Newsletter 6: 7 May 2019
It is a term most often heard in Australia during the cyclical qualifying rounds for the Football (Soccer) World Cup. The very word is usually accompanied with an uncertain, expansive, arcing sweep of the hand to vaguely describe a vast expanse of the globe, covered by water sprinkled with beautiful island nations. In 1836, when Pope Gregory XVI gave responsibility to the Marists for spreading the Gospel in “Oceania”, one can only imagine the limited understanding of the geographical enormity, in the offer and reception, of that mission. The region of Oceania covers an incredible 8,525,989 square kilometres.
Over the Easter break, the Marist Oceania Education Network hosted the first stage of “The Southern Stars Leadership Programme” for Principals and School Leaders from Marist Schools in Melanesia and the Pacific. Professor Brother David Hall fms, Dean of the La Salle Academy at the Australian Catholic University, and I were privileged to accept the invitation to work with an inspirational group of deeply committed Marist Brothers, Marist Fathers and Marist Lay people who teach in some very remote schools, amidst conditions most of us Australian teachers would find extremely challenging. Class sizes of 50 plus students, five hour trips in open boats to towns and small commercial centres, intermittent or no internet access, and in some cases generator supplied electricity limited to 12 hours per week, are among many realities in which some of the schools operate with outstanding success.
Throughout the days we were together, the sense of belonging was palpable. Gathered from a host of different countries, we identified most strongly as fellow Marists who shared a distinctly common approach to Catholic education. The ease with which we shared and discussed a range of concepts and practical approaches to school leadership and learning was remarkable. An enduring impression from our days together was the social responsibility the group exuded. In most of the countries represented, many former and current political and Church leaders had a Marist education. The political situations in each country were often remarked upon reflectively as were the challenges faced by teachers and schools to constructively influence the future. Australia was the cause for much mirth with our revolving door of Prime Ministers, but there was intense interest in the upcoming Australian Federal election. The sincerity and attitude to politics among our fellow Marists from Melanesia and the Pacific gave cause to reflect on the seemingly growing cynicism surrounding politics in this country and the importance of our own leadership in promoting gratitude and respect for our democracy and the rights we exercise within it.
The Australian Bishops Conference and Australian Catholic Social Services have each produced a document, which I urge you to read and share among parents, students, and staff members. The tenor of the Bishop’s statement is captured in the following quotes:
As citizens who are Catholic, we have the opportunity to participate in the electoral process, to use our voice and our vote for the benefit of the whole community;
As bishops, we offer this statement as a way of sharing key points of Catholic teaching that you may want to reflect upon as we prepare for the federal election;
The ongoing revelations of child sexual abuse have undermined the credibility of the Catholic Church, and particularly the credibility of bishops. We have no monopoly on truth, but we offer these reflections in a spirit of solidarity, as people who also have to consider our vote carefully, who can draw upon a deep wisdom concerning the common good and who are called to care for the most vulnerable in our community.
I commend to you this election prayer to use with your own school communities. May we as Marists continue to promote with respect and dignity the call of Saint Marcellin to form our young people as
“Good Christians and good citizens”.