work is energizing and many times humbling.
-What one or two things most motivated you to get involved?
I have been passionate about peace and justice since I was a little girl. I was born in El Salvador and witnessed the atrocities of war there. God instilled in me a deep sense of the sanctity of life. Also there have been countless hard-working people in Texas, Kentucky, Florida, and Haiti whose drive to change the world inspire me... They struggle to make ends meet daily, yet have such faith in change that they remain active and keep working, regardless of the obstacles. Those folks feed my soul and keep me going.
-As you think about your work and/or your participation in the body of Christ, what's your biggest passion?
God is truly good and constantly moves the worlds towards unity. I am most passionate about encouraging, nurturing tight-knit communities of grace and faith through the development of sincere and "right" relationships. While the power of one is impressive, the power of community is awe-inspiring. It is only through encountering those whom we would normally not encounter that we can build these relationships.
-What's the biggest challenge you see facing young Christians now? In the years to come?
While there are many signs of hope, young Christians are in the thick of a culture of individualism, consumerism, lack of reconciliation, and violence. The idea that individually we must struggle, work, and survive is deeply ingrained in our communities. My experience has been that this radical individualism is what weighs most heavily on the human soul, that we cannot count on our neighbors to care for us when we are in trouble, because there just simply is too much competition and not enough time to care for ourselves, much less anyone else.
Also, young people live in a "zero tolerance" culture; if you mess up, your mistakes are often held against you with little hope of reconciliation. As one of my Pastoral Ministry professors at St. Thomas said, "We talk about reconciliation, but there are young people in this community who have never experienced forgiveness." This type of culture puts a lot of pressure on young people.
-We hear often that young Christians' perceptions of Christianity are changing, that their concerns are broadening to encompass more social justice issues. Do you see, in your own experience, the Catholic Church's social teaching reaching a new generation of Catholics? Or, if you would describe your experience of young Christians differently, how would you describe it?
Many of those graduating from high school have grown up in a time of conflict and uncertainty, watching their parents struggle to make ends meet, remembering 9/11, experiencing the first and second Gulf wars, natural disasters, listening to talk of climate change and global warming, trying to make sense of schoolmates committing suicide, young people going on shooting sprees, etc.
Because of these harsh realities, I believe that young Christians are answering the call to compassion and social justice. Their experiences of God are closely tied to real-life struggles. More and more, our office witnesses prayerful young people coming out to rallies and demonstrations, bringing their passionate messages of faith and justice with them.
-What one thing would you most like to tell Christians?
Jesus’ life was about crossing borders and bringing loving compassion to the marginalized. The feeling we get when we see the elderly struggling to work just to be able to keep up with bills, the anger we feel when we hear an arthritis-stricken veteran pleading with someone on the phone to please extend his housing assistance, the tug at our souls to stop and talk to a homeless woman on the side of the road, that which compels us to give money to the poor, the pain we feel when we see young men and women getting into drugs and violence, the deep compassion we experience when we hear of an immigrant's struggle across the ocean or through the dessert in order to provide for their families …all of these and countless more are opportunities to experience Jesus.
God places in our paths countless opportunities for grace; we must pray for the courage to accept those graces by overcoming our hesitation to encounter the poor and marginalized with love.
-What one thing would you most like to tell non-Christians?
I would hope that they understand the good news that Jesus preached through the love and compassion they witness in the world.
-What's your biggest challenge personally?
I truly believe in the power of community, and challenge myself in this individualistic culture to take time out to build that community that I believe in so deeply. Taking time to reach out to community when I need personal help is probably my biggest challenge.
-How has your family background impacted your vocational journey?
My mom and dad are two of the most loving and generous people I have ever met.
-What gives you hope?
In my work I get to witness the generosity and drive of Catholics in south Florida and all over the world, really. After the earthquake in Peru, Catholic Charities raised $200,000 in aid from parishioners of the Archdiocese of Miami over a relatively short period of time. Also, like I stated earlier, I am filled with hope when I witness people of all ages and backgrounds working together to bring about a better, more compassionate world.