Students recently gathered at John Therry Catholic High School, Rosemeadow for the CEDoW Secondary Students Social Justice Day, that provided an opportunity - through the creative arts - for reflection and response to the 2018-2019 Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement.
And respond they did. Through innovative workshops in music and songwriting (facilitated by Tim Hart, CEDoW Education Officer), creative writing (facilitated by Cathy Brown, CEDoW Education Officer), drama (facilitated by Alex Hayden, Middle Leader at St Benedict's, Oran Park) and visual arts (facilitated by Marcus Fitzpatrick, teacher at John Therry), the students harnessed their creativity to explore the Statement and ways to call others to action.
The Statement, 'A Place to Call Home: Making a Home for Everyone in Our Land', confronts the growing social epidemic of homelessness and housing insecurity throughout Australia.
Within the Statement, the Bishops emphasise that housing is a human right, asserted by documents like the UN Declaration of Human Rights and by the teachings of our Church.
Housing, the Bishops say, is "an essential entitlement for all people to meet their basic needs, flourish in community and have their inherent human dignity affirmed and upheld by others".
CEDoW Community Development Officer, Josie Cooks, said the intention of the day was for students to unpack the Statement artistically, providing opportunity for consideration of different perspectives in order to build courage in young people to enact change through acts of kindness, compassion and generosity.
“The creative arts have played a significant role throughout history in motivating social change. I hoped the day would inspire a group of students, who hadn’t previously realised that they could use their talents to create awareness and make a difference, to get more involved in social justice in their schools," Mrs Cooks said.
Jack, a Year 10 Holy Spirit College, Bellambi student said, “A few teachers recommended I join today. The music workshop was fantastic. I will definitely encourage other students to attend similar days, to embrace the opportunity!”
A highlight was the song created from the music workshop. “The chorus was inspired by the Statement’s concluding sentence, 'Everyone deserves a place to call home'. It’s a great message and what everyone deserves," said Jack. "It captures the way people feel when they don’t have anywhere to be and how they long for it.”
Hear the song below and see the workshops in action.
In his foreword to the Statement, Australian Catholic Social Justice Council chairman, Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen said a ruthless housing market was leaving people struggling to find secure and affordable housing.
Bishop Vincent is keen to share his commitment to social justice with students as an essential component of a Catholic education. He looks to the 'Parable of the Good Samaritan' in calling the faithful to action to address the housing crisis.
“In the face of growing homelessness and housing stress, Australia is called to be a community of hospitality, called not to walk past the thousands whose wounds need binding, but to reach out to them,” he said.
Youth and Young Adults Coordinator from St Vincent de Paul Society NSW, Ms Courtney Deighton, shared in her key address latest Census figures with the students gathered, relaying that more than 116,000 Australians are homeless and over 875,000 households are in housing stress.
“Homelessness is not only sleeping on the street – this is often just what we see. People who are on the street, that’s actually 7% of those experiencing homelessness,” Ms Deighton said. “The majority are in severely overcrowded dwellings. People are in supported accommodation, boarding houses and couch surfing. Homelessness can happen to anyone and to people from all walks of life.”
Year 8 St Benedict’s, Oran Park student, Charlotte said, “I found it really interesting to listen to the statistics shared. It was surprising and shocking how great the numbers are and how much effort it would take to get people into housing. There are so many experiencing homelessness - people in crisis - and we’re all unaware.”
Year 11 Magdalene, Narellan students, Gemma and Kirsten said, “Courtney's talk made us more mindful about the prevalence of homelessness. We didn’t realise what a nation issue it is, it's made us grateful for our own homes. We’re going to look to encourage our peers to become more involved with initiatives already in place at school, like our St Vincent de Paul Christmas Hamper Appeal.”
“Housing is fundamental to the upholding of human dignity,” said Mrs Cooks. “The Church calls us to put the needs of the poor first, as depicted by the words of Pope Francis. I hope our students will hear the challenges the Statement presents and will share this message with their peers.”
"If I encounter a person sleeping outdoors on a cold night, I can view him or her as an annoyance, an idler, an obstacle in my path, a troubling sight, a problem for politicians to sort out, or event a piece of refuse cluttering a public space. Or I can respond with faith and charity, and see in this person a human being with a dignity identical to my own, a creature infinitely loved by the Father, an image of God, a brother or sister redeemed by Jesus Christ."
Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, n. 48.