Catholic student organizations join together in faith and community

By Allyson Escobar     5/25/2016

Wrapping up another great school year, college students from Catholic clubs in Orange, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino Counties gathered in Riverside on a sunny Saturday in April for the annual Student Faith Olympics.

The collaborative games were held on April 30, hosted by the University of California, Riverside’s Catholic Student Fellowship. Representatives from four schools were present at the games, including UC Riverside, California Polytechnic University at Pomona, and California State University, Fullerton and Long Beach.

“Witnessing true joy through interactions with people, especially in fellowship and prayer…this is community,” said Isabel Ramirez Camacho, a third year psychology major, and the president of Cal State Long Beach’s Catholic Newman Club.

“It’s something that’s really important especially as young adults, to be around people who are striving for holiness, who have the same values and beliefs. There’s a special diversity in the Catholic Church—you see the different personalities, coming from different places, but we are all one body together.”

Named after 19th century academic Cardinal John Henry Newman, the Newman clubs are Catholic centers and organizations rooted in secular universities worldwide.

The Faith Olympics started with morning Mass and student-led worship at St. Andrew’s Newman Center in Riverside, presided by Fr. Garry Cappleman.

Olympic-style games between the schools were held at a park near campus following Mass, inviting a spirit of Catholic camaraderie.

“It’s our first time hosting the Faith Olympics, and we’ve had an awesome turnout,” shared UCR Catholic Student Fellowship president Eddie Coronado, a third-year political science major. “People are excited and energetic. It took a lot of prayer, planning, and reaching out to other Catholic clubs.”

“I look forward to the Faith Olympics every year, getting to meet the different officers and students from each school, learning and getting ideas from each other. You really branch outside of yourself,” shared Cal State Long Beach Newman club vice-president, Elizabeth Chelling, a third year English education major. “Especially connecting with the other clubs, you see that there are other young adults who are your age and Catholic, and it creates fellowship and community. You realize that this is bigger, beyond your school—you feel like you are really part of a movement.”

After a few rounds of boys-versus-girls dodgeball, the students gathered for pizza lunch and an intense Catholic-themed Pictionary, and ended the day with a “Sacraments” relay race.

“We get really competitive, but it’s healthy; all good Catholic fun,” laughed UC Riverside alum Eduardo Argumedo, an applied mathematics and physics graduate, who participated in the relay.

Host school UCR took home the winning trophy, with Cal Poly Pomona coming in second. But new friendships made that day were the real prize.

Students also expressed their involvement and heartfelt connection with the campus-wide Catholic groups, many of which hold regular events such as Masses, Bible studies, prayer meetings, service projects, Holy Adoration and annual retreats.

“I didn’t know how I was going to keep my faith up and stay involved, especially in college,” said first year UCR student Sarah Bomwell, who helps lead music ministry at the Newman Center. “Some of these people are like my best friends, and they get me more than my actual roommate.”

“If I wasn’t involved with Catholic Student Fellowship, I don’t know how I would get through college. It’s vital to have this kind of community, especially if you’re Catholic and want to have a really good college experience,” agreed Coronado.

“In a time where people are going out on their own and becoming young adults, they need a place where they can go and develop their faith as Catholics, as the person they are meant to be,” Argumedo added. “Newman Club helped me when I was struggling with depression as a first year transfer student. Now, I want to give back to others who need a support system to guide them, to meet people in the faith.”

Chelling, who has been with the group since freshman year, expressed her sincere gratitude for being able to experience Christ in a unique way throughout her undergrad. “Newman Club has really encouraged me to pursue a deeper relationship with God. A lot of us were born-and-raised, cradle Catholics, but when we found [Newman], we were invited in to get to know our faith in a deeper way. It was like our faith became personal. It became real.”

“My biggest fear was that I was going to lose my faith when I got to college, and then I met the Newman club,” Rhea Moreno, a senior liberal studies major at Cal State Long Beach, shared. “And right off the bat, they showed me a genuineness and love like I had never experienced. They radiated Christ within themselves. It’s rare to find wholesome, lasting friendships like that, not based on worldly things. God created us to be in community; we don’t have to do it alone.”

“I always say that a text message invite got me to join Newman,” Moreno finished, “but the people made me stay.”