Authentic Christ-like spirituality emerging
“Are the proceeds of our present ‘pay schools’ at the service of the poor? Are the graduates of these schools people with a ‘thirst for justice’ who know how to feel compassion for the poor and how to work intelligently for the changing of structures which keep a large majority of the human race poor? If the charism of Edmund Rice includes working for the poor, it is obvious that the rationale for our middle-class schools must be to provide education which includes justice education as a constitutive element. A Catholic education which does not include teaching about social justice clearly has something lacking in its Catholicity.” (Rome Chapter, 1978)
I first came across this quote in Wayne Tinsey’s provocative address An option for the poor in Edmund Rice Schools. This, along with the impending visit of Brian Bond and Kevin Cawley from ERI (Edmund Rice International), has started me thinking about our commitment to social justice within our Southern African network. Many of our faith-based Justice and Peace organisations, which were so active during the liberation struggle, seem to be in hibernation. Social justice issues certainly do not command centre stage within our church or school structures. But just as I was becoming rather morose about our lack of commitment I was reminded of the promise that lies within the young people of our network.
I was able to witness and celebrate this promise at two special celebrations held in Cape Town recently. They were both award ceremonies where young people were being affirmed for their contribution to the community. The first was hosted by Cape Town Rotary while the second was an archdiocesan Youth Unlimited celebration. Youth Unlimited is comprised of several organisations with a vast network of volunteers who reach out to thousands each month.
On both occasions, a grade 12 Edmund Rice Society member from St John’s Christian Brothers’ College received a special award for outstanding service and commitment to the Edmund Rice Camps. Jessica Dewhursthas been a member of the Edmund Rice Society since the new College opened eight years ago. Over the past couple of years Edmund Rice Camps have been her burning passion.
Whilst all the recipients at the Rotary ceremony spoke with great eloquence of the benefits their work had brought to the respective communities they served, only one spoke of the transformation she had undergone through her interaction with vulnerable children. Jessica spoke with gratitude about the joy and significance the work of the Edmund Rice Camps had brought to her life.
What struck me is that for Jessica, and the many other young people like her, this voluntary high school service project became a gateway to something so life-changing. The Edmund Rice Camps experience has engaged her at a spiritual, emotional, and intellectual level. It has transformed her and she talks of giving her life to this pursuit.
Through Jessica’s intensive recruitment drive at CBC and other neighbouring schools, she has brought cultural diversity to the Camps – something that is sadly lacking in most South African communities. The Edmund Rice Camps have provided our leaders with wonderful formation opportunities. The volunteers have acquired useful skills as they have all undergone training in group facilitation, conflict resolution, child-protection law, and first aid. The diverse and multi-cultural environment has given the volunteers an opportunity to interact, work, and play with young people from different backgrounds. This has deepened their understanding of the inequities that still undermine the human dignity of many of our people.
These young people inspire me. I see an authentic ‘Christ-like’ spirituality emerging. A spirituality of social justice that challenges us to reflect on our thoughts and actions and to contribute to the building of a better and more just world for all.
Evona Rebelo (ERN Co-ordinator for Southern Africa)