The Best Present

Andrew-Bishop-croppedBy Andrew Bishop, Accounting Teacher, Deputy Principal at De La Salle Holy Cross College, Johannesburg; Région Lasallienne Africano-Malgache Communauté (RELAF)

Bishop was sent to Rome following a phone call from a Brother who has been a mentor over the past four years, “Although you are not quite ‘youth,’ you are Lasallian Youth.”

Packed bags and taking the hope of our youth, looking forward to bringing back tangible process to grow our Lasallian Youth and keep them filled with hope. It took 28 hours door to door, via Dubai. A customs check at Rome left two officials with a nice pack of South African biltong. Apparently smiling and being polite is suspicious behaviour…

I was met by Br. Joseph, who immediately puts one at ease, and creates a sense of welcome, calmness, and excitement about my time in Rome on this symposium.

Day 1 involved purchasing adapters for laptops, orientating myself, and reading the prescribed materials – I also think the locals have mistaken me for Jon Bon Jovi – they keep asking me “Bon Jo? No?!” The evening exploration of the house was a peaceful experience, taking in all the amazing quiet spots and reflecting on the vast amount of worldwide organisation that takes place here.

Arriving a day early allowed me they amazing opportunity to see Rome, doing the Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour, amalgamated with the “I forgot to look at landmarks so got lost” walking tour, I saw the sights. The Steps, Fountains, and Coliseum were all historically interesting, but St. Peters Square was mind-blowing. As a Catholic, this had a significant impact.

The writer Spencer Johnson said “The best present is the present.” I would go one step further and say, “The best present is the present in the presence of God” – the opportunity to be part of something that can change the world, by changing the life and future of our youth.

The following day a group of eight delegates attended mass at St. Peters, probably the best way one could prepare for this symposium. This was followed up by standing in the square with thousands of people listening Pope Francis.

Almost two weeks away from my family will be the hardest part of attending the symposium, watching your five-year old kiss the skype computer good night is tough – but I came across the following: “There is no cross that you will bear, that God will not give you the strength to carry it.”

I work with an infectiously inspirational young woman, who is well-known in the Lasallian Youth community. Leanne kindly spent time with me prior to this journey to help me prepare. I was soon to learn how one can remain so motivated and enthusiastic when you realise that you are part of a global family, filled with energised young people.

I guess I came looking for the answers, the solutions to the challenges that we face in our school and in our country. I had hoped that those from other Regions would be able to tell me how they got everything right. I felt comforted in the fact that no one gets it 100% right. Everyone has challenges, and while they appear to be different, they are in reality the same. It is only the culture of the geographic location that is different. This best said by Br. Tom, “Local reality, global identity.”

I was humbled when Br. Álvaro started the day explaining how this symposium came about. That in 2002 Pope John Paul II said we need new builders of our future and in 2013 Pope Francis said the youth need to have HOPE. Over-whelmed and honoured to be part of this responsibility.

The symposium is still in the beginning, we are being briefed on the three themes. I am looking forward to the opportunity to workshop one of these later on. The long days are spent enjoying the company of fellow Lasallians and being filled with ideas on how we can build hope in our youth.

The South African challenges that I hope to have some solutions to are:

  1. Globally: Being geographically far away from other institutions, our two schools struggle to understand how big our global family is. It is expensive to connect to others. The hope is to build a bridge, use technology for a positive, across the continents to help create awareness in our pupils and staff of how significant we need to be. That we are part of a worldwide organisation that needs to build hope in our youth in the ministry of our founder.
  1. Locally: Within our schools we have staff and pupils who think “Lasallian” is confined to the Lasallian Youth Group. Some feel that they are there just to teach or just to learn. The hope is to build an understanding that if you are at a Lasallian school, more is expected of you, by your association, you are Lasallian and thus need to uphold the values and mission of our family.

More than teaching our kids about Mathematics, Languages, and the Sciences, we have to carry out our ministry as a teacher to provide a Human and Christian Education. No one is exempt from that!

More than coming to a school that has a good academic and co-curricular track record, we have to live as a Lasallian, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I sit in awe, in every session soaking up the knowledge and experiences of my fellow Lasallians and pray for the ability to share this experience at home so that it can have a significant impact on our community and beyond…

Quote of the symposium: “A dream, dreamt on its own will remain a dream.  A dream, dreamt together – will become a reality.”

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