Derry Diocese Celebrates Jubilee of Mercy for Young People with Post Primary School Conference

The Derry Diocese celebrated the Jubilee of Mercy for young people with a School Gathering last week hosted in St Columb's College, Derry. This Mercy event welcomed over 450 students and staff from Post Primary Schools across the Diocese. The focus for the afternoon was reflecting on ‘schools and young people of mercy'. Richard Moore was the keynote speaker sharing his remarkable story of Mercy and Forgiveness. Richard was shot and blinded when he was 10 years old during the troubles in Derry, he went on to meet and forgive ‘Charles', the soldier who had fired the rubber bullet. Richard says he doesn't carry any anger or bitterness and by forgiving he is free and content. He told the young students that carrying anger can be like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die! Richard has set up a charity that helps children in troubled parts of the world called ‘Children in Crossfire.'

Since the Year of Mercy began Primary and Post Primary Schools in the Derry Diocese have been involved in events, initiatives and liturgies to celebrate mercy in their schools. Yvonne Rooney, Diocesan Advisor for Post Primary Schools, explained ‘This Year of Mercy has provided the opportunity for schools to focus on virtues like mercy, compassion and forgiveness and to put mercy at the heart of their work ethic, at the heart of friendships and at the heart of all relationships within the school. This year provides a personal opportunity for each young person and for each staff member to be 'merciful like the Father' but also to be open to experiencing Mercy. Mrs Rooney highlighted some of the projects school have been involved in for the Year of Mercy. ‘In the Books of Forgiveness created last January for Catholic Schools Week students were invited to think about times when they have personally shown mercy or times they have been forgiven and how that felt. In schools there was a renewed invitation this year to the sacrament of reconciliation and the healing and peace it brings. There were ‘Doors of Mercy' opened in schools right across the diocese and even some doors of mercy created on Minecraft.
Several schools got involved in Collaborative or Connected Learning Projects where the theme of Mercy was explored across many subject areas because mercy is more than R.E.
Kieran Strawbridge a Year 9 students from St Columb's College shared how his school got involved in the Project. He explained ‘Year 9 pupils were exploring the theme of mercy in six different subjects. In Art & Design pupils were using the iPads to investigate images relating to Holy Week with a particular focus on acts of mercy and compassion. These included images of stained glass window designs. In RE pupils explored conflict and how to resolve it. This lead into a discussion of the Great Schism and then into an examination of the Reformation and Martin Luther. Pupils also discussed Christian denominations in Northern Ireland. At this time they also discussed the importance of reconciliation and mercy. They explored an example of forgiveness from the lives of Richard Moore, Saint John-Paul II and Gordon Wilson. In Music pupils selected and discussed a modern song which dealt with the theme of mercy and developed a listening exercise from it. Pupils then had the chance to learn to perform the song together as a class. In English pupils completed a writing assessment about Animal Farm. Pupils produced a Propaganda Leaflet in response to the central Theme in the novel. They focused on the potential that existed for Reconciliation between antagonistic Parties and what a world devoid of mercy might look like. In History we explored ‘Historical characters who have shown acts of Mercy or Kindness for example St. Maximillan Kolbe.' We produced power points and posters on the individuals. In Biology we considered how we should work together in the name of Science to promote good and fair practice in the science industry and show respect for the environment at both a local and global level.'
Three students from Loreto College Coleraine, Joel Jenkins, Rhiannon Mc Nicholl, Roksana Strugala shared how their school shows mercy in all the charity work and fundraising they do. ‘As a school community, Loreto College seeks to bring the face of Christ to all those in need. One of the many ways in which we do this is in our local area is through our St. Vincent de Paul Youth Group. Throughout the year they are hard at work in the service of others. At Christmas time we collect and assemble Christmas hampers to be distributed to local families in need of assistance at this time of year. Over 30 large hampers were collected last year and presented to representatives from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul from St. John's and St. Malacy's parishes, Coleraine. They were received with great enthusiasm and appreciation on behalf of the families to whom they would be donated.

They continued ‘Our desire to bring mercy and compassion to others does not stop on our own doorstep! On an international level, students and staff of our school reach out to those in need. The Social Justice Group is always busy throughout the year with a number of events and initiatives going on to raise funds for a variety of very worthy causes. These fundraising activities culminate with the annual Mission Day, raising funds for the Loreto Missions worldwide.'
‘Loreto's Mission Day is the College's annual fun day to promote Fair Trade, the Millennium Goals and the Loreto Missions worldwide. The day allows students from all year groups to become involved in a variety of activities such as quizzes, sporting challenges and games of skill, with the focal point being the Loreto Christmas Market in the College Hall. Fair Trade gifts as well as pre-loved jewellery and fashion accessories are on sale along with a range of seasonal treats on offer. In the afternoon, many students enjoy forming a lively audience for Loreto's Got Talent. Last year an impressive total of just over four thousand pounds was raised on the day for Loreto Missions.
The final school to share how they got involved in the Year of Mercy was St Cecilia's College Derry. Lily Toorish and Edel Doherty from St Cecilia's shared ‘For the Jubilee Year of Mercy our school held a Week of Mercy. During this week years 8 to 10 listened to testimonies from guest speakers around the theme of mercy and forgiveness. In our school Oratory we had the relic of the True Cross of Calvary from the Long Tower Chapel. All members of staff and pupils had the opportunity to pray before the relic for a special intention.
In school we had a period of reflection and quiet prayer led by our school chaplain Fr Brendan Collins before the True Cross. Kila Curran came in to speak to our year 9 group. She told us that in September 2008, when she was just 8 years old, her father was murdered as he walked home from watching the All Ireland final. The boy who killed her father was only fifteen years old and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A few months after her father died, Kila wrote a letter to the boy in prison. She told him she forgave him for what he did, as she knew he wasn't a bad person, he just made a mistake. Kila told us how she met the Dalai Lama and he inspired her to realise that forgiveness is a gift. She told us that by forgiving the boy who killed her father, she was able to free herself from any anger towards the boy.
Kila told the boy in prison if he promised to lead a better life when he got out of prison, she would try and get her granny and aunts to also forgive him. She won the forgiveness award from the Dalai Lama for her bravery. She told us she would like to meet with the boy who killed her father when he is released from prison. She is an inspiration to our school and is a great example of someone who has faced tragedy but has continued to move on with her life.
Cathal Barry from the Irish Catholic newspaper came in to speak to our year 8 girls. Cathal has met Pope Francis and is in the process of writing his third book on the Pope. Our year 8 girls learned very interesting facts about Pope Francis and have shared these with other girls in our school. Each afternoon ended with a time of prayer and reflection and our Week of Mercy not only had an effect on the girls who listened to the speakers but had a ripple effect on our whole school.
Two students Shay McGlinchey & Jude McCandless from St Columb's College led a prayer reflection entitled Merciful like the Father. Bishop Donal Mc Keown led the delegation in the celebration of Mass and schools displayed their work and activities for the year of Mercy around the Conference Hall. The event was a great success and was a fitting opportunity to reflect and pray on how the young people and their schools are trying to put Mercy at the centre of everything they do in this special Jubilee Year.