Monday, October 9, 2017
Cristina Cabrera Jarro
MIAMI | You will see him around the University of Miami’s campus, amid the bustle of students trying to get to class. You will find him in line at Starbucks at the Donna E. Shalala Student Center, because as his former parishioners at Little Flower Church in Coral Gables lovingly joked with a parting gift, he is “Powered by coffee and Jesus.” And as college football season kicks off, you will even catch him at Hurricane football games.
As Father Phillip Tran takes his post as the new fulltime Catholic chaplain at UM — the first in the school’s 92-year history — he wants to be present in as many places and events as possible around campus, so that students can see a priest accompanying them on their collegiate journey.
“I feel with the priesthood, we’re walking billboards for the Lord with what we wear,” Father Tran joked during a Facebook Live tour of the campus, featured on the Archdiocese of Miami’s Facebook page. The tour also included a look into the new on-campus Catholic Ministry office suite, located in Pentland House, behind the Watsco Center.
Priest on duty
Wearing a priestly collar and black garb seems to be an attention-getter on campus.
“The first day of school I was walking by this group of girls and they looked at me as if I were an alien,” Father Tran said.
As it turns out, the girls were deep in conversation discussing theology, the nature of God, and heaven and hell. Seeing a priest, they asked him to weigh in. He explained things not only from the Catholic Church’s point of view, but also in a way that the non-Catholic students could understand.
“I could see within the five to 10 minutes I spent with them that their eyes were opened.”Father Tran also created a “Priest on duty: questions, comments, or confessions” sign that has initiated interesting conversations with Catholic and non-Catholic students.
“Students are seeing Father [Tran]on campus more,” said Adam Wahl, president of the University of Miami Catholic Campus Ministry. “We actually have a priest with us and for us.”
“One of the goals of my priesthood is to make people feel like they can speak to their priest,” Father Tran said. “I don’t want them to be intimidated. I don’t want them to think we’re unapproachable. I want to be somebody that you could sit down and really have a conversation and not be afraid of.”
Father Tran extends that outreach to all students and faculty, “even if they’re Catholic, or Buddhists, or whatever they are. I’m here for the entire student body.”
Interfaith outreach is important at the university. Catholic Campus Ministry is a downstairs neighbor to the Chabad Jewish Student Center, and next door is the Muslim Student Center. The “religion row” on campus also houses places of worship and gathering for Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, members of the United Christian Fellowship and more.
“All the faiths are working together and our dynamic is beautiful,” said Father Tran, who has acquainted himself with other campus faith leaders.
Unlike some of the other denominations, UM does not have the facilities to celebrate Mass on campus. “UCatholics” — as campus ministry students call themselves — find their spiritual home at St. Augustine Church, located on Miller Road and San Amaro Drive, across the street from the athletic fields.
There, they are welcomed by the pastor, Msgr. Tomas Marin, who has not only taken Father Tran under his wing, but also was instrumental in creating the position of fulltime Catholic chaplain at UM.
Mass for UCatholics is celebrated Sundays at 8 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m., followed by a Catholic Campus Ministry meeting. Each Mass is followed by a meal. While Father Tran jokes that college kids are always hungry, he believes that sharing meals together is vital in establishing a network of support and community.
“Part of our faith is that we’re in communion and we build community,” said Father Tran. “You don’t just build that around just the liturgical and just the worship, but by fellowship. You build it around meals together, you build it around fraternity.”
In addition to Mass and meals, UCatholics this year are planning kayaking trips, fall and spring retreats, barbecues, and even a tailgate ministry at sporting events.
Father Tran admires the students’ initiative, adding that he is just there to collaborate and support. “I trust our college kids because they are adults now and they are such great leaders on their own.”
Because it is a college ministry, there are not a lot of resources to work with, but UCatholics feel blessed either way.
“What they lack for in material resources, they have in enthusiasm, in zeal, and they are on fire for the Lord,” Father Tran said.
For more information on the University of Miami’s Catholic campus ministry visit them on Facebook @umiamicatholic.