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St-Margaret-Mary's

What does Caritas mean to you? How the award scheme for pupils is inspiring greatness

Previous Caritas winners and Caritas coordinators reflect on the award that inspires generations of Catholic to greatness.

Laura Seggie, Caritas winner 2012

Last month, I was asked back to my old high school to give a talk to the graduating students about my time as a pupil there.

I spoke about what I had learned, about the relationships I had developed, and about the Faith that I nurtured from school.

In truth, I didn’t feel old or experienced enough to be giving a talk like that to the Sixth Years, but as I started to prepare for the talk I realised there was an experience I had at high school which affected me profoundly in all these areas: my participation in the Caritas Award.

The award was introduced in 2011 as part of the legacy from the papal visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK in 2010.

I was privileged to receive this award in its first year, and—as I like to remind younger participants of the award—was part of the only year to receive it when Pope Benedict XVI was in office.

As an S6 student who was active in my parish’s life, I signed up straight away. At that time, I was only beginning to discover more about my Faith and I thought this was a new and exciting opportunity to grow in my Faith and grow closer to God.

I remember Caritas being centred around two different strands—Faith learning and reflecting, and Faith witnessing.

The Faith witnessing strand was the more practical element of Caritas, where pupils lived out the Faith through action and serving the community.

This element of Caritas is something that has remained with me through my life and career—it was this sense of duty toward serving others that inspired me to study politics, and to work particularly in policy.

It encouraged me to use my skills and talents to do what I could to give back to the community which in turn was giving back to God.

The Faith learning and reflection element of the Caritas also made a massive impact on me: in the process of the award, I deepened in knowledge of my Faith, and really benefited from praying and learning with other young Catholics.

Often young Catholics lack the encouragement or the space to really learn about their Faith—this space and encouragement to learn the Faith was one that proved to be so important to my own Faith development and as I grew to know the Faith more, I grew to love the Faith more.

I believe the award was instrumental in preparing me, as a young Catholic, for university. When I started university, there was no Catholic Society.

However, alongside some friends, we created a society and helped to form a small Catholic community on campus.

Having this small group of friends at university is something I really treasured, and it was their support that I relied upon when encountering the many secular obstacles a young Catholic student can often face.

I can confidently say that it was my experience of completing the award that spurred me on to help start the Catholic Society.

Caritas undoubtedly helped to strengthen my Faith, and gave me the courage to face the challenges that would be ahead. It instilled a Faith and a sense of community in me that I’ve not forgotten, and will continue to treasure.

The Caritas Award was a unique experience for me in school: it was unlike anything else in school in that it wasn’t just simply an academic award for my CV.

There was no qualification at the end and it didn’t require a past experience of academic excellence. What it required was Faith, hard work, and prayer.

It was a real blessing in my sixth year and I was lucky enough to share that experience with people who I still count as friends today.

The Caritas Award also has another special meaning in my life. Pope Benedict XVI was the first pope I really remembered growing up and his papacy has had the biggest influence on my own personal Faith journey.

While completing the Caritas Award, I remembered a quote of his that has resonated with me since: “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

After school, it’s so easy to get caught up in the secular world, and for our goals to be superficial. However, Caritas served as a reminder that we, as Catholics, are called to greatness.

This is something I’ve tried to bear in mind since completing the award.

I would really urge all Sixth Year students to contemplate undertaking Caritas. I know the award has really flourished and taken off since its beginnings in 2012, and I feel encouraged and heartened to see so many young people choosing to live out the Gospel and become witnesses to the Faith.

 

Amanda Connelly, Caritas winner 2013 

“Have you ever thought about doing teaching?” The Primary 4 teacher asked me this question as I finished a lesson to her class on SCIAF—part of my Caritas Award in Sixth Year at Taylor High School in Motherwell.

17-year-old Amanda, at that stage in her life, was admittedly rather unsure of what she wanted to do (more so than she might have cared to confess at the time).

A musical bookworm with an unconditional offer to study English Literature in my back pocket (or rather, in my email inbox), I set off for the North East of Scotland, armed with the wide-eyed, hopeful promise that only an undergraduate who has not known the pains of a dissertation could possess.

Four years of studying, one too many slices of burnt toast topped with baked beans, a mortarboard tossed in the air, and a one-way train ticket back to Glasgow later, I found myself working in journalism—particularly here at the Scottish Catholic Observer. But for all I love to write, there was a deep longing for a need to give more, to do more, to be more.

I knew I was creative, and I loved helping others. Growing up with a dyslexic brother, I was also passionate that we ‘Get it Right for Every Child’ in schools.

Meanwhile, an arts degree and media employment had helped me gain a greater understanding of different social issues, advance my communication skills and develop a deep love of language.

I found myself often revisiting that question posed to me several years previously, and could still clearly recall how much I had enjoyed teaching, and interacting with, the children in that class.

The sheer love I felt teaching that one lesson years ago, standing up and helping the pupils to grow in their understanding of the charity’s work and hearing their own contributions to the lesson, had never quite left.

I realised then that chasing that love would be what gave my life the greatest sense of fulfilment, and would help me to make a difference to others in the ways I knew best.

That was in the summer of 2017. A school year of work experience later, followed by nine intense but happy months of a PGDE in primary teaching, I received the news this month that I had qualified as a NQT (newly qualified teacher).

I will join the cohort of probationers embarking upon the incredible journey that is being a teacher in August of this year.

It’s definitely a somewhat surreal feeling to pass your final placement: joy in abundance at having completed your course (a jam-packed academic year, I’m sure many would agree!), yet a dull ache inside at having to leave your placement classes and school.

The positive classroom relationships you build with the children and staff while on your placement are all too real, and I strongly suspect that that will never not be a wrench I feel inside.

However, I am flooded with excitement at the thought of all the adventures still to come, and the knowledge that I’ll soon be able to do the job of which I have dreamed for real in just a few short weeks.

Amid the joy and excitement, I have found myself reflecting on my journey towards becoming a teacher, and indeed where it all began.

It was through my own educational experience at Catholic school, and my undertaking of the Caritas Award, that has ultimately proved to be such an important influence in drawing me towards what I view as not just a career, but a vocation.

The hours of service that Caritas Award recipients must give to their school and parish communities were what offered me the opportunity to teach for the very first time, and indeed sparked somewhere inside of me a feeling of ‘at home-ness’ while in front of a class.

My PGDE year and time in and out of the classroom has demonstrated to me the demands of teaching, the undeniable joy and satisfaction to be found in helping to educate our future generation, and a completely renewed respect for the incredible job that our teachers do day in and day out.

For the Sixth Years of today, I couldn’t recommend the undertaking of the Caritas Award highly enough. In my own experience, it has proved itself to be an award that afforded me the opportunity to reflect more deeply on my own Faith and take a greater involvement in my school and parish communities.

Six years later, the experience and opportunities gained in my own completion of the award continue to leave a lasting impression on my life, having played some role in guiding me to where I am today: on the brink of embarking on a career as a teacher—one that I hope will continue to bring me joy for many years to come.

 

John Young, head of RE and Caritas coordinato for St Mungo’s Academy, Falkirk 

Caritas is an important thing socially. The pupils come together to discuss their Faith, their Faith backgrounds and non-faith backgrounds.

They discuss deep, meaningful issues for them to reflect on and see how scripture guides us. That’s one of the most important things about it—the opportunity for dialogue, opinion and seeing how their Faith has an impact on their lives.

It’s not just sitting and chatting about things though, it’s a chance for pupils to go out into their communities and give their service.

It creates opportunities for them to go into parishes and meet priests, parishioners, re-engage with their communities, even be welcomed back into parish community and build relationships.

There are numerous things that it does for them. It gives the chance to have that dialogue, to speak to their parish priests and reaffirm their values in Faith, to bring that back in school hours, so there’s a lot of different things that it does for the kids. It gives them a sense of purpose.

I think its absolutely complementary with looking at the Caritas encyclical by Pope Benedict and what he said about how that Faith aspect comes into their everyday lives.

Part of the award is taking little sections of that document, exploring it and going through it, giving them the opportunity to reflect on that, and keeping their Faith. It’s all about living their Faith through love—that’s the thing that I see through Caritas.

It gives pupils the chance to really talk about that openly.

 

Marie Marks, principal of RE and Caritas coordinator of Trinity High, Rutherglen

There are so many benefits to Caritas. One of the biggest is that children get involved with their Faith, and see that their Faith is more than just ticking a box.

It’s about going out and serving other people, showing them the love of God and recognising that you have God-given gifts and talents that can be used in serving other people.

It can also help pupils grow in their Faith. They start to revisit the elements that help them to grow and develop through their lives, and it prepares them in their journey as Catholic adults. It’s remarkable.

When you read some of their journal entries, you see a deepening in their Faith and you can understand that they’re not just saying that, they actually mean it and then their skills grow too, and they can recognise that they’ve got a place in the world.

It might not always be academic and it might not be, ‘I’m going to be a doctor or a lawyer’ but they know that everything they do, regardless, is something they can give to their community and to their parishes.

From the moment that students say they’re thinking of going for the Caritas Award it helps them to bring Faith alive within the whole school community.

From their involvement with P7 visits, all the way through to prayer and liturgy, praying for the departed, helping to do fundraising, it helps take the values and virtues of the Catholic Faith and brings it alive and makes them more aware of what a Catholic school stands for.

 

Heather McKillop, RE teacher and Caritas coordinator, Trinity High, Renfrew

Our pupils always get really involved. There’s always lots for them to do. They are always volunteering in the school and in the community, so for us Caritas is very much them getting recognised for the work they’re already doing.

We’ve got very close links with Paisley Diocese, so it’s allowed a lot of our young people who maybe haven’t quite thought about their Faith or how they’re going to take it forward once they leave school to then start thinking how they may implement it in their lives.

Also, there’s quite a lot of high profile events that take place in Paisley Diocese. For instance, we’re already planning for the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux coming and we’ve been able to involve the kids in that and give them experiences that, probably, they’d never have had. It really opens up the relm of possibilities for them.

 

Joseph Sikora, principal teacher of RE and Caritas coordinator, St Joseph’s Academy, Kilmarnock

Running Caritas can be a quite time consuming effort for staff and pupils alike but I think this just serves to highlight the level of commitment both staff and students have to what we consider vitally important work in the school, the local parishes and local community.

Overall I would say it is a rewarding experience for staff but very often you don’t quite see it until the pupils commit their thoughts to paper or whatever in their final reflective report.

It’s then that you can see how far they have come and what the various experiences mean to them.

It benefits the pupils in all sorts of ways. It deepens their knowledge of the Faith and its teaching about caritas.

It develops a whole range of skills in them and as a result boosts their self-confidence and belief. It gives them opportunities that they would not otherwise have had.

Allows them the chance to lead as well as to learn. I know for a fact that it has had a long lasting impact on those who have gone through the programme in previous years.

For those who have an active Faith life it definitely deepens and enriches it. For those who have perhaps let their Faith and practice slip, it allows them a chance to renew and re-energise their Faith.

For those of no Faith it gives them the chance to engage in a thoughtful way with the message of Jesus, the values of the gospel and the teaching of Pope Benedict.

In so far as it actively engages the pupils in activities that reflect the school’s ethos.

When pupils engage in liturgies, retreats and works of service and charity, it sends out a powerful message that goes far beyond the school and into the wider community.

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