On Friday 16th June, the feast of the Sacred Heart, more than 200 schoolchildren and their teachers gathered at Westminster Cathedral for a festival celebrating the social action they had undertaken as part of programmes created by Caritas Westminster.
The eleven primary, one junior and two secondary schools had all taken part in Caritas Ambassadors, which leads children through the themes of Catholic Social Teaching, or Imagining Futures, which asks them to creatively imagine what the world and their local community could be like in ten years’ time. Both programmes culminate in the pupils developing their own project to have an impact in their community.
The event was introduced by Cardinal Vincent Nichols and continued with a liturgy during which a selection of schools presented information about the projects they had undertaken, and all schools received certificates from Bishop Paul McAleenan, chair of Caritas Westminster.
Remarking on the fact that the festival took place on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Bishop Paul reminded the children of “the immense love of Jesus which was so great that he was willing to die.” He continued: “our acts of love have a very big effect, they help so many people, they remind many people of God’s love for them, and at the same time they unite us to Jesus who gives us the strength to do his work. So I thank you and your school for all you do in being disciples of Jesus and building a world where everyone can rejoice.”
The variety of projects, all inspired by Catholic Social Teaching, ranged from litter-picking, outreach to older people, supporting foodbanks and homeless projects, to creating an allotment and working to reduce plastics.
Children and teachers alike enjoyed the chance to celebrate their achievements, and to see what other schools in the diocese had been doing.
Mrs Emma Neville from St Michael’s in Ashford said: “The Caritas Schools Festival was a wonderful celebration of all the hard work and learning the children have done around Catholic Social Teaching. They thoroughly enjoyed sharing their work and listening to the other schools’ projects. They were very proud of their efforts”
Her pupils agreed: Stanley told us “It was amazing to visit the Cathedral to celebrate our Imagining Futures and Catholic Social Teaching work. I really enjoyed it,” while his classmate Ailish added: “The liturgy was really special; I loved the songs. It was great to meet the other schools and hear about their projects. We were honoured to be asked to read at such a special occasion.”
During the liturgy two pupils from St John XXIII in White City led the congregation in remembering all those who had died and been impacted by the fire at Grenfell Tower six years ago this month. They explained:
“This event was witnessed by the world from afar but for us at school it was a scene much closer to home. The people affected were those that have some of the least in our community and yet still lost everything… God created us as one and calls us to support our brothers and sisters. We often share our joys with our friends and family, our successes with those close to us but as Catholics we must also strive to share the pain of the stranger and display the love that God has for us all each day.”
Their Assistant Headteacher, Mr Tom Booth, told us how much the children enjoyed being in the Cathedral, and that they’re now looking forward to putting their certificate up in school.
Sr Silvana Dallanegra, Caritas Westminster’s Lead for Catholic Social Teaching, who organised the festival, said: “As this was our first-ever Festival, organising it was quite a challenge – although I was bolstered by support from team-mates – and I really couldn’t imagine doing it again next year. But then, once the event was in full swing, when I could see the enthusiasm, delight and pride on the children’s faces – and their teachers’, too – and hear them talking so clearly and with passion about everything they had learned and put into action… All the hard work proved more than worthwhile, and along with others, I’m now thinking ‘Can we do this again next year…?’ “
Caritas Westminster’s programmes for schools have been praised for the way they involve children in actively learning about the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
Mr Booth has described the materials for Caritas Ambassadors as “fantastic! They were very usable, clear and extremely interactive, allowing the children to create their own conversation”. He says that after going through this programme “the children in our school are aware of what social justice means, and they don’t see it as something set in stone. They will challenge injustices and will do something to make their local area a better place.”
Together with the Diocesan Education Service, Caritas Westminster has produced a full religious education resource for primary schools, called Rooted In Love, which addresses the Catholic Social Teaching themes required by the new curriculum.
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