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30 July: Fair Trade and Climate Change II.

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The second Fairtrade farmer introduced by the Fairtrade Foundation. 

Zeddy Rotich, a coffee farmer in Kenya

Zeddy explains how Fairtrade has helped her take action on the climate crisis locally.

“Climate change is affecting us because the weather patterns have changed. We fear low coffee production in future because of it. But through Fairtrade we have received training on climate change and we are taking action. However, we still need more, because we need to train other people who are not aware about climate change.

“We also need more tree nursery beds, so that we can plant more trees as a way of tackling climate change.”

There is a need for more tree cover in our own country too, extending rural forests but also in towns where we need their green lungs.

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14 July: The Shepherd girl and the goldfish.

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Here’s a Story from France for July 14. A small town girl, delighted by the sights of the big city: here is a letter from St Bernadette of Lourdes to her sisters back home. She is describing her journey to Nevers where she was to enter the noviciate of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, the sisters who had educated her. On the way they stopped at Bordeaux.

Let me tell you how we made our journey. On Wednesday at six o’clock in the evening we arrived at Bordeaux, and there we stayed till Friday at one o’clock. I beg you to believe that we made good use  of our time there to get around – and in a carriage, if you please.

We were taken to visit all the houses (presumably of her order). I have the honour of telling you that they are not like the house in Lourdes, especially the Imperial Institute for Deaf Girls; you’d think it was more like a palace than a religious house.

We went to see the Carmelite church, and from there made our way to the Garonne to see the ships. Next we went to the Jardin des Plantes: I tell you we saw something quite new: can you guess what? It was fish: golden, black, white and grey. The loveliest thing for me was seeing this little creatures swimming around in front of a crowd of little urchins who were watching them.

Although as a child I liked to see the fish in our local park pool, I perhaps wouldn’t have appreciated that last paragraph as I do now, seeing Bernadette as an excitable young woman. It is always good to see the humanity of the saints.

I wanted to share this with you because Bernadette is revealed as a flesh-and-blood young woman, rather than the unattainably super-holy, superwoman put before us in primary school, at least as I recall. Saints are truly human and enjoy the blessings of this life as well as anyone else. Another Laudato Si! moment.

MMB.

Photo by Stan Shebs.

 

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6 July: U is for Upham

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I’d forgotten this alphabetical gazetteer of places around Britain till I turned over the drafts folder. There are fewer places beginning with U than you might expect. Uttoxeter? Horse racing and biscuits. I could tell a story about biscuits from forty years ago, but I’m going back further, to my schooldays, and the village of Upham, unofficially known to us at school as Upper Upham, to distinguish it from nearby Lower Upham.

Both villages are tucked away off main roads in rural Hampshire. As a teenager, I was sent to Upper Upham as a catechist to a young boy preparing for his First Holy Communion; I was following in the footsteps of other boys who had taught his sisters. We were given adult responsibility as teenagers. And I had an early taste of working one to one with children out of school, though this lad was simply receiving some of the religious education he would have been give had he been in a Catholic primary school. He was not a school drop out or throw out.

My lad did not live in the Brushmaker’s Arms, but we sometimes made our way in there. Smaller than this it was, as I recall it, all cool and dark inside, but it is good that it’s still open, and welcoming far more customers than 50 years ago. No doubt we’d have to show ID to get a glass of beer there if we were teenagers today.

Our Church seems as confused about young people as the rest of society. Children or adults? Capable of preparing younger children for the Sacraments? We don’t really trust them, yet catechists are needed and grandparents should not do it all, willing though they may be. Readers, ministers of the Eucharist? They won’t volunteer if they don’t think they fit the picture; and someone has to put them there.

It’s worth recalling that youngsters like Saint Pancras gave their lives for their faith; and for every young Roman man I know of there are many young women, Roman and British: Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Perpetua, Felicity get mentioned in the Roman Canon at Mass, they were considered that important in those days; Tydfil, Winifred, Eanswyth, Mildred among our more local heroines.

Do we think young people in Britain today can have a lively faith, evident in their lives? Just asking.

 

 

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1 July: Into the forest

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I don’t think the ancient Israelites were altogether fond of the forest. One of the most vivid forest stories tells how Absalom, David’s rebel son, was caught by the hair as he rode under an oak tree while his mule galloped on without him. Absalom was a sitting duck for Joab and his men, who killed him, bringing David to tears. (2 Samuel 18, 19). Earlier, in Joshua 17, we read how the tribe of Joseph cleared away the forest to have room to settle and farm, a process that continues around the world to this day.

But something is lost as we clear the forest and then build suburbs over the resulting fields. Closeness to creation and the creator. Abel, at 3¾ years has found it at Forest School: he spends a day a week in the woods with his nursery school, getting muddy and enjoying himself among the trees. We would wait forever for him to tell us what he gets up to, but my teachers’ magazine ‘Educate’ tells how children are equal partners in learning and can take over the leadership of such sessions, under the guidance of their teachers.

One teacher, Jen Hawkes, says, ‘It’s about shared experiences and making friendships. They build a bond in the forest that helps them in the classroom. We’ve had lots of children making friendships who have previously struggled with that – which is so important, especially for mental health.’ So what the children do is by no means all that they learn out of doors. They learn to trust each other.

Perhaps the Missionaries of Africa were prophetic in sending us schoolboys into the woods on half-holidays. There would be one or two at least in July; the priest-teachers were probably as sick of lessons as we were, and whatever we may have fancied they were up to in our absence, they no doubt had meetings to discuss our progress and all the routine matters that arise in any school. But we were free for the day. Note the seven pound jam tins, blackened from being used to cook a shared meal on the open fire to the left.  Glamping this was not!

Fifty-odd years after this photograph captured the moment, I am in touch with three of the lads shown. That says something for the bonds built in the forest and other parts of our shared life. Perhaps the Missionaries of Africa were prophetic!

MMB

 

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28 June: Bernadette and the Sacraments.

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Let’s continue talking about the Eucharist. I was reading about Saint Bernadette, the young girl who saw ‘la bonne Mère’ – the good mother – in the little grotto by the river in Lourdes, France, in 1858. This reflection  is not about those apparitions, nor the shrine that has grown up there, but about something we can take for granted: the opportunity to take a full part in the Eucharist, not just by being present at Mass but by receiving the Sacrament that unites us in Christ’s body and blood.

Bernadette grew up speaking the local dialect and playing a full part in the family’s economy, working as a shepherd, running errands for neighbours, to earn money to put bread on the table. She left school early to do so, and never learnt French which was the language of the catechism she had to absorb to be allowed to receive Communion. Yet in her heart she understood as well as anyone what the Eucharist meant. Eventually she was taken into a boarding school as a poor scholar, mastered French and received the Sacrament with joy.

Image result for streicher ugandaThis is Henri Streicher, a Missionary of Africa who became Bishop of Uganda from 1897 to 1933. He and his Anglican counterpart, Bishop Tucker – acting more as rivals than fellow workers, it has to be said – made it a priority to translate the Bible and catechisms into the local languages and to print these texts so that all could read them. They also made sure that there were basic schools in the villages where young and old could learn to read and write, which they were very keen to do.

During the 1980s, helped by an impetus from the UN Year of Disabled People in 1981, a great effort was made to make all aspects of Church life, including the Sacraments, available to disabled people. Away with ‘he cannot understand’, or ‘she’s innocent, she doesn’t need the Sacraments’. The Sacraments are for all.

New ways of presenting the Faith came into being. We looked more at the fellowship of believers, not just individual sin and salvation. L’Arche communities are one expression of this inclusive attitude.

The UN’s reflection on the year states:

A major lesson of the Year was that the image of persons with disabilities depends to an important extent on social attitudes; these were a major barrier to the realization of the goal of full participation and equality in society by persons with disabilities.

This was true in the Church as well. I know that more can and should be done, but let us rejoice that few people now will be refused the Sacraments on grounds of disability. We should make sure to welcome all, as Jesus did.

Saint Bernadette as a child, public domain, via Wikipedia

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May 14. What is Theology Saying? LI: Jesus did not compete with others.

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austinWhen we are aware that our meagre resources seem ill suited to the enormous responsibility of mission, we are not in an unfortunate situation, rather are we not best suited for what is being asked of us? Jesus had none of the attributes proper to power in his own day. He was not outstanding by his technical competence, he did not shine because of his education or cultural training. He did not try to present logical arguments, to compete with others engaged in similar processes.

Jesus walked around unarmed and defenceless, and that is how he wanted to be. He wanted to reach people at the level of common humanity, to be relevant to the lowliest. The fact that so many responded to him suggests his success. Unarmed, with nothing to defend allowed him complete openness to truth. But it is clear that to be at the complete service of truth involves weakness and vulnerability. This also reveals the real nature of sin. Without this pre-eminence of truth being shown to us such things as lying, manipulation and the like would remain hidden under various degrees of respectability: “It is better to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed” – John.11.50.The helplessness of the victim is all too apparent.

But without such vulnerability Jesus could not have spoken to the hearts of ordinary folk. If his words were undercut by fear and by respect for the “strong”, playing it safe, then his work and his preaching would have been no more than an aid to help people integrate into the prevailing culture. This would have been true even if he had preached rebellion, since rebellion is little more than the last step in trying to integrate people.

AMcC

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April 26: What became of the fish?

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This was Brocagh School in County Leitrim, close to the Irish border, in 1969. A year or so later the little 2 classroom schools would be all closed down and a new school built in Glenfarne village. The assistant teacher was leaving anyway to get married! So this is an historic photo graph! As seminarians (student priests) we went two and two to the little schools and gave the children an RE lesson each week.

It was Mrs McCormack who gave me a valuable lesson, thanks to Joe McHugh, down there in the front row. One week after Easter we had John’s story of the breakfast by the lake after the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter’s final declaration of faith; I felt the lesson went well. I had the ultimate visual aid close at hand in the lake: Lough MacNean.

The children drew some remarkable pictures, but Mrs McCormack drew my attention to Joe’s in particular: come here now, Joe, what’s this in the corner? – It’s Saint Peter’s lorry, Miss, come to carry away the fish. I’d missed the lorry completely; I’d not interpreted the shapes he’d drawn in 20th Century terms.

What she knew, but I did not, was that Joe’s family had recently acquired a lorry which was Joe’s pride and joy, so of course St Peter would have had his lorry ready to take the fish to market. The story made sense to Joe, and has always made more sense to me as a consequence; thank you Joe, wherever you are.

An earlier version of this true story appears in thepelicans.org.uk website, Gallery p356.

MMB

Here, for the record are names of the children as far as their neighbours could remember them. Back Row: ——, Paddy McManus, John McManus, Jimmy Peckanham, ?Junior McHugh, Sean McGivern, Sean Clancy, Thomas Kelly, Ann Keany, Bernadette Clancy; 2nd Row: ?Teacher —— Agnes O’Hara, —— Breege Campbell, Bernadette Kelly, Kitty Cullen, Lily Pechenham, Owen O’Hara, Marie O’Hara, ——, Ann Brady, Ann McHugh, Ann Kelly, ?Mrs McCormack; 3rd Row: Josephine Clancy, —— McPartlin, ——? Gerry Clancy, ———, ———,———, Veronica McHugh, Geraldine McGuire, ?Teresa Keany; Front Row: Bridget McManus, Noel McManus, Ann Kelly, ——, Joe McLoughlin, Joe McHugh, Hugo Clancy, Margaret McGuire, Damien McGuire, Rosaleen McLoughlin (Thanks to Olivia O’Dolan, Mary Brady-Timoney, her sisters Kathleen Brady- Keaney and Bridget Brady – Fitzpatrick; Ben McHugh and Clancy family

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31 March. Before the Cross XVI: Repenting of Sanctions

 

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Friar Chris writes to us from Zimbabwe, where he has been teaching. Thank you Chris, you have certainly had a fruitful time back in Africa! We are grateful for your sharing it with us and for inviting us to reflect on these issues. Agnellus’ Mirror is here for all manner of reflections!

When I was a teenager, I recall sanctions being imposed against the illegal continuation of a British colonial regime in Rhodesia. Struggles were taking place to replace that outdated structure and form a new nation, Zimbabwe, and by 1980 that had taken place. I also remember wondering how ordinary citizens can cope when many items which we consider to be essential are made unobtainable. When do sanctions become a big hammer used to crack a nut? How can anyone prevent them from becoming one more version of bullying?

This is a relevant question when the churches pass through a repeated catechetical exercise for newcomers to Christianity, which we call Lent. The danger is always the practice of frowning intensely about all the wrongdoings of the human race, but not seeing the changes of heart which need to be the true ‘penitence’ of a change of heart in ourselves. Letting go of our approval of strong arm tactics must often be an aspect of welcoming God’s peace and grace into our lives. Sanctions still exist in the southern African country of Zimbabwe, imposed not only by the United States, but also by the European Union. They seem to be a mode of coercion, not against a right-wing white-domination system, but against a mild version of socialism which happens to question the neo-conservative consumerist programmes favoured by the large market monopolies achieved by commercialist manufacturers. These are generally manufacturers who have done least to extricate the cultures of the world from environmentally-destructive practices.

I do not intend to compose an argument in favour of every governmental alliance built up technologically by the government of Zimbabwe. Geopolitics is an aspect of human circumstances which pervades news broadcasts but which mostly cannot be turned around by churches, even in their most valid calls for charity. Nevertheless, the current school student-led world-wide protests concerning the destruction of environments, which lament that we ignore paths that consider climate change, are genuine appeals for understanding grace and peace. Greater sensitivity to what makes sustainable community, not just sustainable industries, is a challenging and valid concern to introduce to our prayer lives.

In Zimbabwe at the beginning of 2019, a large increase in fuel prices was imposed, leading to rioting, six hundred arrests and a combination of woundings and deaths. With 90% unemployment, this added to an already existing awareness of shared vulnerability for great numbers of the country’s inhabitants. The effects of the sanctions only worsened the realities experienced by the most vulnerable. The cyclone which hit Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique in the middle of March brought flooding, with hundreds made homeless and a possible two hundred deaths. Lack of fuel has its further impact on limits to emergency services. I think for English readers, one factor which might capture the character of the problem is this: when there are raids or beatings, a call made to the police is likely to be met with a question, ‘when can you drive to the police station and pick up the police and bring them to the scene?’ That is an effect of crudely introduced sanctions, which seem to be an illegal measure for the sake of Western domination.

There are areas which feel these effects most, and others, especially for those with some kind of job, where an unimpressive but vaguely ‘normal’ level of daily existence continues to operate. Good numbers of Catholics continue to get to their nearest churches and celebrate the Eucharist as a community gift of solidarity. The teaching and training of young men to help the celebrations to be vibrant, kind, and compassionate continues to be taken on by a seminary and by a college in Harare which is nurturing members of several religious congregations. It takes time to acquire the kinds of perceptive insight and concern which make a genuine pastoral charism deepen and become evident. I have been spending three months teaching this group of young men, at Holy Trinity College.

The parish of the Nazareth House sisters next to the college has a strong lay commitment to developing genuine community gifts and relationships. The students are also involved in running prayer services and giving talks at a number of parishes, forming a network of Christians with shared convictions and sympathies. I try to explore connections between church history and theological developments, especially Vatican II, with them. One student asked me what the reasons are for the well-known decline of European Christianity. I explained it in terms of a lack of real understanding of community bonding and its qualities of transforming awareness. I said that those single diocesan priests who do have a sense of community are moved around with no respect for the needs and wishes of a local congregation. At the same time, where religious orders have been able, with slightly larger numbers, to create a good presence as a communal empowerment focus, they may not be known by believers living twenty miles away, so helping their good charism to spread to other areas will often not take place at all easily.

I have been staying with one of these student groups, the Franciscans, who are present now in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia as well as Zimbabwe. This group struggles to win new members, and has increased its ties of Franciscan commitment across the region since the late 1950s. I lived with the friars in the Zimbabwe custody residence, half an hour’s walk from the College.

The image of a carving of the crucified Christ that accompanies this article is in the small chapel of the friars’ residence. It comes from a centre for sculptures at Driefontein, some way outside Harare. We don’t know the name of the carver. I like the restrained honesty of the image. It speaks to me of the gift of Christ’s understanding of human hardship, of the human need for better interactions and interdependency. This is a thoughtful Christ, one who has clearly spent his life perceiving the pains and heartfelt longing of those to whom he brought forgiveness and hope. Although it seemed as though the hope was rejected by those who wanted to see him killed, I see in the face a possible mind, one which looked in love beyond the knee-jerk rejections and sanctions, which grew up like a wall to prevent his message. In his death he was open to the empowerment of his divine Father, the living God of all human aspirations for peace. There is no barrier to risen reality in this face, and no barrier to our risen realities in the gifts which come to us from the God, who heard his prayers, and who brings our prayers too into their realisation.

Chris Dyczek, OFM

Harare, March 2019.

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9 February: Creatures of illusion.

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An outsider would be forgiven for thinking that Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Set of writers and artists led charmed lives. Not so. If we are to believe Woolf herself, it was all a lie: a veneer of self-confidence, achieved by despising other people.
Life for both sexes—and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the pavement— is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to one self. By feeling that one has some innate superiority—it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney—for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination—over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the chief sources of his power.”
{from “A Room of One’s Own (Wisehouse Classics Edition)” by Virginia Woolf, available on Kindle}
Woolf, of course, lived at a time when ‘half the human race indeed’ in the West was gradually gaining what we now call human rights: the vote, schooling and higher education, owning and administering property and so on. Woolf was far better placed than most women to grasp these opportunities, but she seems to have felt, if not to have totally acknowledged, that she was to an extent living a lie. How else can we describe ‘the feeling that one has some innate superiority’ over others?
Her suicide could be construed as a rational response to the despair such a position masks; rational if you see no God, no created order to show that you are as a little child, to offer sustaining help. 
Let us pray for all who feel desperate:
Lead Kindly Light amid th’encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on,
MMB

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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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