Reflections

Students’ Social Justice Day
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Students’ Social Justice Day

Thursday 7 June 2018

Adrian Agpasa, Office for Justice and Peace and The Benenson Society
 
How does someone leave their mark on history? How can students best follow Jesus and his Church’s Social Teachings in solving injustice in their communities? These were the questions that over 130 secondary school students and staff from 26 schools across the Archdiocese of Melbourne explored as they came together for the annual Students’ Social Justice Day on Monday 28 May 2018 at the Australian Catholic University.

The day was organised by the Justice Education in Catholic Schools (JECS) Committee of the Office for Justice and Peace. The day’s theme, ‘Leave your mark on history,’ was taken from Pope Francis’ World Youth Day Vigil address at World Youth Day Krakow, and this address forms the basis of the Year of Youth.
 
 
The participants began the morning by opening a ‘gift’ of 25 pairs of broken, worn down and unwearable shoes that were recently donated to a nearby Vinnies op shop.

They were asked, ‘Would you wear these shoes or even give them to someone who you have respect for?’ Students learnt that many people would donate shoes and other goods in a horrible condition without reflecting on the fact that they are asking their fellow human beings in need to wear it. It was a lesson in ineffective charity versus true justice and an example of how people could ignore the human dignity of those they were trying to help. The students also learnt examples of how Caritas and St. Vincent De Paul Society honour the human dignity of those they serve. Those gathered were exhorted to think in this light when they commit to social justice actions. 

Throughout the day, the power of one individual, or a small group of committed people, in striving for justice in the world was highlighted. William Cooper, the Indigenous leader who protested against the persecution of Jewish people in Nazi Germany, Sr Dr Mary Glowrey, the Victorian and accomplished religious sister and medical doctor who spent most of her life using her skills and gifts to serve the poor in India and Blessed Frederick Ozanam, who founded the St. Vincent De Paul Society at the age of 20, were just some of those examples of inspiring people in history that these students could emulate.
 
 
The students were divided into workshops and learnt about the works of nine different justice organisations – Caritas, St Vincent De Paul Society, CatholicCare, Catholic Mission, Australian Catholic Religious Against Human Trafficking (ACRATH), Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, The Benenson Society, Young Christian Workers and Young Christian Students.
Of course, the Student Day could not be complete without the staff and students taking part in an enjoyable African drumming session with Foday Camara. It was an example of solidarity, as they had to work together to produce a beautiful sound.

Then, the students reflected on what they have learnt through the prism of the four principles of Catholic Social Teaching – (Imago Dei – Dignity of the Human Person, the Common Good, Subsidiarity and Solidarity). As the day drew to a close, the students and staff committed themselves to bring about Catholic Social Teaching in their schools through a variety of actions to bring the Gospel and true justice to life.

Photo Credit: Ashoka Peiris
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