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November 16, 2023 — At the end of October, about 1900 people arrived at a massive hotel in Washington, DC, for the 26th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, which is sponsored by the Ignatian Solidarity Network. Most of the attendees were students from Jesuit high schools and colleges, gathered for three days of prayer, encounter, Catholic social teaching education and political action.

Like always, the energy at this year’s teach-in was palpable. There were great keynote speakers and informative workshops on topics like the war in Israel and Gaza and the legacy of Jesuit slaveholding. One new element of the teach-in, though, was a temporary art gallery assembled right outside the main hall. Organized through a joint project of the organizations Catholic Artist Connection and Discerning Deacons, the exhibit showed off the work of dozens of artists who had participated in three-month process of prayer and dialogue in response to the ongoing Synod on Synodality. The artists created paintings and sculptures and wrote poems in response to their experience.

As host Mike Jordan Laskey walked around the gallery, one enormous canvas caught his eye: It’s a brightly colorful painting of Jesus titled “But Who Do You Say That I Am?” Jesus looks out at the viewer, gesturing toward us, inviting us to answer the question ourselves. Surrounding him on the canvas are some of Christ’s ancient titles: Bread of Life, Good Shepherd. The painter of the work is a California-based artist named Jen Norton, and she’s one of today’s guests. Our other guest is Allison Beyer, who was the Art & Synodality program coordinator. Mike asked them both about the project and why they think art is such a powerful force for healing in our divided church and world.

Starting in 1566, the book traces the activity and growth of the Jesuits throughout America, highlighting key figures, landmark events, and important stories like the history of Jesuit slaveholding. When host Mike Jordan Laskey started the interview, hey thought they’d make it through the book in one episode, but there’s so much richness to cover that we’re splitting up the conversation into two parts. Today, we’re covering the 16th century up through the U.S. Civil War. Next week, you’ll hear their discussion about more modern Jesuit history.

Check out the virtual Art & Synodality gallery and see more of Jen Norton’s work.

AMDG is a production of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States.

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