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Religious centers offer spiritual, social opportunities

By Zach Colick
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
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No matter which religion students practice, there are places to turn on campus to pray, socialize and be with other students and community members who share the same beliefs and ideas.

Whether they're fully involved or sporadically participate at places like the UA Hillel Foundation, the St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center or the Islamic Center of Tucson, chances are students involved in campus life come away with a better understanding of religion and might make a friend or two.

The Newman Center, 1615 E. Second St., exists primarily to serve the spiritual needs of Catholics on campus. It offers daily Mass services and gives non-Catholic students the chance to be a part of confirmation classes every semester to convert to the faith.

Mass begins at 5:15 p.m. every day and more than 1,000 students and community members regularly attend the church or are on the Newman Center's mailing list, said Abraham Jimenez, student secretary at the Newman Center.

"By 5 p.m. on Sunday, the church is packed with students," said Jimenez, a history sophomore.

The Newman Center also has a student leadership group comprised of 40 members who plan activities like "Emmaus," an opportunity for students to get in groups to sing and make praises with one another or preach to their fellow students on Wednesday evenings. Following this program is a 9 p.m. mass.

The group also tries to reach out to the UA community to bring in more members by setting up booths at orientation sessions throughout the summer and handing out bottled water and information about the Newman Center. They plan to continue this on move-in day at residence halls across campus.

"We're just trying to let them know we're here," Jimenez said.

Jimenez said the Newman Center houses a library and a computer lab for students to hang out in and do their homework, which he said is a nice environment away from the pressures of school.

"We try to provide an environment for students to hang out and get to know everyone," Jimenez said. "The friendships that develop here (are) what keeps students coming back."

The UA Hillel Foundation, 1245 E. Second St., offers a wide variety of opportunities for Jewish students to engage in Jewish life on campus.

Attending Shabbat services and dinner on Friday nights, connecting with the First Year Students of Hillel (FYSH) and participating in or running one of 15 social, educational and religious programs offered are among the many opportunities that bring Jewish students together, said Michelle Blumenberg, executive director of the UA Hillel Foundation.

Hillel holds Hebrew classes offered through the Judaic Studies department on campus. It is also home to the Oy Vey Café, which is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. - 3 p.m., and offers an extensive menu of kosher vegetarian food.

On top of that, Hillel has a computer resource center with Internet access and a student lounge for eating, studying and socializing.

This year, Hillel will host an Israeli fellow who will work to develop Israeli programs, talk and meet with students about Israel, spread the Israeli and Jewish cause around campus and get students signed up for the Birthright program, a one-time free trip to Israel for Jewish teens.

Blumenberg said students come to Hillel depending on "where they are in their lives," and participate in what they feel comfortable taking part in.

"People stick to it because of our programs and the religious and social scene," Blumenberg said. "There are around 3,500 Jews on campus and we probably connect with 1,200 to 1,400 of them throughout the year."

In order to bring in as many Jewish students as possible, Hillel has been out at student orientations throughout the summer and will be visible on move-in day, handing out information and telling Jewish students they have a place to turn to meet others.

Hillel also utilizes an e-mail Listserv and a Web site to inform interested students of upcoming events, programs, speakers, intramural sports and Shabbat services. Still, Blumenberg said "students are our best recruitment tool."

The Islamic Center of Tucson, 901 E. First St., allows both Muslim students and community members to attend a mosque, take a tour and have their questions answered about the Islamic faith as well as other religious faiths to see if Islam is the right fit for them.

Prayer services are offered five times a day and Mohammed El-Farooqui, a prayer leader at the Islamic Center, said groups of students come in every day to check it out and pray with other sheiks and students.

Regularly attending students also take part in community service activities by tending to the needy and sick who frequent the mosque for spiritual and medical help as well as food and water.

"The students here try to help these people out and show them what our mosque is all about so that they can get back on their feet and return to join us in prayer," El-Farooqui said.

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