Catholic students share challenges and experiences surrounding college life

Whitney Velez, a junior, almost immediately knew Liberty was the school for her – but she was not prepared for the unfamiliar culture and bombardment of questions that comes with being a Catholic at a school founded on Protestant values. Velez is one of many Catholic students at Liberty, and she personally found the aesthetics of worship and preaching very foreign.

“The first couple times I went to Convocation, I was like: ‘what’s going on?’” Velez said. “I didn’t know the songs. Freshman year, it was a culture shock.”

Today, Velez incorporates many traditionally-Protestant customs into how she practices her faith, but the roots of her beliefs are still Catholic. Probably the biggest surprise to Velez was how many people either did not understand Catholicism or criticized her for not being a Christian.

“In my head, there’s not a huge divide, so when I came here, and some people were aggressively angry about me being Catholic, that was a wake-up call for me,” Velez said. “For me and my friends, we all read the same gospel, we all follow the same rules, (and) we all love the same Jesus.” 

For Sofia Frank, a sophomore and founding member of the Catholic club on campus, she found that telling her friends she was Catholic resulted in some reactions of surprise and confusion. 

“In my experience, there are a lot of misconceptions about the Catholic faith,” Frank said.  “ … In a general sense, people don’t think Catholics are Christians. From what I believe and what I see other Christians believe, (Christianity and Catholicism) matches.”

Still, Frank noted that there seems to be many misconceptions about Catholicism that can be cleared up by simply asking respectful questions. 

 St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church is one of the many Catholic churches in Lynchburg.  | Lorena Rivera

“A lot of people ask me if we worship Mary,” Frank said. “ … I understand where they’re getting it from, but that is not true. I have never been to a Catholic church where there is any worshipping of anything other than Jesus Christ.” 

Frank and Velez explained that civil conversations about the practices of each denomination could lead to better understanding between peers. Frank said she gladly welcomed questions, but she has also been in situations where friends distance themselves or peers have negative responses. For Velez, it is easy to practice Catholicism day to day, but it requires independence of faith to commit to holy days like Ash Wednesday
and Lent. 

“It’s not like I walk around campus with a sign on my head, but I have before, on Ash Wednesday,” Velez said.

Velez and Frank explained that this day can sometimes be tense for Catholic students, because they get asked many more questions by their peers about their faith, and sometimes feel as if they are being criticized. In one instance, students came up to Velez to tell her that Catholics value works
over faith. 

“We believe whatever works you do mean nothing if there’s no faith behind it,” Velez said. “So, all these traditions mean nothing if there’s no faith behind them. It may seem weird to you that I have ashes on my forehead, but it’s just me professing
my faith.” 

Frank explained that she loves Campus Community and the worship in Convocation. She has lots of Protestant friends who have challenged and stretched her with good conversation about her faith. According to Velez, The main struggle for Catholic students seems to be having to justify their faith so often. 

“All this time we’re spending arguing back-and-forth is pushing people away from God because they’re not seeing the unity and love of Christ,” Velez said. 

Velez welcomes students asking her about Catholicism. She explained the major learning curve she had when coming to Liberty was very similar. In her perspective, reconciliation can be made when both parties enter conversations with curiosity and respect.

“It’s not Protestant versus Catholic, it’s the gospel versus Satan,” Velez said. “We need to remember that we’re all on the same team.” 

One comment

  • Excellent article and so true. We are all on the same team, a few differences, but all rowing in the same direction with a united front against Satan. I would highly recommend the collective works of Dr Scott Hahn who personifies and explains our differences and our common traits as Christians in an ecumenical fashion.

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