Student Social Justice Day: Love thy Neighbour

Tuesday 6 June 2017

Adrian Agpasa, Office for Justice and Peace and The Benenson Society

Over 100 representatives from 21 schools have come together from across the Archdiocese (some from as far away as Camperdown!) to Australian Catholic University, Fitzroy for the Office for Justice and Peace’s annual Student Social Justice Day. The students attending were all chosen by their schools because they are school leaders or have shown a particular interest in taking a bigger role in social justice in their schools.

The theme of the day was ‘Love thy Neighbour’, inspired by Caritas’ Project Compassion theme, and the hope is that every student will have been inspired by the day to go back to their schools and implement practical ways to fight for social justice for their neighbour, here at home and overseas.

The morning began with Michael Walter from the St Vincent De Paul Society, who gave a thought-provoking and engaging presentation. Drawing upon his life including his overseas experiences, he brought the four permanent principles of Catholic Social Teaching (Imago Dei – Dignity of the Human Person, the Common Good, Subsidiarity and Solidarity) to life.

He exhorted the students to be challenged by those around them, to be courageous and persistent in creating a better world and understand the importance of having time to recharge oneself.

The students, showing their school experiences and pre-existing knowledge of social justice issues, were articulate and eloquent in answering Michael’s questions throughout the presentation.

In the afternoon, eight different organisations held workshops. These were the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH), the St. Vincent De Paul Society, The Benenson Society, Caritas Australia, Catholic Mission, CatholicCare, Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria and Young Christian Students. ACU’s NET Team and others from different Archdiocesan agencies came to lend organisational support.

These organisations highlighted the injustices that different people face – from those at home suffering homelessness and the journey to justice our First Australians still have to make, to the many prisoners of conscience overseas facing torture for speaking out against the ruling government of the day.

Even for these students who already have an interest in and passion for social justice, the workshops were still an eye-opening experience. Matthew from Aquinas College said, 'I was particularly confronted by the alarming statistics regarding human trafficking, presented by ACRATH, who do amazing work, raising awareness and taking action.'

Even the hour for lunch was an example of Catholic Social Teaching in action. The food was provided by ASRC Catering who provide jobs and training for asylum seekers so they can stand on both feet.
After hearing the weighty statistics and gloomy facts from the workshops, light-heartedness and solidarity were provided in the form of some lively African drumming. All the students took part and even the teachers had a go!

Students visited the Mary Glowrey Museum, above Central Hall at ACU, on its first day of operation. The exhibition express Sr Mary Glowrey’s life and how her vocation as a doctor in India showed a love for the poor and the protection of the dignity of every human person she encountered, which is at the heart of living a Christ-like life in the world.

At the end of the day, the schools came together at Central Hall to turn what they have learnt into practicable activities they can achieve in their schools. Inspired by a few words from Sr Margaret Fyfe from Caritas, with campaigns like Caritas’ Climate Petition and The Benenson Society’s Human Rights Challenge being promoted around the hall and the principles of Catholic Social Teaching fresh in their brains, the teachers and students brainstormed many ideas.

As they went back home, teachers and students alike were still discussing different ways to support and advocate for those who need justice. With those seeds planted, we suggest you keep your eyes peeled in the coming months, in newspapers, school newsletters and around the community, because passionate Catholic students are out there performing great works of love and justice.

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