In November, I was blessed to join some of our Catholic leaders on pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Surrounded by the displaced people of the war-torn Middle East, it’s impossible not to be moved by the plight of those on a journey of uncertain destination. That’s why in Bethlehem, together with a small group of Principals from Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, I joined the Jump Up & Down 4 Kids campaign to end the immigration detention of children.
There are over 200 children being held in immigration detention by the Australian government. The evidence about the impact of detention on children is damning and the damage is lasting. You can join the Jump Up & Down 4 Kids campaign, started by the Sydney Catholic Education Office, on Facebook or Twitter (see #jumping4kids). I am so proud of the many schools, students and staff across the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta who have participated in this campaign to support young people in detention
In fact, a number of Catholic school students are refugees and we can learn much from their resilience, determination and generosity. We look forward to meeting the new Syrian refugees who will arrive in Australia in coming months with warmth, compassion, care and friendship. As Pope Francis recently reflected, “To give a child a seat at school is the finest gift you can give”.
The Holy Father reminds us: “As you persevere in this work of providing education for refugees, think of the Holy Family, Our Lady, Saint Joseph, and the Child Jesus, who fled to Egypt to escape violence and to find refuge among strangers”. These powerful sentiments are echoed in the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 2015 Social Justice Statement, ‘For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas’.
We will be sending home some information for families about the Social Justice Statement and the #jumping4kids campaign and I would encourage you to learn more about this significant issue and how we might support our brothers and sisters facing persecution and displacement.
Our pilgrimage finished in Rome where I was privileged to address the Congregation for Catholic Education World Congress. My conference paper addressed the need to transform Catholic schooling and to be countercultural – opening our hearts and minds to the Catholic imagination.
As we approach Christmas, I am reminded of TS Eliot’s poem, The Journey of the Magi, about the three Wise Men’s homecoming from Bethlehem: “we returned to our places…no longer at ease here”’. Pope Francis’ challenge to us to go where the poor and marginalised are, where Jesus was, should push us beyond the comfort zone. I want to thank each and every member of our community of faith and learning for rising to this challenge daily.
I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Year 12 students on completing their 13 years of schooling and their Higher School Certificate exams. Our prayers are with you as you build on your Catholic education and commence further study or work.
As we await the coming of the Christ child together, I wish you all a happy and holy Christmas!
Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools – Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta