Violence and schools – there is just no way these two things should go together.
Nurturing ‘apostles of hope’ and peacemakers of the future
Schools are places of promise, filled with young people engaged in learning, preparing for their futures, making friends and enjoying what should be the safe and carefree time of youth.
But every day, across the nation, there is some incidence of school violence, whether it is a glaring tragedy like a campus shooter, or a student crushed by cruelty or indifference.
Because the federal government does not track school shootings, The Washington Post has been compiling statistics that show there have been 380 school shootings since 1999. That means more than 352,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.
Why, in the name of God?
Well, that could be part of the problem. God has been struck from the hearts and minds of many people. And when we lose sight of God, we may lose sight of what is most important – the value and dignity of human life and the transforming power of love, especially God’s love.
What does that mean to the ordinary teen struggling to make sense of their own world and their own challenges?
Even our popes know that young people are the world’s best hope for an era of peace and justice, a time when violence in our schools and our world becomes a thing of the past.
When St. John Paul II spoke to millions of youth who had come to be with him in Rome for one of the World Youth Days, he referred to the youth as “apostles of hope.”
The Holy Father told them, “Today you have come together to declare that in the new century you will not let yourselves be made into tools of violence and destruction, you will defend peace … You will defend life at every moment of its development, you will strive withal your strength to make this earth ever more livable for all people…”
After the shootings at Columbine, an archbishop wrote, “God created us to witness His love to each other, and we draw our life from the friendship, the mercy and the kindness we offer to others in pain. The young Columbine students I listened to, spoke individually, one by one, of the need to be strong, to keep alive hope in the future, and to turn away from violence.”
Turn away from violence.
Jesus said it, too. “Blessed are the peacemakers … “
Each one of us is called to be a peacemaker, whether in schools or in families or in institutions, and we do that through one thing – love.
And when we love, we listen to other people’s pain, to other people’s fears.
We let them know we care when we take the time to listen. And everyone needs to know they are cared for.
Is this too big a job, too monumental a responsibility for youth?
Dorothy Day didn’t think so. She was a convert to Catholicism, a pacifist and founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Today she is on her way to sainthood.
We should all remember her words: “Young people say, ‘What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time, we can be responsible only for the one action in the present moment.
“But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes.”
Today there are more than 43 million teens and young people in the United States. Imagine what just one act of kindness or action against violence from each of them would have on the world.
We must ask ourselves, “What is our role in nurturing that kindness in our youth?”
Mary Clifford Morrell serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Catholic Spirit, Diocese of Metuchen, N.J.