I Did Something Bad: Melanie's Story

Empowerment is loving yourself and being able to be your truest self everywhere.

Melanie L. Talavera

 

 

In the past, women’s involvement in religion was very limited, mostly because of the image created by many religions of a submissive women as an ideal. Nevertheless, through time, religion and culture have adapted to reach an understanding that women deserve an equal position in all aspects of life. Receiving equality is still a developing effort, that is why it’s important to highlight those women who courageously embrace their ideals and authenticity; those who go out to the world open and vulnerable. Hence, today I want to highlight Melanie Talavera, as well as two student organizations that have decided to enable others to feel comfortable with their beliefs and to be the best version of themselves.

 

Melanie is an undergraduate student of the UPRM, majoring in Biology, who has recently submitted a request to complete a curricular sequence in Sociology and Environmental Public Policy. Between her many hobbies, what stands out is her passion for singing, which has been with her since she was very little. She also enjoys “being outdoors connecting with nature, just looking at it’s perfection makes [her] reflect about so many aspects of life.” And, as many of us, she loves to watch Netflix. But one thing that continuously defines her is her commitment to her religion.

 

Religion has been very present in her life, as she was raised by her parents in the Catholic church, She remembers every Sunday celebrating the “Misa” was the norm. Moreover, she has always been very active in her church. First, as a student going to the catechism to get her sacraments and then she was a catechist giving the classes to the little ones.

 

Melanie really enjoyed growing up so active in her church, but it wasn’t until she arrived at college that she really gave meaning to it. In college, she learned about a student association called the Catholic Apostolate Group (GAC), which facilitated a real encounter between her and the religion she practiced. Sometimes people think that once these people, who have been raised in a religion by their parents, see freedom, they will choose to walk away from this path; but this wasn’t Melanie’s story. Instead, she realized that she really wanted to be a Catholic. She says that she “went to church, gatherings, spiritual exercises, and so on because [she] wanted to and not because somebody told [her] to.” It was there when she recognized her true commitment and started taking things more seriously. Melanie realized Jesus wanted her to serve in his community and also craved a personal relationship with her. She highlights the deepness of her relationship with God today was definitely thanks to the gift of liberty and freedom.

 

 

Melanie does admit that there have been times when it’s been difficult to be openly religious due to how other people around her make her feel. She thinks that “everyone in college has gone through this situation.” Melanie sees those who think differently as wonderful people and she appreciates new sets of ideas. Unfortunately, it is really sad for her when others don’t make you feel comfortable to be open about your way of thinking. At times like this, she has decided to talk and communicate her ideas with compassion and understanding. She acknowledges how easy it is to just stay quiet, but in a world with so many different and wonderful minds, she believes you should be able to share your ideas. She encourages us to be courageous, but most importantly to express ourselves as we are. Also, she urges anyone going through a situation like this to remember “you are never alone, there's a community like you and [they] support each other, there’s a church, and there’s a Trinity.”

 

 

She is also part of the student group Iniciación Cristiana which is “directed especially, but not solely, to those students that have not yet but want to receive the holy sacraments: Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation.” She describes it as a safe space for people that want to know more about Catholicism or wants to strengthen their faith to openly sit and have a conversation. Melanie participates as part the a group of catechists. For her, it’s very special because it’s “one of the few places in college where you can openly sit with other students to have a peaceful non-judgemental spirit growing conversation.” But the amazing thing that sets it apart from other catechisms is that there is no teacher-student mechanism; it is student to student, equals who share and learn one from another. In the dynamic, everyone teaches and learns together and they create an amazing atmosphere of trust.

 

 

Melanie had the opportunity to discuss the topic of the “Holy Trinity,” which is in itself a very difficult topic because of the complexity of the holy mystery that many other religions don’t share with Catholicism. Normally, this is a topic that is given by an expert or a priest. Nevertheless, for some time now, women in the group have had the bravery to rise up to the challenge of studying and discussing this difficult topic. They spend a great amount of time preparing and consulting priests before presenting it. It has been very important for them to accomplish this because they see the value of discussing the topics between students. She recognizes that “there is more confidence to raise questions and doubts when it is a peer talking to you.” And they want the catechumens to feel comfortable to do so. They want students to ask those questions they have never dared to ask due to the anxiety of what this adult might think of me.

 

 

She recognizes that her motivation to join this ”beautiful team” was “because [she] felt [she] could, in some way, help others have the encounter [she] had when [she] entered college.” She enjoys that people attend the group by choice, and they also choose to open themselves to the group and to God as well. For her, it is an honor to be part of a group that facilitates these dynamics and a way of giving the little things she has.

 

As a catechumen myself I’ve had the opportunity to participate with the group. One of the most beautiful experiences is that the fellow students give each and one of their topics with the central theme of love and acceptance. One of my favorite quotes from a participant of the group was “each and every religion is valid because it’s the experience that, that community has with God.” For many years, religion has been one of the greatest divisors of mankind while it should be bringing us together. Developing the understanding that we need to accept and respect each and everyone’s beliefs is what we should aim towards. Always celebrating the fact that people, regardless of their faith or lack of, decide to do a better world everyday.

 

Melanie reiterates her believe, “any judgement and pre-made assumptions of any religion, class, or person is something that shouldn't lead our way of thinking.” Melanie is sometimes frustrated because she knows that no one wants to be judged and yet some choose to judge others. She wants to remember people this, “you may or may not agree with others, we are not called to always agree, we are called to always love.” She highlights that “religious or not, catholic or not, black or white, man or woman, immigrant or not, we are called to love, not to judge.” She would love everyone to see in others a human that has its dignity, not a human that is a threat to your beliefs.

 

As for the future, Melanie hopes that we as a society learn to listen to each other and to love so everyone can be open to be the best version of themselves. Also she wishes that, “through groups like Iniciación Cristiana, people find those very best versions of themselves and not be afraid to show it to the world.” She points out that we are all different and these differences makes every person irreplaceable. And this irreplaceability is, for her, a gift and not a burden.

 

Melanie believes “power is to give yourself the opportunity to get to know the real, dynamic, unique you.” For her, this means being open to learn something new about yourself everyday. She believes that if we give this time to knowing ourselves we will be able to learn to love ourselves. And she wants to assure everyone that “you have the power to love yourself, always.” Freedom is being able to be true to who you are and being able to practice the things you love without the fear of stigma or hatred. Let this “juana” be an example to us all of how we should be open to knowing ourselves and loving who we are. It is time that we feel free to pursue our faith, believes, or preferences without any fear of the outside world. But it is also time for us to accept the amazing diversity that surrounds us and welcome it with open arms.

Feel free to learn more about GAC and the work they do by visiting their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/gac.uprm/