Unrecognized isolation: a new perspective

By Christine Foley
On October 25, 2019

Last week, the Ram Page published an article titled “Unrecognized isolation,” which described San Angelo’s sentiments towards religious diversity as rather shallow and old-fashioned. While our city may not match Dallas, Houston or Austin in terms of religious variety, my experience in moving here has been spiritually uplifting and incredibly fruitful, which is not something I anticipated.

Home for me is the suburbs of Dallas. There, my friends from high school came from different countries, practiced different religions and spoke different languages. Leaving all that behind to venture off into West Texas had me thinking everyone may indeed think the same and be a bit shallow. Instead, I was met with people of faith with deep convictions but sharp minds. The atmosphere and culture of San Angelo is actually part of what set the precedent for my recent conversion to Roman Catholicism.

While I happened to know a few Catholics at ASU, many people I had encountered here were areligious or devout Protestants. I had even met a few folks with a Jewish background, which I had not encountered in DFW. Nonetheless, each of them encouraged me to ask questions and follow my convictions, speaking from a place of friendliness and love. This led me to speaking to Father Francis Onyekozuru, a Catholic priest and head of the Newman Center at ASU. Father Francis is from Nigeria and had a magnificently rich perspective on both earthly and divine aspects of life. He invested time and energy into answering my questions and helping me look at faith objectively, which led to me joining the Catholic Church with the bishop of our diocese serving as the celebrant. I cherished the support and respect of friends from a multitude of backgrounds.

These experiences may indeed be anecdotal, but through an objective lens, San Angelo has a surprising amount of religious depth for a city of barely 100,000 people. We are home to Assumption of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church, the only one of its kind between Abilene and El Paso. We regularly encounter missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on campus and engage them in dialogue. We are home to a 90-year-old Jewish synagogue. We hear a rich multitude of perspectives from our professors who subscribe to their own unique sets of beliefs.

While it is indeed shameful that some people feel the need to use their faith to exclude and belittle others, it is unfair to categorize San Angelo as a town that lacks the breadth and depth necessary to discuss religion respectfully. Additionally, exclusive behavior is not unique to San Angelo. By learning the history of our town and getting to know the people in it, we might learn that there is indeed embraced diversity here. If you are a person of faith, perhaps challenge yourself to use it to include and inspire others. If you have no religious preference, consider ways to respectfully learn about the beliefs of your peers if you see fit. Should we somehow cultivate respectful religious dialogue, perhaps a more unified world where people feel free to express themselves does indeed await.

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