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President's Blog: From the Heart

Sacred Stories

By Eric F. Spina

I deeply admire Pope Francis and his focus on loving and supporting the most marginalized members of society.

When I was asked to record a Sacred Stories podcast for a new Campus Ministry initiative, I pulled the pope’s book, The Name of God is Mercy, off the shelf and selected three short passages for sharing and offering my reflections.

The pope believes that “mercy is infinitely greater than our sins,” yet it’s often hard for us to ask God for forgiveness and each other for mercy and grace. The pontiff’s book resonates with me because of a lesson I learned early in my life from my parents: asking for mercy is a sign of strength, not weakness.

That’s what I appreciate about this new podcast, the brainchild of Mike Bennett and colleagues in the Office of Christian Leadership, Vocation and Retreats. The bi-weekly segments, most clocking in at 15 minutes or less, are full of everyday lessons that cause you to slow down, reflect — and, more often than not, feel a sense of peace and gratitude during what’s been a challenging pandemic year.

“This initiative emerged as we were dreaming of ways to connect with students through virtual mediums amidst the pandemic,” said Mike about the podcast’s birth. “We were trying to think about how we might amplify voices of the UD community — mostly student voices — and empower students to explore faith dynamics in their lives. A short podcast might give people enough fodder for reflection while also being accessible enough that they might listen while walking between classes or gathering in faith-sharing groups. We welcomed individuals from any faith perspective, but most reflect the Christian tradition.”

Over the course of the academic year, 18 students, faculty, and staff selected what they considered to be a sacred text and talked about how they’ve internalized the readings and made them part of their own life stories. Beyond the Bible and other religious texts, they also selected novels and scholarly works. For instance, Natalie Eilerman, a sociology major, shared how Mitch Albom’s well-loved book, Tuesdays with Morrie, inspired her faith journey. Graduating mechanical engineering major Gabriel Gaiusbayode, who serves as the president of Black Action Through Unity (BATU), read a powerful passage from Joy DeGruy’s book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing.

“Joy DeGruy asks, ‘And how are the children?’ We often ignore the children, and that’s the root of many of our problems. When you forget the children, you forget the growth and you overlook the future,” said Gabriel in his thoughtful reflection.

In the finale for season one of Sacred Stories, the podcast’s hosts talk about their favorite episodes — from secondary education major Elena Niese’s heartfelt reflections about the challenges Saint Joan of Arc faced to how Sammy Niewoehner, middle education major, became “attentive to small beautiful moments” after reading Mari Andrews’ My Inner Sky. Sammy took “a deeper look at my everyday surroundings” and noticed how God appeared in the ordinary, such as “a sunset when my street was bathed in light.”

These are more than sacred stories. They’re glimpses into our souls.

(To listen to the episodes, visit the Sacred Stories podcast. Season two begins in the fall.)

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