Closing of the Inaugural Congress of Edmund Rice Education Beyond Borders
What an amazing time we have spent together.
I am so proud of you. Well done good and faithful servants of Jesus and Edmund!
Your trust, your goodwill, your hard work, your sense of collegiality and your sense of fun have been extraordinary. The wonderful success of this gathering is not only due to the magnificent organisation that will be rightfully acknowledged, but also due in a huge way to the manner in which each of you has entered fully into every aspect of our time together.
Do not doubt that what has been done at this gathering and the relationships that have been formed will change lives for ever. Not only will your lives be changed through your participation in this gathering, but so will the lives of thousands of young people throughout the world who will benefit from the commitment, wisdom and compassion that you have brought to bear on our deliberations and shared commitments.
Never once over these days did you deviate from our core task of articulating and enfleshing a vision of education based on liberation and in the spirit of ‘Nomoskar’. Even the most impressive expression of vision can remain words on a page if not brought to life by the commitment, passion and energy of people such as yourselves. Yes, even the best Indian curries will fail if the ingredients aren’t added with love and imagination!
The respect that you have shown for the beautiful culture into which you have been welcomed is a credit to you, your families and the communities whom you represent. I have marvelled in the spirit of community that you have developed in such a short time together. We will all struggle with our loss when we leave today.
Friends, we have all enjoyed our experience of coming together as an international community at this Congress. It is important that we do gather from time to time and it is always a source of great energy and joy.
However, I feel that most of the work of Edmund Rice Education Beyond Borders will happen in our local contexts. We cannot depend on our international gatherings to be the only way in which we celebrate our new global identity. These gatherings are wonderful but they are both expensive and potentially exclusive.
It is important that we remain committed to building up our local networks; local chapters of Edmund Rice Beyond Borders and deepening our linkages with schools in other parts of the world; our twinning and tripling. A committing to developing our priority areas. It is in these contexts that EREBB will mostly grow and flourish.
The only way we can betray the vision of EREBB is to become exclusive. We must always guard against EREBB becoming a playground for our first world cultures. If an activity is exclusive, let’s not do it.
And so, where to from here. As we return to our busy lives, to what do we commit as a result of our time in India?
May I suggest a few things:
Take the time to process your experience of India. This will take some time. Don’t worry if there are more questions than answers at this time. This is as it should be.
Some very special people who live not far from here. Several of you have met them. Just like you, they are teachers of mine. Like all good teachers they challenge me to think differently.
One is a lady who begs near the corner of Park Street. She is probably not as old as she looks, she has little hair left and what she has is twisted and matted and she always sits scantily dressed in more or less the same place. I have been walking past her on my evening walks for over 10 years now.
On the last night of each time I am here, I give her some money and wonder if I will ever see her again. I have never spoken to her, a smile is the limit of our interaction.
On the pavement across from the Lytton Hotel on Sudder St, live many families for whom home is a section of pavement and some plastic or tarpaulin lean to cover them. They sleep, cook, play and everything else on that piece of the street they call home. One family, a mother Pooja and her three children, has been living there for over 20 years.
Our immersion groups often buy some food or take the left overs from their dinner to some of these families.
Have my visits to Kolkata made a difference in the lives of these people? I’m not sure. Maybe yes, maybe no. Some money or food is surely welcomed when people live in these conditions; even if occasional and temporary.
Have my encounters with these people made a difference in my life? Absolutely! Don’t get me wrong, I am no Mother Teresa; I am as big a consumer as anyone! A true product of my culture. I am grateful though, that my encounters with these and others of similar circumstances, challenge me in some of my decisions and regular temptations to complain about my lot in life.
Perhaps the only sure way of me making a lasting difference in the lives of these people is my commitment to never forget them. To give them a place in my heart, take them with me into the way I live in Australia, the values I try to teach my kids, the way I do education and the way I see God.
Friends, at this gathering we have spoken often of the poor. If we do not stand with the poor and allow them to guide us, we betray the vision of Jesus who was a poor person and identified with those who were poor and at the margins of His world. To say that we believe that God loves the poor and wills their deliverance but do nothing to address poverty and exclusion can result in an empty faith indeed. Ours must not be an empty faith!
Dom Pedro Casadalinga from Brazil once said: ‘Without the poor there is no salvation, without the poor there is no Church, without the poor there is no Gospel.’ After what we have experienced in India and heard during this Congress, we must surely add that without our vision firmly focused on the plight of the poor, there is no authentic Catholic education.
So friends, on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of lives that you touch through your commitment to an education steeped in the priorities of our Gospel and inspired by the vision of Edmund Rice, I thank and congratulate you for the magnificent work you have accomplished. Celebrate your new global identity and spread the good news that Edmund Rice Education Beyond Borders is alive and vibrant; a global network of passionate people dedicated to education for liberation of the young and the creation of a better world.
My only regret at this gathering is that I have not had the honour of getting to spend more time with each of you individually.
I thank you for all you are and all you do for Catholic education in the Edmund Rice tradition and wish you all a safe journey back to your families and communities.
Nomoskar and God bless you all.