By Sr Louise McKeogh FMA, Catholic Outlook, November 2016
St Patrick’s Cathedral hall in Parramatta was filled with the sounds of 100 excited Year 9 student leaders on 12 October 2016, all seeking to learn more about creating a place at the table, this year’s Social Justice Statement from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
The day was a student-led day by students for students, meeting new friends and sharing their thoughts, reflections and actions for justice.
The inaugural social justice awards were presented by Greg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools, along with a stirring call for us all to continue to lead and live this Gospel call within our communities.
In conjunction with this day, students from across the Diocese of Parramatta had participated in an essay competition. Casey Pennell from Marian Catholic College, Kenthurst, presented her significant reflections as the inaugural winner of the Bishop’s Social Justice Award.
“As I watch the news daily I can’t help but wonder what has happened to our world today. Have we forgotten how to care for one another and treat friends and strangers alike with respect and understanding?
“I hope that my generation can one day help to make a difference by listening to those who dare to speak up against the violence in this world and the effect it has on so many lives.”
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv who is chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council challenged us with a keynote address in which he shared that, like Pope Francis, as leaders we are called to reach out to those on the margins of society.
Here in Australia it is often our elderly who are on the margins as they face various forms of social isolation and exclusion.
A short video on the local experience of students from Emmaus College visiting Emmaus Village aged care facility at Kemps Creek. Both students and residents spoke of the importance of the relationships and engagement that these visits provided.
It was inspiring to hear what the visits mean to the residents of the village and to hear what the students received from conversation and friendship with the residents.
Then it was over to individual groups to break open different parts of the social justice statement. Each student had a different section of the statement to reflect on and report back to our whole group.
After lunch we heard from Rayella Haines, a parishioner from Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, St Marys, who shared what it means for her to have the energy and enthusiasm of young adults in her life.
Luke Tobin, Caritas Australia’s Justice Educator, challenged us with a call to action on the importance of being Gospel people who put into action Catholic Social Teaching – Luke stressed that we are called as leaders to do this now within our communities and families.
Time for a second workshop on making the statement real and lived within our school communities. This was a time to share in our discussion groups what we were already doing and how we can call the community to bring this to life when we return to school.
Taking up the challenge of being leaders not only in the future but in the here and now. Each group developed a strategy for the way ahead.
The day was a great success because of the support and work of the Catholic Education Office Mission Team and safe to say that all left this inspiring day with the desire to create a place at the table for all.
Sr Louise McKeogh FMA is the Social Justice Director for the Diocese of Parramatta.