WelCom November 2017: On Wednesday 27 September a group of Sacred Heart College and St Mary’s College girls spent a day at the Jewish Community Centre in Webb St, Wellington, to learn more about New Zealand’s growing religious diversity and the charity ethic in a selection of religions.
The visit was between the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Professor Paul Morris gave a succinct account to the spiritual meaning of this time for Jews. Later in the morning the Rabbi played the shofar in the synagogue for the students. Professor Morris also gave a clear outline of the radical changes in the religious landscape of New Zealand over recent decades.
Dr Pushpa Wood gave an excellent introduction to the interfaith movement in New Zealand and deepened the girls understanding of Hinduism. They were fascinated with her anecdotes about bringing up her daughter in a mixed religion family. Dr Eva Nisa spoke about the deeper significance of Zakat and answered the girls’ questions on Islam in general. Suzanne O’Rourke, the Mission Animator for the Sisters of Compassion, gave wonderful insights into the venerable Suzanne Aubert’s legacy and the sisters’ continued work.
The year-12 students had some challenging sessions about what leadership required. One student said, ‘The leadership section was what brought the different schools together and by the end of the day we had all made new friendships.’ Another said, ‘It definitely made me want to learn more and explore more about world religions, and to share what we had learnt with the girls back at school. We should be giving to all people in need without distinguishing.’
Megan Meulenbroeks, Religious and Social Studies teacher at St Mary’s College said that the Diversity Day was a great opportunity for year 12s who demonstrate leadership potential to come together and work with others on the issue of diversity.
‘The day offered the students great exposure to information on a range of beliefs through personal encounters. The openness of the speakers who volunteered their time encouraged the students to ask questions and explore the diverse beliefs shared,’ she said.
We hope this will be an annual event that grows across state and integrated colleges. From a Catholic perspective it is incumbent on us, particularly since Nostrae Aetate, to explore what is ‘true and holy’ in all religions. Indeed, two of the NCEA Religious Studies Achievement Standards, popular in state and integrated colleges, require students to reflect on ultimate questions about world religions.
John Chote is HOD Religious Education, Sacred Heart College, Lower Hutt.