Following a successful Catholic Education Conference 2021, we are proud to present a five-part series based on Archbishop William Goh’s address at the conference. In part 5, we contemplate how to build supportive school communities which provide meaning and comfort for students, especially in their times of trial.
The mark of a Catholic school is whether it is a loving community, a community that embraces every human person. Those who are intellectually strong, those who are intellectually weak, those who are financially wealthy, those who are poor – every person is accepted, respected, regardless of race, language, religion. Every person is given the encouragement, that no students should ever give up hope on themselves.
A Catholic ambience means we will keep on encouraging the person – no-one is hopeless. It’s a place also where there is forgiveness. People make mistakes, we are learning, we are all growing, nobody is condemned, nobody is humiliated. We have to treat people gently, be compassionate.
Everybody has his or her dignity. If we need to correct someone, we correct them with gentleness, with firmness.
And also, because we are a Eucharistic community, we are called to share Christian values to make sure the community, the students, are growing in selfless service. Most of all, if they are ambitious – it’s good to be ambitious – but not for yourself, not for one’s glory, but for the growth and the good of the community.
So, this is what the Catholic ambience is all about, encouraging our young ones to help each other. You know, in many schools today, we have some of the students bullying each other – this is where we need to help them to be sensitive, because many are broken also, many are wounded, and this is where we are called to help them to build fraternity.
And what a greater way to celebrate, to help people encounter God, through the God experience: liturgy, prayer sessions, festivals – the Church has many feasts, because it is in the celebration of these feasts, that we come to encounter Jesus.
On founder’s days or patron saints’ days, these are all our heroes that we are called to imitate.
And so, I want to remind you all, be careful, don’t remove all references to the sacred in our schools and in your life, because without God, there will be a vacuum in the lives of our young people. Life is reduced to pleasure, success, but will they find meaning? Will they find purpose? Would they be happy? Will they live a life of fulfilment? That is the whole purpose of education.
Support and Meaning
Not so long ago, our minister Lawrence Wong in 2019, he said, “94 young people between the age of 10 to 29 committed suicide. Of these, 19 were aged between 10 and 18 years old.”
Today our students are very stressed. Two weeks ago, we had a professor from IMH – he was writing an article that, the only way to deal with a loss of faith and the will to live, is to help people to find faith.
He made it clear, those who are suffering from depression are less likely to commit suicide if they have religion, than those without, because those with religion, they have purpose and meaning in life, they have spiritual and emotional support.
We need to provide our young people with a strong Catholic school community and spiritual support, so that they will not feel alone. This is why, my dear brothers and sisters, we need to uphold Catholic schools’ values and our mission, to continue to help these young people to grow, to become great leaders for tomorrow.
Let us go back to basics, let us go back to our founders and learn from them how to bring the Gospel into the lives of our students and so prepare them to be leaders of tomorrow and, most of all, to be people who live life with purpose, meaning and fullness.
- Teachers – do you remind your students that, despite our performance-driven culture, there are more important things than grades, and ultimately success can come in many different ways? How do you care for your own mental and spiritual health?
- Students – how do you cope with the pressures of study? Are you aware of mental health and spiritual supports provided in school and the wider community? Whom can you talk to if you are going through difficulties?
- Parents – life can be stressful juggling work and family duties. How do you maintain your family’s mental and spiritual health? Are your children comfortable opening up to you about their struggles? Do you know where to seek help if you or your family members require more support?