Kevin Ahern, Ph.D., an associate professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, was the featured speaker at Niagara University’s annual McNulty Lecture, which took place on Oct. 19, 2022, in Dunleavy Hall. His presentation, “From Spectators to Protagonists: Student Organizing for Social and Ecclesial Change,” was the third in the university’s October Speaker Series. It focused on the International Movement of Catholic Students and its approach to evangelization, which served as a means to explore students’ power and potential in transforming the world and the Church.
According to Dr. Ahern, young people and students are often behind revolutions. They are on the frontline of the world movements, but at the same time, they can feel unwelcome.
“They don’t feel like they could take a position,” he said. “They don’t feel like they could take a leadership role. They feel (they are in) the margins of decision making, the margins of the Church.”
An organization like the International Movement of Catholic Students can help to tap into the energy of young people and let them use their voice to make decisions and to better address the challenges facing the world and the Church today, he said.
Dr. Ahern noted that one of the objectives of the IMCS, which was established in 1921 as Pax Romana by a diverse group of Catholic university students to express their desire to build peace and solidarity in a world torn apart by war, is to promote the apostolate among students in higher education, stressing their responsibility in life, in the Church’s mission, and in the world.
The IMCM empowers students to be agents of change, he said, which aligns with Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Christus Vivit, in which he urges young people to “fight for the common good, serve the poor, be protagonists of the revolution of charity and service, capable of resisting the pathologies of consumerism and superficial individualism.”
The organization’s approach to evangelization, which it describes as a Spirituality of Action, is done with intentionality and comes from reflection, prayer, and discernment with others, allowing students to live their faith as they become involved in solving problems locally, nationally, and internationally.
Dr. Ahern is a public theologian, educator, and organizer, as well as an award-winning author, focusing on the intersections of Catholic social ethics, ecclesiology, and peace studies. From 2017 to 2021, he served as the international president of The International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs-Pax Romana.
The McNulty Lecture Series, sponsored by Niagara University’s religious studies department, is devoted to questions of faith in the contemporary world, especially the topics of social justice and interreligious dialogue. The series was established by the late Rev. Thomas P. McGourty, C.M., a professor of religious studies at NU, in memory of his late aunt and uncle.