Dear Learners! I greet you at the beginning of the new school-term. I greet also your communities, your parents, your teachers and all your peers who do not belong to our Church.
The friends of Jesus were called disciples which means actually learners. You are disciples in a very special way. You have the privilege to develop and unfold your talents, the gifts you received from God, in a special way when studying the many different subjects at school. Your teachers have the honourable and wonderful task to lead you in this process and to develop your potential in the best way. At school together you lay the foundation for your future.
Everybody knows that not all is that ideal and well at school. The recent school-book saga is only one indication for this. Some get very frustrated, others see no meaning in committing themselves properly at school.
I am proud of having you as the youth of our Diocese. Many of you I gave the sacrament of confirmation. At confirmation I express my joy that we have people with courage, people who can counsel, people with wisdom. I am happy when I see how quite a number succeeded already at school. They continue with further education. I am happy to see young people who contribute to the quality of life.
This is exactly what Jesus wanted: You can make a difference. It needs your commitment to your studies. It needs your commitment to your home-work. It needs your charity with your fellow learners who may have difficulties with learning and concentrating. Please assist the weaker learners. Don’t leave them alone. St Paul says that when he is weak he is strong. You can be strong when others are weak. Make use of this God given gift of support. All of you can do this: the young learners in primary school as well as those in secondary school.
Those who approach their final exams with matric are very close to my heart and prayer. You are challenged in a special way. Not only do you have to think and plan what to do afterwards. You have already to apply for bursaries and see to get support for further education or training. I wish that you make the right decisions.
I wish that you can be proud after the exam by saying I achieved it on my own, I did not cheat. You have to prepare for your examinations.
It applies to any learner but in a special way to you: You must make very good use of the gift of time by planning it. You must plan for study time at home. You must also plan for rest. Some say you should only sleep for 3 to 4 hours. Your body needs more sleep, rather 7-8 hours. After a good rest you will study much better. And don’t forget physical exercise. They help also to clear your mind.
I hear that some spread the myth that drugs help. I assure you they don’t. They bring you down instead. So please take care of your body. After all it is the Temple of the Holy Spirit and it needs proper care. Such care happens also through good nutrition. Especially fish is good for your brains; some school feeding schemes include it deliberately.
I hope that your parents take interest in your progress at school and are supportive. They can monitor your school work, visit the school and talk about your performance. They may give you extra time at home while preparing for exams; instead of doing the usual homework such as dishes they may release you for your studies.
Please take care of one another. As fellow learner you are much more aware of changes in the behaviour of your peers as teachers may be. Observe one another. Some may get depressed and suicidal. If you think that one of your peers is in trouble try to get assistance for instance through a social worker.
Some learners are perhaps not bad but cruel for some reason. They bully peers and incite others to do so. Maybe someone has special features, an impediment in speech or looks different: I am proud of all who resist the temptation to howl with the wolves and show solidarity and support for such beleaguered fellows.
I know from some schools who offer extra learning time in the afternoons. This is a laudable initiative. Make use of it.
A word for those of you who are on the School Governing Bodies: Please use your position to contribute to the positive development of your school. This applies also to parents who serve on the SGB. As Diocese we offer sometimes workshops for the SGBs of our schools. Make use of these and other formation events. It helps to become more effective and efficient.
One thing is sure: We need you. We need young people wit a good character. We need young people with a good education. You need a good education.
The pass-rates are still cause for concern. As Christians we can make a difference! If all of us take our responsibility, learners, parents, teachers and communities, things can turn out much better than they did previously. What we need is mutual respect, attending to the needs (not just the wants) of the others.
And so I wish you all well, those who will write matric and all other learners. I ask our communities to support you with their prayer and in other ways. The PFCs may for instance consider holding a service of blessing.
One of our Saints who was very much committed to formation, St Ignatius, said: “pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.” So I pray to the Lord that he may grant you serenity and strength, perseverance and vigilance, joy and unwavering hope so that you can make best use of your gifts.
May God bless you all, + the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Bishop of Aliwal