By Greg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools
Catholic Outlook, Volume 19, March 2016
When Pope Francis’ long-awaited encyclical, Laudato si’, was published last year, media reports tended to focus on its strong environmental message.
Yet Pope Francis’ key focus, ‘Everything is connected’ is much broader: “Concern for the environment … needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society,” the Holy Father teaches.
On 21 January 2016, school leaders from across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains gathered at Rosehill Gardens for ‘Everything’s Connected’, an inspirational System Leadership Day.
The event featured speakers including Rev Chris de Souza, Priest responsible for Education & Formation; Neal Murphy, Director of Mission at St John of God Health Care; and former student and Triple J newsreader Nas Campanella.
Together we watched a powerful short film on the inclusion of people with disability, The Interview, featuring local actor Gerard O’Dwyer. It’s available on YouTube from Bus Stop Films and it’s a must-watch.
Inclusion of people with disability is an important feature of Pope Francis’ message: “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.”
As Neal Murphy reminded us, the experience of belonging, including in school communities, is often denied to people with disability. Neal’s passion about the role of schools in the healing mission of Christ is an inspiration.
We also had a real-life example of the power of inclusion in Nas Campanella, a graduate of Sacred Heart Primary, Mt Druitt, St Agnes Catholic High School, Rooty Hill, and Loyola Senior High, Mt Druitt. Triple J newsreader Nas, who is blind, shared her personal story of the life-changing impact of teachers.
Pope Francis has also declared 2016 the ‘Year of Mercy‘. We had the opportunity to reflect on mercy in our communities and were asked three searching questions:
* How will you be the merciful face of Christ to students, colleagues, parents and community?
* When will our students and teachers experience mercy this holy year?
* When will our students be the merciful face of Christ to others?
It’s a call not just to be Christ-like but to see Christ in all members of our communities, especially those on the fringes. That’s why I asked every school leader to love most those so-called ‘difficult’ students, who struggle to belong not just in the playground and classroom but in everyday life.
I’ve often said that the time for improvement in education has passed, that our focus must be transformation. Pope Francis’ vision of connectedness is a sublime challenge to educators, to really transform schools and ‘Our Common Home’, the earth.
A challenge to create communities without outsiders, to see Christ in the other, especially when it’s tough. I think it’s a challenge that we’re not just equal to, but made for!
Follow Greg on Twitter @gregwhitby
Greg’s blog: www.bluyonder.wordpress.com