Students important for who they are: Vanier

By 
  • November 2, 2007
{mosimage}MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - In a world driven to distraction by hyper-competition, the challenge of the Catholic teacher is to help children discover that they are important for who they are, not what they’ve done. That was the message of Jean Vanier to a group of more than 1,900 educators who gathered here Oct. 26.

“That is your challenge — to reveal the face of the Man of the Beatitudes, who lived and died for them,” Vanier, founder of l’Arche, an international organization of residential communities for those who are severely disabled and others who want to live with them.

Vanier was speaking at the 12th annual Faith Meets Pedagogy conference. This year’s theme was “Celebrating the dignity and worth of each person,” a subject that Vanier expanded on by describing his own life of living with severely disabled adults.

“You cannot be human without being spiritual,” he said. “You cannot be spiritual without being human.”

The annual Faith Meets Pedagogy conference is organized by the Catholic Curriculum Coop., an organization of 17 school boards in southern and central Ontario devoted to helping Catholic educators deepen their own faith and bring it into all they do in the schools. It is the largest conference on Catholic education in Canada and drew participants from across Ontario and as far away as Alberta.

This year, the conference also featured a youth forum on Oct. 25, organized mainly by Greg Rogers of the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Vanier was the guest speaker for some 1,700 high school students from across Ontario and inspired them with his simple message of love for all, even the weakest members of society.

“How can we help young people to become human beings?” Vanier asked the teachers. He lamented that children are growing up in a society that emphasizes dog-eat-dog competition and individualism.

“Competition turns out a few winners, many losers and many more victims. When you have a competitive society, it becomes a society of anxiety and anguish, because many have lost.”

He urged the teachers to not become addicted to modern technological means of communications, but to reach out to each student as individual human beings who need face-to-face care.

“I see the complexity of something that looks like communication, but is not,” he said in reference to today’s instant communications through the Internet.

Besides the keynote address by Vanier, the conference also featured a talk by Fr. Tony Ricard, a priest from New Orleans whose two parishes were severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. There were also many workshops on different aspects of teaching.

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