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16 March 2021

Principal’s Message: Harmony Week at Blackfriars

Dear members of our Blackfriars community, This week we celebrate Harmony Week across Australia…

Dear members of our Blackfriars community,

This week we celebrate Harmony Week across Australia with national activities concluding with the United Nations (UN) International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which is observed on 21 March of each year (this coming Sunday).  

As I reflect on the meaning and purpose of this week, I am saddened by how our national scene appears to be revealing anything but universal harmony nor any commitment to Harmony and the elimination of racial discrimination from many people in our society.  A few examples for you to contemplate…

First, there has been a continuation of unacceptably higher levels of incarceration of Indigenous Australians in jail and Indigenous deaths in custody. Furthermore, there have been regular racist attacks made on individual public figures, including recent on-line trolling of Reds player Kusini Yengi who prominently contributed to Adelaide United’s victory over Melbourne Victory (Saturday 13 March). Chinese Australians have also reported high rates of racial abuse over the last year due to the origins of COVID-19 and the current political position between Canberra and Beijing regarding free trade agreements.

Second, we are rightly focused on all forms of domestic violence.  Statistics tell us that one woman will be killed every nine days and one man will be killed every 29 days by a current or former partner (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).  The Advertiser reported on 15 March that one in ten women feel controlled or manipulated by the partner in their relationship. These statistics highlight the fact that abuse and violence against women, presenting in many guises continues to perpetuate in Australian society. This has been very topical in recent weeks with increasing reports of abuse and workplace sexual discrimination and harassment suffered by women in the workplace, including the Commonwealth Government.

As a globally developed society we are also well behind the internationally accepted targets in reaching equality of pay and equal opportunity for women, including appointments to positions of authority and responsibility.

How can a Catholic education teach our young people to value diversity and contribute to harmony in society? How can our education influence young people to pro-actively address and refute all forms of racism? How can we ensure appropriate education of young men in respectful relationship with girls and women in order to address violence and abuse towards women and promote equality for women in society?

These are burning questions for me as a person, parent and Principal – and I hope for all of our students, parents/caregivers and educators.

For me the answers are revealed and captured in the terms “Respectful Relationships” and the “Common Good”.

On respectful relationships:

Each and every person is equal, made in the image of God, both female and male. I should make no negative judgement about a person based on race, ethnicity, disability, gender or any other characteristic or distinction.

Everyone must be accepted first and foremost as a person, as an individual who is unique and loved by God. Therefore, my relationship with each individual should honour and accept their difference to me and also our common experience as human beings. Hence, by complying with the second of the Ten Commandments and golden rules of Christianity, “Love others as you love yourself” or “Love God and love your neighbour” any form of racism or judgemental  attitude to any individual or group of people who may be different from me is then implausible. Furthermore, the beauty of life is found so often in diversity, both in the world of nature and also in humans. Thank God we are not the same. How boring would life be. I believe we should truly celebrate our differences and rejoice in diversity. As a Principal I love looking out of my office window and walking through the school observing  the number of students from different cultural backgrounds enjoying each other’s company, embracing each other’s differences.

Second, the common good:

As Christians and people of good will, we are called to act for the “common good”. In other words, to consider what is truly in the best interests for other people and for society and for the world.  This is most often guided by how the other person or group perceives what is in their best interests and framed by what is best for society. Our own individual rights are always limited by the impact of our actions on others, hence we must find a balance between our individual rights and the “common good” for all.

As a member of the Blackfriars community, I strongly support and advocate for peaceful structural change in order to advance the dignity rights of people including Indigenous rights and the rights of women in society. I support all people attempting to remove prejudice and intolerance from society in any form.

As a community enriched by progress and natural resources, I am committed to Pope Francis’ call to action in his encyclical, Laudato Si, and do all I can to respect, care for and protect our fragile ecosystems and diverse environment.

Every boy at Blackfriars and every staff member and broader community member can be a champion for change and an active part of the solutions to create a more harmonious, just, caring and environmentally sustainable world.

I believe that as a community guided by the pillars of Prayer, Study, Community and Service we should support all causes attempting to advance equality and fundamental respect of universal human rights for every person and the protection and care of our planet.

During Harmony Week we celebrate Blackfriars as a culturally diverse community that seeks to accept each other as unique and precious gifts from God.  In our search for truth, we expose the beauty of difference.

Simon Cobiac