Leadership, inclusivity and the importance of owning your choices - these were some of the wisdom-filled topics shared by Bishop Brian Mascord when he came together with over 2,000 students from systemic and congregational secondary schools to mark the students’ final year at secondary school.
CEDoW Education Officer, Cathy Brown, said the purpose of these gatherings is for our Year 12 students to meet together as young women and men of the diocese to have the opportunity to converse with Bishop Brian. “What better way to celebrate all that has been in their journeys as students of Catholic schools within the Diocese of Wollongong,” said Mrs Brown, who organised the series of gatherings.
In her welcome to students, Mrs Brown said, “As you approach this next part of your Higher School Certificate (HSC) - and contemplate life post HSC - Bishop Brian invites you to celebrate your learning and growth in the journey that has been your school lives and the expedition ahead, which is full of hard work, hope and unforgettable moments.”
So, what did the students learn from Bishop Brian's words – and how are they passing on his message?
TO BE A LEADER, YOU NEED TO BE A FOLLOWER
At the start of each gathering, students were invited to come forward with their school candle and a symbol representing their cohort. “As each of our schools have brought forward their symbols and expressed the values and charism of their school, you have all conveyed three significant characteristics: faith, hope and love,” said Bishop Brian. “So what does that say about you? The reality is that all of you are leaders. You are called to express those values in the context of the Gospel. You are called to be people of Christ. We not only follow Jesus, we also witness and make the way of Jesus our own.”
Bishop Brian encouraged students to be proud of their faith-filled education and to go out into the world and use it as the basis for their relationships and lives in their world post-school. “The leadership you show as members of your school communities has to reflect the way of Jesus. If it doesn’t, then we’ve failed if you haven’t been able to pick up the essence of what Catholic education is about. For all of us in Catholic education, we are called to minister and work hard for what and who we love and for what we believe in.”
WE ALL HAVE A CHOICE
In his talks, Bishop Brian emphasised the importance of daily and life-long choices. “We do the things we do in social justice, in environmental action, in liturgy - we do them because we are in a relationship with the person of Jesus,” he said. “For many of you, you might not have that relationship, and that is fine. Our purpose is not to convert you; it is to open up the experience so you can choose for yourself.”
Bishop Brian encouraged students to be careful of judging other people’s choices even if they differ from their own. “If you choose [the way of Jesus], that is fantastic, and if you don’t choose that is okay also. But don’t criticise those who do, as to do so would not be accepting the principles in which you have been educated; tolerance, respect and honour. The challenge for us is, if we are truly to be leaders in society, we have to be faithful to the choices we make and not judgemental of the choices of others.”
Bishop Brian also advised students to continue to nurture friendships built at school. “The relationships you have with one another at school are relationships that need to be continually supported,” he said. “Don’t let that interaction with each other go once you leave school. Those relationships are really important, don’t lose them, hang onto them at all costs.”
OUR BELIEFS ARE REFLECTED IN OUR ACTIONS
In her Gospel reflection, Corpus Christi Oak Flats student, Kate [pictured below], shared the importance of acting from a place of faith. “I interpret the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ to revolve around the main idea that our faith in action is in the way we treat other people,” she said. “It’s the way that we act upon the word of God and practice these teachings that makes a true difference in our society."
The students observed that, as young adults currently going through the stress of exams, it can be easy to become distracted with self-focused pursuits or competition. However, there can be another way to respond.
“Our ranks literally put us against each other, but we need to take into account the parable of the Good Samaritan and live through this teaching that we should show mercy to one another unconditionally,” Kate said. “Beyond high school, our gifts, talents and actions are how we will make a mark on the world. Being influenced by this parable will only strengthen the connections we can make and will open us to expressing our abilities through unbiased aid.”
This sentiment was reflected in a speech by Magdalene Narellan student, Lauren, who credited the foundation her school days had gifted her. “My experience reflects our school’s motto, ‘Quia Dominum Vidi: Because I have seen the Lord’. Catholic education strives to help students to live out the Gospel message so that we can all make meaningful contributions to the world. The Magdalene community has continually encouraged me to put my faith into action and become a positive agent for change,” she said.
“Through this emphasis on compassion and empathy, I have had the opportunity to make significant contributions. It’s these life changing experiences that will continue to have a profound impact on my future experiences outside of school.”
PRAYER AND PRESENCE
These significant words were touched on by CEDoW Director of Schools, Peter Turner, who acknowledged the commitment Bishop Brian had made to the students to be present, listen, pray and speak with them.
“Our Bishop has a great sense of connection with young people, you mean a great deal to him,” Mr Turner said. “Bishop Brian carries with him a strong message of encounter and the relationship with Jesus. I thank him for his commitment to the young people of our diocese. We have every reason to be proud of you all.”
Mr Turner acknowledged Mrs Brown and members of the Catholic Life, Education and Mission team who worked incredibly hard to bring the gatherings together, and also members of the diocese’s Catholic Youth Ministry team. He thanked the students who played a significant role across the gatherings and acknowledged how impactful this had been.
He also emphasised two words spoken about during the liturgy and discussions - honesty and integrity. “I think they're critical to the next phase of your journey,” Mr Turner shared. “They are two gifts that have been part of your Catholic schooling and they’re hard fought. They are also hard to get back [if lost], so I hope you cherish them, guard them and look after them.”
THE POWER OF TOGETHERNESS
At each gathering, as a poignant offering, staff said a prayer for the assembled Year 12 community - a prayer inspired by Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation dedicated to young people, ‘Christus Vivit’. This was followed by a communal prayer said by all students, dedicated to their new beginning.
Additionally, as a key part of the gatherings, a panel Q&A session with Bishop Brian and various representatives from CEDoW’s networks was held. Within these sessions, students had the opportunity to ask relevant questions to panel members.
One question related to the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019, currently before the NSW Legislative Council: “We know that today is a vital one for Standing for Life in relation to NSW Parliament’s stand on the law and abortion. Can you comment on the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill and how can the Catholic Church support women facing any decision surrounding pregnancy?" Another question referred to the assisted dying legislation recently enacted in Western Australia. Panel members were also asked their views about how young people can embrace a multi-faith culture.
In one of his responses, Bishop Brian emphasised the need for Catholic faith to coexist with the multicultural landscape of Australia, “Despite the fact that we don’t all share the same beliefs, it is imperative that we show respect to other people’s beliefs”.
CEDoW Professional Assistant to the Director of Schools and panel member, Tim Gilmour, said, “Young people should not be excluded from being involved in facilitated, respectful discussions about important societal issues. Our diocese holds a view that young people should be key from these discussions simply because they are controversial, complex or elicit strong, emotional responses from members of the community."
The day’s impact was summed up by Corpus Christi Oak Flat’s student, Mia, who spoke about the transformative experience of her Catholic education. “We’re part of an interconnected system that allows us to expand our roots in preparation for something bigger. It's a core system of faith about servant leadership and about ‘loving thy neighbour’ even if it's a platitude,” Mia said.
“We’re reliant on each other to grow, stemming from one another to reach our highest potential. We need strong, capable roots to fall back on, and at the end of the day, there may be branches we have to cut off to completely flourish. It’s not a bad thing - it’s growth.”
IN THE MEDIA
CathNews, 24 September 2019 – You are all leaders, bishop tells year 12 students