Deacon Ronald Thwaites believed that Jamaica’s weak family structures create wounds and deficits, which all must try to heal. He observed that many Jamaican young people do not have substantive relationships with their father, “so when teachers, whether in regular school or Sunday school, are instructing about joyous Christian family life, there is a gap of understanding, which is very difficult to bridge.”
Contributing to the February/March issue of Jamaica’s Catholic Opinion Rev Thwaites said the principal of one of the diocese’s Catholic schools told him that very few of the students in that institution have had the experience of living with a married couple or even interacting closely with two loving partners.
The former Education Minister noted that while the Catholic Church in Jamaica owns, sponsors or operates scores of institutions at all levels of the educational ladder, over the past 40 years for various reasons, Catholics have relaxed their influence in these schools.
“This trend needs to be reversed. The school ministry ought to become the first priority of every parish and mission. Remember that our schools have become the major institutions for positive socialisation (values and attitudes) and the Church needs to reach out to principals and teachers to help with this most difficult task.”
Deacon Thwaites urged priests, administrators and Church members to flood the schools offering presence, mentorship and examples of Christian life starting at the early childhood level, where children are most impressionable. “We can help parents and school personnel to teach them manners and self-appreciation and respect for others. We can tell them Bible stories, tales about the saints. We can teach them how to pray as well as how to play.”
The deacon acknowledged that the Catholic Schools’ Ministry has been a good start, but it needs strengthening and expanding. “How about if more of our powerful alumni groups of Catholic schools were to undertake this ministry along with all their other efforts?” he asked.
Deacon Thwaites reminded the faithful of Kingston Archbishop Kenneth Richards’ challenge for all to increase membership of the Church communities. He said that one of the best ways of doing this is to re-evangelise the schools. “Our best hope is to nurture Jamaican Catholic culture, to encourage vocations, and to invest in wholesome social stability for our nation. Let us show children and young people what Catholic life feels and looks like through friendship and mentoring,” he said.