This week will be the last week of school for students in Years 11 and 12 (Headstart for 2019). It seems almost unreal that 2018 is about to finish.
As I begin to pen these few lines, I am conscious that this is my last message to the College community. Having been directly involved with Catholic education for 50 years, in various positions and roles – from Teacher to Principal, from Governance to Business, from Chaplain to Mentor, in Australia and the Pacific, the time has come for me to pass on the responsibility to others. I will still be involved in the ministry for young people, but more in a spiritual and supportive role. I willingly pass on the role and office to Fr Greg Chambers from January 2019. I am sure you will all make him very welcome (or welcome back to his “alma mater”, where he has also been Principal and Rector).
I can tell you that in these 50 years I have seen some major changes to Catholic education in Australia – some for the better, but others with serious concern. Only today I received a “Report on Religious Freedom in the World” – and my concern has increased further!
Here are some alarming statistics from that Report:
- One in seven Christians lives in a country where there is persecution. More than 300 million Christians suffer persecution somewhere in the world…
- In 38 countries there is serious or extreme violation of religious liberty…
- While persecution of Christians occurs in 21 countries, discrimination occurs in another 17 countries.
- In short: 61% of the population of the world live in countries where religious liberty is not respected..
- This situation has been deteriorating for years, and there seems to be no change in sight…
The Report I refer to above also names the countries where persecution, discrimination and violation of religious liberty occurs!
Australia is not named. However, we know that religious liberty is one agenda topic that Governments and political parties are grappling with in Australia at present. And the next federal Government could well legislate to deprive “religious schools” of their right to employ staff and admit students according to the school’s ethos, values and traditions. What will happen then to Catholic education?
I don’t want to finish on a negative note. I still cherish the hope that “common sense” and respect for religious liberty will prevail. But parents who have chosen a Catholic school for the education of their children need to be alert and aware of this issue, and exercise their right to freedom of religion, and to choose the education that best responds to their expectations.
I conclude by thanking the Principal, the Staff, the parents and the students for their support, their patience, and their commitment. May God bless all our families during this Advent and Christmas season. Rest assured of my prayer for all the members of the College community.
Fr Frank Bertagnolli SDB