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10---YOUNG-PEOPLE

Young people hunger for meaning, truth and love

Praying with a seven-year-old can restore your Faith in humanity, Fr Jamie McMorrin says, as he discusses school chaplaincy

Last Thursday, we welcomed the children from our local primary school to St Mary’s Cathedral to celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints.

Later that afternoon, when I asked the Primary One class what they remembered about the morning, I discovered that the unexpected highlight had been the sighting of a ‘skinny fox,’ spotted on the way to the church.

This prompted an enthusiastic torrent of fox-related anecdotes. My attempts to bring the conversation back to the topic of the saints were all in vain and I left the children with reassurances that the cathedral clergy would do our best to keep a closer eye on the welfare of the local wildlife.

The showbiz advice about never working with children or animals apparently doesn’t apply to the life of a priest.

Actually, I love being a school chaplain. Visits to the local primary school are one of the highlights of my week: the energy and enthusiasm of the children never fail to brighten my day, and I’m continually amazed by the intelligence of their answers and the profundity of their questions.

Prayer, so difficult for many of us adults, seems to come easily to them: if your confidence in humanity is in need of restoration, try praying with a seven-year-old. Hearing their confessions has the same effect: truly, to such as these does the Kingdom of God belong.

There are lighter moments, of course: skinny foxes aside, there was the girl who thought St Matthew had been a taxi-driver before his conversion (in her defence, neither taxis nor taxes have much relevance to an eight year-old) and the boy who asked me with pious seriousness if I would be willing to bless his ‘rosemary beads’ (the idea came, of course, from his grandmother).

Visits to high schools are a somewhat different experience. The same children who in primary school would run up to me in the playground to tell me their news would, as self-conscious first years, give only the slightest of acknowledgements of my existence as we passed in the corridor of the high school.

But high school chaplaincy, although certainly more difficult, is in many ways even more rewarding. Since moving parish, high school visits are no longer a regular part of my priestly life and I’ve been a little surprised to find how much I miss it.

Every Thursday, I was encouraged to find the school oratory full of young people who had chosen to begin the day by attending Mass, some pupils having arrived 15 minutes early to set everything up.

In classroom discussions, I was often edified by the students’ idealism and I was challenged by their no-nonsense probing of religious claims.

My experience was that the young people were open and respectful but that they were intolerant of hypocrisy and didn’t want to be patronised. I was struck, time and again, by their hunger for meaning, for truth and for love. It’s my job as a priest to show them that these deepest desires of human nature are not absurd but that their true fulfilment is found only in God, and in particular in friendship with Jesus Christ.

This year, marking the centenary of the Catholic Education Act, an icon was written depicting ‘Jesus the Teacher.’ It reminds us that the person of Jesus has to be at the heart of our Catholic schools. Jesus, in His wisdom, His patience and His love for each and every child is the perfect model for teachers, and also, surely, for school chaplains.

t’s my primary task, as a chaplain, to speak about Him, to point to Him and to bring people to Him.

This was the point made by my Archbishop at the recent synod on young people in Rome: he advised that the priest among young people must be, above all, ‘a disciple who knows his own Master with a personal love.’

The priest’s mission, which he shares with all of the Baptised, is to make the young people in our schools into fellow disciples of Jesus, by personally bringing them to the Lord.

This isn’t limited to the transmission of information, but is ultimately the sharing of a relationship: a relationship with a person who has changed my life, and in whom they too will find their own deepest happiness.

Being a school chaplain is great fun. But this, for me, is what it’s all really about. Those fox-obsessed Primary Ones I saw on Thursday have 13 years of Catholic education ahead of them.

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