By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI. Visit rcsocialjusticett.org for our columns, media releases and more.
In March 2017, Diane Montagna reported on Pope Francis’ plea to about 80,000 young people, parents, and educators in Milan, Italy. He expressed “his concern about bullying, which he called ‘an ugly phenomenon in education these days.’
“He warned parents and teachers to be on guard against bullying. He then turned his attention directly to young people… ‘Please … promise the Lord, and never do this, or allow it to happen at your school or in your neighborhood. Do you understand?… in silence, think about what an ugly thing this is, and think about whether you are able to promise Jesus. Do you promise Jesus never to bully?’ ‘Yes!’ the young people shouted.
“This is not the first time Pope Francis has addressed the problem of bullying. In May 2016, in a meeting with YouTube celebrities and film stars including George Clooney and Richard Gere, the pope called for an end to ‘aggression and bullying. Bullying is an aggression that conceals profound cruelty,’ he said. In order to build a better world, Pope Francis said, ‘we need to eradicate all forms of cruelty’.”
On Tuesday, January 9 the Holy Father again focused on bullying during his general weekly audience. He said just as the influence of the Holy Spirit is recognised when one does an act of charity, Christians also must recognise the presence of the devil when bullying occurs. “Bullying is the devil’s work.” (www.catholicherald.co.uk)
Today in T&T, bullying/cyberbullying is a growing trend and a major challenge for schools/society. Sandrine Rattan stated in her recent article in Newsday titled ‘Social inclusion is a must’, that: “Bullying both at schools and other public spaces comes from a place of exclusion, as such victims are forced to think that they don’t deserve a place in that particular space. Not being socially included, a person becomes extremely introverted as he/she sometimes has no alternative except to accept their condition as a new normal, which is indeed unfortunate.” We must never capitulate and allow this social ill to be viewed as “a new normal”.
The defining characteristics of Catholic schools include the provision of safe environments for all students, in keeping with the inherent, inalienable, and inviolable dignity of each person made in the image and likeness of God.
Here are the links to two useful documents:
I recall being invited by a Principal to address 1,200 children at a large Catholic secondary school in East London, England on the theme: The challenge of being an Easter People in today’s world.
As I looked around the school there were wonderful friezes that the children had displayed, demonstrating how they should live as Christians. The caption on one frieze read: “Down from the Cross, out of the grave, and into our lives.” I asked them to share with me ways in which they were living their lives as followers of Christ: How were they acting as instruments of Christ’s peace in their homes/communities?
They seemed to be able to express quite succinctly what was expected of them as Christians. Yet, many of these students had been reported to the Principal over and over again for “beating up” Bangladeshi children in the neighbourhood after they exited their school.
It had become the “fun thing” to do because the Bangladeshi children were seen as “other”, “alien”, “different”. It was only through a planned intervention programme that we succeeded in turning that school around.
If we are to be bearers of the Good News, we must play our part to build communities of peace and harmony. Children learn what they live. Thus we Catholics have a duty to help strengthen family life; to nurture conscience formation.
I urge principals, to be vigilant; to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate policies/programmes to foster safety and harmony in their educational institutions. Whole school policies on discipline must include strategies that involve all staff and parents.
Too often our institutions, including the Ministry of Education, wait until things get out of hand before intervening. A proactive approach is essential—one that includes multiple stakeholders. Together, we can eliminate this evil in order to create an ethos in which a genuine community of Faith can develop and prosper—one which reflects Christian values.