“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” 1Thessalonians (5:18), was the focus of the 2020 Year 12 Student Leadership Visits with Bishop of Wollongong, Most Rev Brian Mascord and CEDoW Director of Schools, Peter Hill.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the larger gatherings of previous years were replaced with a series of smaller events at each individual systemic Catholic secondary school throughout the diocese, where members of the Leadership team of the school and Year 12 Students Leaders were invited to gather in prayer and conversation with Bishop Brian and Mr. Hill. Each event began with a meeting with members of the school Leadership Team, with the focus being on the Bishop and the Director listening and hearing what 2020 has been like for each school community, with a particular focus on the wellbeing of Year 12 students and staff.
This was followed by a session where students engaged in candid conversation, discussing their personal journeys and relevant issues that have impacted their final year of schooling. Students were reminded about the importance of being true to themselves and persevering during difficult times.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has resulted in 2020 being a challenging and disruptive year for everyone, particularly students completing Year 12. In what is considered to be the most exciting year in a student’s life, this final year of schooling for the current cohort of students has been marred by disruptions to learning, cancellations of significant milestones and celebrations, and uncertainty of what the future holds as they enter the next phase of their lives.
Bishop Brian expressed to the groups that despite the uncertainty and challenging times being experienced, the work of God is still evident within the people around us.
“Even in this experience of the last six months, there are many things we can give thanks for,” said Bishop Brian. “The many learnings that have happened, the many people who have been involved in our lives, and the many experiences that have helped us be different from what we were before.”
Bishop Brian spoke of his life as a student, teacher, priest, and bishop. He shared his own personal journey over the past months, speaking of the difficulties and the joys he faced during COVID-19, many of which he considered a time of learning and loss, as well as a time of prayer and contemplation.
“We all have a story to tell, and the challenges and experiences we face as we journey through life become part of the intricate tapestry of our being,” he said. “Nothing is predetermined in life. God invites us into the experience of living, and I hope and pray that all of you hear that invitation and accept the challenge.”
His message was one of encouragement, challenge, hope, and support. As students begin their final months of schooling Bishop Brian encouraged them to be proud of their faith-filled education and reminded them of the importance of being true to themselves as they go out into the world.
“As you come to the end of your schooling my hope for you is that you will live out your life the way you’re meant to live it out – not the way other people want you to live it out,” he said. “The education you’ve received will help you to think critically about the issues you face throughout your life. Education is only one of the many tools you need, another is faith. It’s the most important tool. Faith isn’t the forced belief that there’s an invisible being out there somewhere that helps us feel better about ourselves and our situation, faith requires us to think, to use our brains, but also to have the courage to believe that what Jesus told us is true.”
Bishop Brian also advised students to surround themselves with people who will help them reach their full potential. “Who you stand with often determines what you’ll stand for. Don’t be guided by the loudest voice, follow the voice of God. It’s not easy to stand for something so make your stand count and remember that Jesus stands with you through it all.”
These sentiments were echoed by Mr. Hill, who thanked the students for their integrity and leadership in their school community under such challenging circumstances: “While the first part of the year has been difficult, your creativity, generosity of spirit, resilience in the way you have dealt with the challenges gives me great hope and great energy for the rest of the year.”
Students were also asked to reflect upon what they have been grateful for in a year of chaos, confusion, and challenge. The responses were heartfelt and sincere, with students appreciating the support of family, friends, teachers, their school community, and the opportunities of life.
Mr. Hill extended a thank you to members of the school community present at each visit and acknowledged the commitment Bishop Brian made to be present, and speak with students. “I don’t know of too many Bishops who would set aside four days to come out to schools and hear what’s on your mind, hear about your anxieties, and hopes and dreams for the future,” he said. “Thank you Bishop Brian for your support, and for putting aside time to come and listen to the voice of our students.”
What the students said about the experience
“Bishop Brian’s visit brought many things to our school community. The discussion provided each of us with a sense of awe, as well as a wondrous sense of hope about the future, as the Bishop’s story proved to be a testament that ‘everything will be alright’. Being there conversing with the Bishop gave us a real sense of leadership, of representing the student body.” - St John the Evangelist Catholic High School, Nowra.
“Bishop Brian’s motto for the afternoon, ‘For all things, give thanks’ connected the struggles of the remote learning period to the importance of gratitude and optimism in regards to the significance of connection and belonging within our school community. In the current climate of the coronavirus pandemic, Bishop Brian highlighted the significance of accepting God’s constant invitations to ensure our own spiritual growth. Listening to God’s call enables us to develop and strengthen our given vocation, rejuvenating our connection with Christ.” - Holy Spirit College, Bellambi.
“The Bishop made us feel at ease, allowing us to converse with him on a spiritual and personal level. We were able to see him in a different light, that is, rather than being a figure conducting Mass, we were able to speak with him as an individual, gaining a greater appreciation and understanding for who he is and what he represents to the wider community.” - Mt Carmel Catholic College, Varroville.
“During such uncertain and challenging times, it was comforting to know that the Diocese and Bishop Brian are personally eager to help Year 12 by offering support and encouragement. Everyone came away feeling grateful and inspired, appreciative that we were able to be heard by and listen to people much wiser than ourselves who shed light on contemporary issues and some of life’s big questions.” - St Benedict’s Catholic College, Oran Park.
“Bishop Brian illustrated the power of prayer and the importance of not disregarding God through an un-forecasted future. Mr. Hill spoke about the continuing importance of being “abound in hope” (Romans 15:13), and expressed the value of supportive friends, family, and colleagues, and the interdependent role we have in the lives of one another as adherents of God. He also illuminated the significant impact of our teachers and commended their astonishing works in supporting students through such demanding times.” - St Joseph’s Catholic High School, Albion Park.
“We’re grateful to hear the wise and insightful views that Bishop Brian offered regarding the recent hardships associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. He provided valuable advice and calming reassurance for all young Catholics within the Wollongong Diocese, that we are loved and supported through these trying times. We were thankful for the experience, and the guidance and reassurance provided regarding the HSC and our religious faith going forward in our lives.” - Magdalene Catholic College, Narellan.
“My interaction with Bishop Brian was an inspiring one, his wisdom and guidance was immensely appreciated by myself and I'm sure my peers as well. His humble nature was nurturing and allowed me to feel comfortable to ask questions that we wouldn't normally get to ask. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet and talk with the Bishop as through his word I was provided with an immense amount of guidance.” - John Therry Catholic College, Rosemeadow.
ALL CEDoW YEAR 12 LEADERSHIP VISITS WITH BISHOP BRIAN MASCORD AND PETER HILL WERE CONDUCTED UNDER GUIDANCE WITH THE RECOMMENDED COVID-19 SOCIAL DISTANCING RESTRICTIONS.