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Catholic Connections

By Derrick Kunz


Staff and students encouraged to live Year of Mercy


Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS), along with all Catholic school divisions in our province, is about to celebrate Catholic Education Week, May 1-7, and World Catholic Education Day on Ascension Thursday, May 5. Each day is given a theme related to the Year of Mercy. Here are short examples of how students and staff are living the five themes — and our mission to be rooted in our faith, grow in knowledge, and reach out to transform the world.

Mercy that welcomes

It’s a familiar image: a lonely student sits on a playground bench. Alone, hurting, hoping.

Staff and students at St. Mark School turned that image on its head by introducing a buddy bench, a colourfully decorated bench on which a student can sit when s/he needs a friend.

Amber Bloom, an intern who helped with the project, said, “The success of the buddy bench is as dependent on the kindness of the entire school as it is dependent on the bravery of students who will use it to ask for help. It’s not simply a tool for students who are struggling to find friendship at recess time, but an opportunity for our students to share God’s love with one another.”

When the project was completed, Bloom said, “We hold our breath and say a prayer . . . it is not paint that makes a bench into a buddy bench, it is the spirit of those who use it.” The spirit of mercy that welcomes.

Mercy that loves

The silent reflection that usually accompanies the stations of the cross was replaced by shouts from an angry mob. Unconventional? Maybe. Effective at immersing one in the emotionally powerful events leading to Jesus’ ultimate act of love and mercy? Absolutely.

Grade 8 students at Mother Teresa School, led by teachers Robyn Ayers and Lisa Maier, put on three dramatic performances of the stations at the Cathedral of the Holy Family during Lent. In addition to the usual descriptions of each point along Jesus’ journey, a short reflection was offered, and students acted out the scene.

“There’s definitely a bit of an edge to it; it’s not a pretty story to tell,” Ayers said of the performance. “Students also wrote some of their own lines to make it more contemporary and relevant to them.”

“Jesus was pelted with words, bullied really, and students can connect with that,” Maier added. “Telling the story this way makes (God’s love) more real.”

Mercy that forgives

Perhaps the largest obstacle to mercy is forgiveness. It takes a great deal of humility to seek it, and even more to offer it. It often takes time, patience and perseverance. Prayer can help arouse the virtue necessary for forgiveness.

In October 2015, GSCS, in conjunction with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, conducted a Day of Prayer for Reconciliation and Healing in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations. Rev. Donald Bolan, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, called the day a good initial step to build upon.

Gordon Martell, GSCS superintendent of learning services, said, “The generation of students in our schools today will be the ones to characterize what reconciliation and healing looks like in the future. Having a prayerful focus gives hope.” Hope for mercy that forgives.

Mercy that lives the Gospel

Pick a saint. Any saint. How did they earn that title? By living the Gospel and changing the lives of those around them — sometimes in grand ways, sometimes in underwhelming modest ways.

We want all of our students to be saints, to reach out and transform the world. One tangible way is through the Pool Our Love partnership with the Friendship Inn.

Each Lent since 2010, students from participating schools donate specific food items that the inn needs most, filling a plastic swimming pool. Over 2,000 kilograms of food is collected each year.

“Students learn more about local poverty, hunger and social justice through special lesson plans that teachers use during classroom time,” said Darcie Lich, co-ordinator of religious education for the division. “Students can see the pool fill up, giving them a tangible reminder that they are making a difference in the lives of others.”

Mercy that rejoices

At a staff retreat, Rev. Mike Dechant, OMI, challenged participants to live joyfully as a eucharistic people. He explained that encounters with Christ and his mercy — particularly through the mass and the communal table of the eucharist — are meant to bring about “transformation of the heart” and leave us “emotionally relieved and spiritually strengthened.”

He later explained that biblical encounters of Jesus brought about profound change in people — they would leave the old behind and proceed with an overwhelming sense of joy, peace and purpose.

“Gospel literally means good news,” said Dechant. “And it’s good news for everyone. The Gospel of John says it all, ‘I have said these things so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete’ ” (Jn 15:11).

May you rejoice in God who is mercy.

Kunz is the communications consultant for Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools.