Catholic school student leaders have fired candid questions to Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP in an open yet respectful forum at St Mary’s Cathedral Hall on November 7.
The Archbishop of Sydney urged more than 200 newly-elected leaders from 49 systemic and congregational schools throughout the archdiocese to “cultivate the art of conversation” which is sorely needed today.
In his keynote address for the Archbishop of Sydney Student Leadership Forum organised by Sydney Catholic Schools he led the students to consider Mary, the mother of Christ, as a model of “genuine conversation and fruitful conversing”.
“She is curious, open-hearted, and wants answers,” he said, and converses with kings, disciples, angels, and with God.
In comparison, the same-sex marriage debate of recent months “has not been our community’s finest hour when it comes to respectful conversation”.
“There have been high emotions, empty slogans, and bullying such that many people are afraid to speak their minds, at least if their view is unfashionable in some places.”
He urged the students to “cultivate habits of deeply listening, pondering, speaking, and acting, hopefully in service of God and others”.
The students, who will enter either Year 12 or Year 10 in 2018, conducted small group discussions before asking the Archbishop questions about faith and the Church today.
Topics discussed included how to respond to the example of Mary as leaders of their school and wider communities; challenges they face in their schools and personal lives in living and supporting growth in Catholic identity and mission; and how the school and Church leaders can support student leaders in their roles.
Archbishop Fisher answered questions about direct and subtle persecution of Christians in Australia and elsewhere, the impact of child sex abuse scandals in the Church, what the Church can do for young people, and his own faith, among others.
About the sex abuse scandals he said that the bishops of Australia are “so sorry and deeply ashamed” about past failings. He outlined the Church’s response to date and committed to ongoing learning and change to ensure the safety of young people.
He encouraged them to continue to engage with him on their questions and ideas, and that by virtue of taking on leadership positions in their Catholic schools they were also assuming roles of leadership in the Catholic Church in Australia.
“You are leaders with me and beside me. Take back to your schools my confidence in you. Together we can build a better Church and a better world.”
He thanked the students for their enthusiasm, faith, and ideals, and at times “frank and confronting” input about the Catholic Church’s opportunities and challenges today.
Mark Smith, Sydney Catholic Schools Youth Mission Co-ordinator, told The Catholic Weekly that the forum, now in its third year is a “great opportunity for the students to think a bit deeper about their new roles”.
“It’s good for them to spend some time with the Archbishop, hear his vision for their leadership and see that he has such great confidence in them”. The students enjoyed meeting together with their counterparts from the Archdiocese’s other schools to share ideas and experiences.
“It’s good to engage with the other leaders and get ideas that we can take back and use in our own schools,” said Waverley College Captain Harley McGuiggan.
Dana Strbik, Committee Captain at St Ursula’s College, Kingsgrove, said she was newly energised to take on responsibilities in her school’s liturgies and social justice initiatives.
“I’m a total people person and I think minor acts of kindness can go such a long way.
“Our school’s motto is Serviam which means ‘I will serve’, and I’m extremely passionate about not only exhibiting service and stewardship but the need to live it in everyday life,” she said.
At the conclusion of the forum the Archbishop blessed the student leaders and presented them with candles for their schools in a ceremony in St Mary’s Cathedral, ending with the Angelus.