Tag Archives: education

2 January: Refreshment time.

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A friend of one of my daughters, a Chinese scholar, once posted a picture of her with one of these cups, saying in jest, Here is N drinking tea from 14th Century Yuan porcelain, though this is a 20th Century Staffordshire adaptation of that design.

But this is about tea from Sri Lanka, not China, and the working conditions of the pickers. Pay has long been poor, schooling for the children lacking; and poor pay tempts parents to bring children to work for the few pence they can earn.

USPG’s partners are bringing schools to the children, and they are starting to attend with their parents’ encouragement. People overseas, like us, can help by buying Fair Trade tea.

Here is a prayer from Sri Lanka to go with the tea.

Even as the water falls on dry leaves, and brings out their flavour, so may your Spirit fall on us and renew us, so that we may bring refreshment and joy to others,

I’ll drink to that!

MMB

 

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November 13. Remembrance and beyond

southsea

During the Second World War in Britain, while men were fighting and the war effort seemed to be paramount in people’s minds, in the background other politicians and civil servants were drawing up plans for important areas such as housing, health and education. This time it would be a ‘land fit for heroes’. In the event, prefabricated houses and schools were erected with a speed and in numbers never again seen and the National Health Service came into being.

A better housed, better educated and generally healthier population was the result. But planning can only go so far, as the Times Literary Supplement columnist Charles Morgan pointed out.

In all the plans that are made for the life we are to lead, how seldom is there evidence of any wish that life shall be enjoyed: that it shall be safe – yes; that it shall be instructed, equalised, rubbed smooth, supplied with dustless corners and chromium-plated taps; but that there shall be grace or charm or quiet or gaiety or sweetness or light in it, there is among the sterner planners neither hope nor desire. Utility and sameness are their guiding stars … Their ideal is to make of the art of life what a timetable is to a poem.1

He wrote, of course, from a position of privilege, and exaggerates in his last two sentences to make a polemical point. Certainly I have visited prefabs that have lasted nearly three times their planned lifespan, are light and airy, and well loved by those who have made their homes therein. And G.K. Chesterton considered timetables poetic; especially when they work! And what joy, post-war, when such things could be more or less relied on again!

MMB

Portsmouth, largely rebuilt after World War II

1Charles Morgan, Reflections in a Mirror, London, MacMillan, 1944, p.93.

 

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11 November: Poppies for remembering

poppy.bridge

We took a walk in South Manchester, going  to the Fletcher Moss Park along this footpath. Here it crosses over the tram lines; not only has the bridge been decorated with poppies, but where the overgrown verges of the path have been cleared, three local primary schools have sown poppy seeds, ready to come up in the next few weeks. (I was writing this in March, but the poppies did indeed flower during the summer.)

There were poems by some of the children attached to the fence, just out of sight.

On this centenary Remembrance Day, what should we teach them about events that no-one alive remembers? In an increasingly aggressive world, do we say ‘Si Vis Pacem. Pare Bellum’ – ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’? That makes a certain sense, but it is not the way we expect them to behave in the playground.

A sense of injustice can lead to war; but there is also greed. And there is romanticising of self-sacrifice in battle which all too easily prevents the asking of difficult questions. (How dare you suggest my father/brother/son died for nothing.)

There were reasons why our fathers and grandfathers did not speak of their wartime experiences: because romantic it was not. As well as pain, loneliness and fear, a man had to be ready to kill fellow human beings, individually or en masse. Many hated this duty but there was also bloodlust; something we have witnessed, and continue to witness, in today’s conflicts.

Perhaps it’s good to introduce the children to the idea of self-sacrifice, while diverting them from the glorification of war and from the aggressive war games we used to play – in times when the nation had not got the Second World War out of its system. That of course is too easily said, when immersive shoot-up games are readily available on computers and on line. Do these dissipate aggression or reinforce it?

MMB

 

 

 

 

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27 September. Truth telling XI: Due Diligence, or the truth is more interesting than you assumed.

In 2002 I wrote a history of Saint Thomas’s School in Canterbury to mark its centenary in its present building. There had been a few changes of address over some fifty years before that, when the school occupied one inadequate building after another. The parish and most of its families were poor.

The logbook of the school records how one Christmas Mr Henry Hart, of the Red House, gave cloth for the girls to make cloaks to keep themselves warm in wintertime. I knew of two buildings from that time called the Red House; the more likely one was near the shopping centre and close to the present-day Oxfam charity shop, which has a mosaic threshold bearing his name. Very interesting, and duly recorded.

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When I came to revise the story I was already a bit of a silver surfer and typed in Mr Hart’s name, occupation, and trade. I learned to my surprise that he was Jewish, (yet giving Christmas presents) and the first Jewish Mayor of Canterbury. That information was published on a couple of Jewish websites.

I certainly had not suppressed Mr Hart’s Jewishness, I just had not discovered it. In his lifetime the city was much smaller than it now is, and he was a member of the School Board as well as mayor. Everyone knew he was a Jew so nobody needed to record the fact. But it is an interesting fact and it points to something good about the integration of Jews – and Catholics – in Victorian Canterbury.

Keep on asking questions – such as who was Henry Hart. What you discover may be an interesting detail or a vital missing link.

This newer web page tells more about Henry Hart  .

MMB.

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23 June: What became of …

gate,broken (800x487)

Simon had been a pupil at a school where I had once taught: that’s how we got talking about the disaffected lads I had worked with. Not that sunny Simon, whom I knew before I began teaching, ever had an ounce of disaffection in him in all those forty years.

But Luke did. He was ever ready to pick a fight with another child, then try to pin the blame on them when they gave him as much of a pasting as they could before they were stopped. One day he ran away on an outing to London, but was hiding in full view of the railway station cameras, so was soon rounded up.

‘Do you know what happened to these boys?’ asked Mary.

‘Luke’, I said, hesitating; ‘Luke met a teaching colleague years later, when he was a mental health nurse.

‘And then there was Peter, who broke my ribs, aged 11. He was found to have a severe wheat intolerance and was a changed boy when he cut it out of his diet. He completed secondary school at least.

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‘I was called over to a bench on a major railway station by a young man who introduced himself as Alan West – formerly known by two completely different names. “And this is Jill, we’re getting married soon. But I’m not telling my family. Jill’s my family now – and her family accept me.”‘

prison wall

While it’s good to share these positive stories, not all were doing so well when last I heard. Tony, son of a London prostitute, was moved very much against his will and our advice, from a foster family of a different complexion to one that nearer matched his own. He was soon in a secure unit, not allowed out of the new ‘home’ he was assigned by the court. An abuse victim who came to us at 12 was incarcerated at 18 for abusing other children. A lad who won my heart was murdered by his stepfather.

Please pray for them all; may the Good Shepherd seek each one out and bring him home.

We meet another prisoner tomorrow.

MMB

 

 

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June 5: Saint Boniface by Pope Benedict, 2.

Today is the Feast of Saint Boniface.

This great Bishop did not omit to encourage the foundation of various male and female monasteries so that they would become like beacons, so as to radiate human and Christian culture and the faith in the territory. He summoned monks and nuns from the Benedictine monastic communities in his homeland who gave him a most effective and invaluable help in proclaiming the Gospel and in disseminating the humanities and the arts among the population. Indeed, he rightly considered that work for the Gospel must also be work for a true human culture. Above all the Monastery of Fulda founded in about 743 was the heart and centre of outreach of religious spirituality and culture: there the monks, in prayer, work and penance, strove to achieve holiness; there they trained in the study of the sacred and profane disciplines and prepared themselves for the proclamation of the Gospel in order to be missionaries. Thus it was to the credit of Boniface, of his monks and nuns – for women too had a very important role in this work of evangelization – that human culture, which is inseparable from faith and reveals its beauty, flourished.

Although he was getting on in years (he was almost 80), he prepared himself for a new evangelizing mission: with about 50 monks he returned to Frisia where he had begun his work. Almost as a prediction of his imminent death, in alluding to the journey of life, he wrote to Bishop Lull, his disciple and successor in the see of Mainz: “I wish to bring to a conclusion the purpose of this journey; in no way can I renounce my desire to set out. The day of my end is near and the time of my death is approaching; having shed my mortal body, I shall rise to the eternal reward. May you, my dear son, ceaselessly call the people from the maze of error, complete the building of the Basilica of Fulda that has already been begun, and in it lay my body, worn out by the long years of life” (Willibald, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., p. 46). While he was beginning the celebration of Mass at Dokkum (in what today is northern Holland) on 5 June 754, he was assaulted by a band of pagans. Advancing with a serene expression he “forbade his followers from fighting saying, “cease, my sons, from fighting, give up warfare, for the witness of Scripture recommends that we do not give an eye for an eye but rather good for evil. Here is the long awaited day, the time of our end has now come; courage in the Lord!'” (ibid., pp. 49-50). These were his last words before he fell under the blows of his aggressors. The mortal remains of the Martyr Bishop were then taken to the Monastery of Fulda where they received a fitting burial.

Centuries later, what message can we gather today from the teaching and marvelous activity of this great missionary and martyr? For those who approach Boniface, an initial fact stands out: the centrality of the word of God, lived and interpreted in the faith of the Church, a word that he lived, preached and witnessed to until he gave the supreme gift of himself in martyrdom. He was so passionate about the word of God that he felt the urgent need and duty to communicate it to others, even at his own personal risk.

The second most important proof that emerges from the life of Boniface is his faithful communion with the Apostolic See, which was a firm and central reference point of his missionary work; he always preserved this communion as a rule of his mission and left it, as it were, as his will.

Boniface also deserves our attention for a third characteristic: he encouraged the encounter between the Christian-Roman culture and the Germanic culture. Indeed, he knew that humanizing and evangelizing culture was an integral part of his mission as Bishop. In passing on the ancient patrimony of Christian values, he grafted on to the Germanic populations a new, more human lifestyle, thanks to which the inalienable rights of the person were more widely respected. As a true son of St Benedict, he was able to combine prayer and labour (manual and intellectual), pen and plough.

Boniface’s courageous witness is an invitation to us all to welcome God’s word into our lives as an essential reference point, to love the Church passionately, to feel co-responsible for her future, to seek her unity around the Successor of Peter. At the same time, he reminds us that Christianity, by encouraging the dissemination of culture, furthers human progress. It is now up to us to be equal to such a prestigious patrimony and to make it fructify for the benefit of the generations to come.

His ardent zeal for the Gospel never fails to impress me. At the age of 41 he left a beautiful and fruitful monastic life, the life of a monk and teacher, in order to proclaim the Gospel to the simple, to barbarians; once again, at the age of 80, he went to a region in which he foresaw his martyrdom.

By comparing his ardent faith, his zeal for the Gospel, with our own often lukewarm and bureaucratized faith, we see what we must do and how to renew our faith, in order to give the precious pearl of the Gospel as a gift to our time.

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June 2, Feast of the Uganda Martyrs: Too few priests?

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Bishop Henri Streicher

 

 

Tomorrow we celebrate Corpus Christi, the second feast of the Eucharist after Maundy Thursday. The feast of the Uganda Martyrs gets displaced, but we’ll go to Uganda anyway.

Bishop Henri Streicher was a pioneer bishop in Uganda in the early 20th Century. If we think we are short of priests in the West today, he and his missionaries were hard-stretched to serve the numbers of converts flocking to the Church, even when the load was shared with African sisters and priests who would eventually take charge.

There was no way that missionaries could organise the details of church life! I read recently that:

Mgr Streicher was a greater promoter of pious associations and devotions among the laity. Some of these were: 1st Friday of the month, Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in homes, Holy Hour, Fraternity of Mount Carmel (Cf. wearing of scapulars), Uganda Martyrs, frequent receiving of the Holy Communion, Communion of children, Adoration of 40 hours, Morning and Evening prayers, Rosary and attending daily Mass. Being an active member of these associations and regular practices of these devotions is the best means to fight and “conquer evil with good” which was the episcopal motto of Mgr. Streicher.

Many of these devotions could be organised day to day by parents in the home or by catechists at village level when the priests could not be present. Entrusting this ministry to the catechist was an effective way of building up the Christian community. Even though the catechists had barely the equivalent of a modern primary education, Bishop Streicher trusted them, and the people of the villages, to build up the Church.

It is my belief that when lay people in the west are allowed, encouraged, enabled and entrusted to be responsible for the life of their communities, the next step towards providing the Eucharist for God’s people will become clear.

reference

(The Uganda Martyrs canonised by the Catholic Church died in the late 19th Century. There have been many more of them since. Among their number are many Anglicans, both then and in modern times, including in 1977 Archbishop Janani Luwum, murdered by order of President Idi Amin. There have been Moslem martyrs too, over the years.)

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25 May: Saint Bede of Northumbria and Europe.

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Pope Benedict XVI spoke about today’s saint at his General Audience of 18 February 2009. He touches on many of Pope Francis’s themes, so continuity continues! An appropriate message for Pentecost-tide.

You can find Pope Benedict’s full text here.

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In his commentary on the Song of Songs, Bede says Christ the Bridegroom wants a hard-working Church, “weathered by the efforts of evangelisation”. There is a clear reference to the word in the Song of Songs (1: 5), where the bride says “Nigra sum sed formosa” (“I am very dark, but comely”) intent on tilling other fields or vineyards and in establishing among the new peoples “not a temporary hut but a permanent dwelling place”, in other words, intent on integrating the Gospel into their social fabric and cultural institutions. In this perspective the holy Doctor urges the faithful to be diligent in religious instruction, imitating those “insatiable crowds of the Gospel who did not even allow the Apostles time to take a mouthful”.

He teaches them how to pray ceaselessly, “reproducing in life what they celebrate in the liturgy”, offering all their actions as a spiritual sacrifice in union with Christ. He explains to parents that in their small domestic circle too they can exercise “the priestly office as pastors and guides”, giving their children a Christian upbringing. He also affirms that he knows many of the faithful (men and women, married and single) “capable of irreproachable conduct who, if appropriately guided, will be able every day to receive Eucharistic communion” (Epist. ad Ecgberctum, ed. Plummer, p. 419).

After his death, Bede’s writings were widely disseminated in his homeland and on the European continent. Bishop St Boniface, the great missionary of Germany, (d. 754), asked the Archbishop of York and the Abbot of Wearmouth several times to have some of his works transcribed and sent to him so that he and his companions might also enjoy the spiritual light that shone from them.

It is a fact that with his works Bede made an effective contribution to building a Christian Europe in which the various peoples and cultures amalgamated with one another, thereby giving them a single physiognomy, inspired by the Christian faith. Let us pray that today too there may be figures of Bede’s stature, to keep the whole continent united; let us pray that we may all be willing to rediscover our common roots, in order to be builders of a profoundly human and authentically Christian Europe.

Bede translates St John’s Gospel

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10 March. SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: QUALITY EDUCATION A WAY OUT OF SLAVERY.

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This reflection is from Sri Lanka; it challenges us at the most basic level. Do we know that the tea (or coffee) we drink is produced by slave labour or free? The reflection and prayers based on it can be found at the Anglican USPG website on their Pray with the World Church page. Reflection by Fr Lakshman Daniel, of the Church
of Ceylon.

In the mid-nineteenth century, poor Indian Tamil plantation
workers were brought to Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, to
sustain the tea industry, mainly in the central hills of Sri Lanka.
Today, this community is held in a modern form of slavery,
facing many socio-cultural and political concerns. The Church
of Ceylon is doing what it can to help children, who are the most
vulnerable group within the tea estate communities.

Our Estate Community Development Mission runs nursery
schools and after-school centres for some of the most vulnerable
children. The children are given a meal and teachers provide
activities which help the children educationally and socially.

This work is helping to change a culture of dependence:
rather than depending on the employment of tea estate owners,
children are being prepared for a formal education. And we
are pleased to report that children from many tea estates
have been supported through A Levels and even provided with
scholarships so they can attend university.

It is not the will of God that anyone should live as slaves. Therefore, we are taking every possible step to support
sustainable development to ensure peace and prosperity in this
community, with both material and spiritual growth.

Afterword from Pope Francis:

Modern forms of slavery … are far more widespread than previously imagined, even – to our scandal and shame – within the most prosperous of our societies …God’s cry to Cain, found in the first pages of the Bible – ‘Where is your brother?’ – challenges us to examine seriously the various forms of complicity by which society tolerates, and encourages, particularly with regard to the sex trade and the exploitation of vulnerable men, women and children.

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22 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Bishop Stuart and Bishop Michaud.

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A story for Christian Unity Week from Uganda.

During the 1930s the Canadian Edouard Michaud was the Catholic Bishop (or Vicar Apostolic) of Uganda. When Cyril Stuart was appointed as the Anglican Bishop of Uganda in 1932, Michaud called on him at the earliest opportunity. And they promised to work together and communicate with each other whenever events seemed likely to cause division.

All through the time both worked in Uganda there were on-going discussions between the churches and the British Protectorate Government about education. Most schools were provided by one or other church, so it was important for distrust and suspicion to be replaced by friendly rivalry. That took time. Health services too were run by the churches: try looking up Dr Albert Cook and Mother Kevin Kearney to learn about an Anglican and a Catholic pioneer.

Bishop Stuart’s account of their meeting does not go into details, but he says that when Michaud gave him his blessing, he was delighted.

Although Stuart in his turn greeted every in-coming Catholic bishop, including the first African bishop from South of the Sahara, Joseph Kiwanuka, he never plucked up courage to offer them his blessing.

A shame.

So let’s smile gratefully at this image of Pope Francis receiving the blessing of Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and thank God that we are nudging closer – or being nudged closer – to each other.

Ut unum sint: may they all be one!

MMB

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