CHERRY VALLEY, Illinois — Across the globe, there are dozens of Catholic organizations operating as charities and working to mobilize defenders of justice. Often, such religious-oriented groups place an emphasis on “love of neighbor.” Among such organizations is the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN).
The History of the Ignatian Solidarity Network
Founded in 2004, the Ignatian Solidarity Network promotes social justice from a Catholic and particularly an Ignatian sense of spirituality. The 16th-century saint Ignatius of Loyola – once a soldier who, after wounding in battle, turned his attention to the teachings of his faith – founded the Jesuit order. Over the centuries, the Jesuits have stood out for their markedly rigorous education and devotion to missionary work.
ISN hopes to shed light on the social and economic problems faced by marginalized people and work toward amending these issues. While the ISN is run by laypeople (people who are not priests), the organization collaborates with Jesuit volunteers and Jesuit schools, ranging from high school to higher education institutions.
Jesuit missionaries and ministers hold an extensive track record of devotion to helping those in need, beginning centuries ago. For instance, the Jesuits who preached in the Americas in the 17th century and the 1989 martyrs of El Salvador.
The Execution of Jesuits
In 1989, the Salvadoran military killed a group of Jesuit priests along with several lay companions at the University of Central America in El Salvador on account of the group’s determination to stand up for the inherent dignity and much-needed justice due to impoverished and oppressed Salvadorans. The ISN website highlights this story and declares that “ISN finds its roots in the legacy of the martyrs.”
The execution of Jesuits is not just an occurrence of the distant past. On June 21, 2022, armed assailants murdered Fr. Javier Campos Morales and Fr. Joaquín César Mora Salazar in a church in Cerocahui town within the municipality of Chihuahua, Mexico. The Jesuit Fathers were attempting to protect a person seeking sanctuary inside the church.
The ISN released a news report on this development and highlighted that the Network commemorates the deaths of the 1989 El Salvador victims “and other modern Catholic martyrs” annually at its Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice.
Ignatian Family Teach-In
In an interview with The Borgen Project, Christopher Kerr, executive director at ISN, said, “Each year, ISN convenes upwards of 2,000 individuals at our national conference – the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice.” About “80% of those who attend are under the age of 24,” he added.
“On the final day of the conference, attendees converge on Capitol Hill for a day of legislative advocacy meetings focusing on our key issue areas with Congressional members and their staff. Over the past  years, upward of nearly 10,000 people have been trained to participate in this day, preparing them to be advocates against poverty and injustice for life,” Kerr said.
Protecting the Rights of Immigrants and Displaced Persons
The Network’s advocacy work focuses primarily on three areas of social reform concerning migration from Central America, the environment and criminal justice. ISN hosts programs informing students on justice issues such as immigration. In 2014, the group spearheaded the Student Summit on Immigration Reform, which gathered students and school faculty in the Chicagoland area to form alliances with other advocates of immigration reform. Part of ISN’s guiding vision is to assist those in need, especially the marginalized.
As an organization that Catholic values inform, ISN wishes to foster “a more generous culture of hospitality,” especially toward displaced persons, such as asylum seekers and refugees. The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that there are 103 million forcibly displaced persons globally. As per Catholic Social Teaching, one must “examine the systemic injustices that drive people to leave their home communities and countries.” ISN upholds this teaching through its work to safeguard the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers requiring refuge in the U.S.
Mobilizing Against Injustice
Teaming up with more than 100 member institutions in more than 30 U.S. states, ISN mobilizes others to stand up against injustices affecting the most marginalized groups in the areas of “migration, ecology, economic justice and racial justice,” said Kerr of the Network’s endeavors.
“Our work helps people understand the complexities of issues that lead to poverty and inequality. With this understanding, individuals and institutions can be mobilized to take action through legislative advocacy and other forms of action.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt efforts on the part of many advocacy agencies, the Network views the period as an opportunity filled with real progress. “Moving away from in-person programming for 18 months allowed us to cultivate relationships with hundreds of new Catholic institutions across the country,” Kerr said. All of ISN’s main activities have “grown despite COVID.”
The Ignatian Solidarity Network has a host of upcoming virtual and on-location events where attendees can learn more about social justice and how to take action to establish “a more just world.”
– John Tuttle