To mark the centenary of the birth of Blessed Oscar Romero, schools in the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle are this year focusing attention on the life and martyrdom of the Salvadorian Archbishop. As part of their commemorations St John’s Catholic Academy, Bishop Auckland, organised a programme of events for their Year 10 students, inspired by Romero’s words ‘Aspire not to have more, but to be more’.
Missio, the Catholic Church’s official charity for overseas mission, was asked along to St John’s to take part. Romero’s links with Missio and his time as the charity’s National Director in El Salvador, were highlighted through presentations and workshops. Highlighted also to pupils was the powerful example set by Romero; to observe the world around them and consider their role within it, inspired by the Gospel and strengthened by faith.
St John’s chaplain, Mrs Emma Ramsey said of the day, “We wanted to provide our students with the opportunity to reflect on the paths they take, the choices they make, and the qualities needed for themselves and others to lead a truly fulfilled life. The students gained a lot from Missio’s input. They heard about what the charity does to enable those less fortunate than ourselves to have access to the things we take for granted.”
Missio was also invited to take part in St Anthony’s Girl’s Catholic Academy, Step Up To Life Mission Week, led by the Diocesan Youth Ministry Team. Inspired by the week’s theme – forgiveness - Missio facilitated workshops which explored the importance of mercy and peace in our efforts to build God’s Kingdom at home and overseas. Pupils engaged readily in discussion and activities; considering practical ways in which they can become missionaries of God’s love and producing on occasion some impressive visual representations of God’s kingdom. Built with the help of Missio’s red boxes.
Missio would like to thank St John’s and St Anthony’s for their welcome and support. Their missionary efforts bring to mind more inspiring words from Blessed Oscar Romero:
“Let us not develop an education that creates in the mind of the student a hope of becoming rich and having the power to dominate. Let us form in the heart of a young person the idea of loving, of preparing oneself to serve and giving oneself to others.”
Angela Cox, Director of Education for the Diocese of Leeds is to be recognised in the 2017 New Year’s Honours List for Services to Education, becoming an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Angela has been Director of Education for the Diocese for the past six years, overseeing the provision of Catholic education across eight local authority areas in the Diocese’s 93 schools. Having lived in the region since attending Leeds University, Angela previously worked on the education team at Leeds City Council, and is a parishioner at the church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in St John Mary Vianney Parish in North Leeds.
Angela, who will receive her OBE at a special ceremony to take place in the next few months, said: “It is a privilege to have this role in Catholic education. It is the nature of the awards that they are given to an individual but this is recognition of the team of colleagues in the Diocese and in our schools and colleges who do so much to benefit Catholic education and the children in their care.”
The Rt Rev Marcus Stock is Bishop of Leeds and is himself an educationalist. Upon learning of the honour for his Director of Education, the Bishop said:
‘Angela Cox has given outstanding service to the Diocese and continues to provide excellent advice on all matters relating to our Catholic schools. She has also been very supportive of the work of the Catholic Education Service nationally for England and Wales. I am very pleased that the contribution Angela has made to education, both regionally and nationally, has been recognised in the honour awarded by Her Majesty the Queen.’
The OBE is awarded to people who fulfil a major local role and whose work has brought them national recognition in their chosen area.
Like most primary schools this time each year, thoughts turn to the Nativity play and the various stresses surrounding it. These include organising dozens of sheep, shepherds and angels, getting all the lines learnt and of course, deciding who’s going to play Mary.
At Catholic schools, the Nativity play is understandably a really important part of their year, but with over 60% of the pupils at St Mary’s and St Peter’s Catholic Primary school in Bradford being Muslim, you might think including everyone in this festival is a challenge. For them however, the truth is it simply isn’t.
Last year the school had children from different faiths and nationalities take part in their Nativity and this Christmas it will be no different.
By including children and families of different faiths, the school believes that they are not imposing Catholicism on them, but are sharing the gift of faith. At St Mary’s and St Peter’s , non-Catholic children are never forced to make the sign of the cross and when they pray it is made clear that children can pray to their own God.
Julie Holland, Head teacher at St Peter and St Mary’s believes that clarity with parents is by far and away the most important element of getting parental buy-in to the school’s ethos. Before children even start she sits down with prospective parents and is crystal clear about how the Catholic faith is fundamental to everything that is done by the school.
Julie commented: “For the vast majority of non-Catholic parents, this is perfectly acceptable, moreover it is the emphasis that we put on faith which makes our school such an attractive option for their child. Many think that to create religious tolerance you must remove it completely from the public sphere, but if anything we show that by being open about your own faith, parents of different religious convictions feel that their faith is respected. You don’t create religious tolerance by saying faith is something that should be kept behind closed doors.”
Julie believes that for a lot of parents, the popularity of a Catholic education among non-Catholic parents goes down to key basic principles, including, respect and good behaviour, attitudes which she considers are promoted by all religions. The values and expectations we set continue when the children are at home.
But what is the impact on the children? Looking at the experience of St Mary’s and St Peter’s, it is extremely positive. From an early age children interact with others of different religions. What’s more the school has fostered an atmosphere where children feel comfortable talking about religion and discussing the big questions about God and human dignity with those of other beliefs.
Julie concluded: “This year proud Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh parents will watch their child celebrate the birth of Christ in our Nativity. For both parents and pupils alike, this religious diversity is normal, something which I am proud to say has been achieved through an unapologetically Catholic education.”