During early December I found myself looking out towards Tasman Island off the coast of Tasmania. Beside me were two exceptional young men. One was a key leader within Orange Sky Laundry while the other was Campus Minister at one of our EREA schools. The story of Orange Sky Laundry inspires me. Founded by Lucas Patchett and Nicholas Marchesi, Orange Sky mobile laundries have spread throughout much of Australia. These communities serve the vulnerable people who call the streets of our cities home. People like Lucas and Nic don’t just "come out of the ether!" If you ever hear these two fine young men speak they constantly refer to the dignity of the homeless, to “our friends on the streets” and the words "presence" and "community" are often used. The principles and values that drive, inspire and motivate Lucas and Nic were learnt first in their family homes but were then grown, deepened and matured in an Edmund Rice school.
As a write this reflection, I find myself wearing a black T-Shirt with the words "ERA for Change: speak up" on the front and “Be the Change you want to see in the world” on the back! ERA for Change is a student driven, adult supported movement that invites our students to name social injustice within Australia and the world, to act and speak up about it. Regularly during the year, ERA for Change events bring together, both physically and virtually, EREA students from around Australia to name injustices within our society and to stand in solidarity with those who are the victims of structural injustice. As they participate in lantern parades or detention for detention, plant a "sea of hands" or sign petitions, they are saying, just as Edmund Rice did to the street children of Waterford, you are not alone! ERA for Change had its genesis in the dreaming of several staff members of EREA schools who found themselves moved by the Edmund Rice story and his liberating presence with the marginalised youth of his time.
One of the greatest things a person can do is to plant a seed that will one day grow to be a great tree that will give shade to people they have never known!
To work within the community that is Edmund Rice Education Australia is a great privilege full of possibility to empower, equip, invite and mission our young people to be the hands, feet and voice of love within a world so desperate for it. The Australian Catholic Bishops have identified 2018 as a national Year of Youth. The Year of Youth invites the Church into dialogue about the importance and life giving presence of young people in the Church and in society. Young people like those I have mentioned witness to this life giving presence and give us within EREA so much to be proud of.
The two great jewels of EREA are you, our staff, and the wonderful youth we walk with. Never doubt the influence for good that you have with the young people you engage with each day. We have all worked with inspirational people within our Edmund Rice communities. These inspirational people saw themselves as "ordinary" and just doing what gave their lives meaning. In our own way, each of us is one of them to some child!
The danger of any "year" as the "Year of Youth" is that it can quickly become a one-off media event, perhaps a wall poster and a tick and flick in the school calendar. So, as we here within EREA embrace this Year of Youth, perhaps it may be of value to draw a ten point compass
to guide our endeavours:
- Remember ultimately it will be WHO you are not what you are that will touch the lives of your students. Who have you become - are becoming? What is your heart about? Does your WHO invite and encourage the students to step out on their journey to become their best "who"?
- We go forward on the giants of the hearts who have gone before us. So recall the heart giants of your community and tell their stories often and with pride. Come to know the heart of the founding stories of your community and tell these stories in YOUR way and tell them often - by your actions and by your word.
- Do we do as Edmund did and constantly put someone else at the centre of your life? Be "other centred" and paradoxically you will experience an extraordinary inner freedom!
- The youth that you come into contact with do NOT need you to be perfect - but authentic and real.
- In the spirit of "The Little Prince" (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) know that it is all about relationships, about “the time you have wasted with your rose!”
- In the midst of a myriad of other voices, help each student to strive for their personal excellence - to march to their own drum - to be the BEST ME THEY CAN BE. As mentors of heart excellence, our role is not to give them their beat but to walk beside them and be present to them so that they will hear the drummer beat inside them!
- Find the courage to name and challenge any structure that robs those in your community of their dignity - remembering that no one is ever a number and that one of the most frequent references in Sacred Scripture is that “we are called by name!”
- Come as guest (humbly, freely and expectantly) this year to the sacred and noble stories that will fill your everyday and then choose, ever so gently, to be present. This presence will say to the other, “You are beautiful, you are special and you are wonderful - just as you are!”
- Remember "God is Love" (1 John 4: 7) and you are love’s hands and feet and smile and ears - what a privilege!
- When in doubt - share story!
Thank you for all that you do and are in Edmund Rice Education!
Br Damien Price
Coordinator of Developing Nations
Oceania Christian Brothers
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