The day after he was elected pontiff, Pope Francis went back to the guest house where he had been staying to pay his bill. The story quickly went viral.
But what Archbishop Richard Smith of the Edmonton Archdiocese saw while staying there at the time was more than just the pope personally ponying up.
He saw the new pope thanking the cleaners, cooks and maintenance staff working there, “all the folks in trades that sometimes aren’t even noticed, let alone thanked.”
“He went to them and thanked them and in so doing he really honoured their dignity as persons. Right then and there I received and the church received a very clear signal of what he expects of the church. He expects us to be a people who notice the unnoticed and to reach out to them with love and compassion and honour their dignity,” said Smith.
Addressing the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division board Tuesday evening, Smith said schools have a very serious responsibility to “notice the unnoticed” students who may have difficult home situations. He told trustees how he hears middle school students talk of depression and of students cutting themselves.
“Our society, and therefore our families, are increasingly dysfunctional, and that must cause horrible horrible pain for our children,” said Smith.
Trustee Adriana LaGrange said the division has been calling on the province to provide more funding for mental health services so more trained counsellors can cater to student needs. Last year, a rash of student suicides led to school divisions and health authorities coming together to devise better strategies and students banded together to organize awareness events.
Also at the board meeting:
l Archbishop Smith discouraged trustees from sharing educational facilities with non-Catholic school jurisdictions or organizations.
Smith said Catholic schools should not be separate from secular schools because non-Catholics are in any way lesser people, but he said it is a matter of “institutional integrity.” He said the “distinctive vision” of Catholic education can be hampered if encroached upon by non-Catholic ideals.
The division shares some facility space with public schools in Red Deer, Innisfail, Sylvan Lake, and Rocky Mountain House, and trustees said sharing school space creates opportunities for students. LaGrange said the division would not have a school in Sylvan Lake if it did not agree to work in concert with the public division there.
l On the issue of human papilloma virus (HPV) immunizations being offered in schools, Smith said it is best that the board’s new policy no longer reads that he can provide a “written moral perspective” to be distributed to parents.
The board created an immunization policy last fall and allowed for the provision of the HPV vaccine in division schools, after years of not permitting so. A 2008 letter from eight bishops, including Smith, had questioned whether the vaccine against a sexual transmitted infection might cause promiscuity.
In crafting its policy, the board had initially given Smith the right to write a letter that would go to parents along with information from Alberta Health Services, but Smith later suggested that the line in the policy be removed.
He encouraged trustees to seek him out regularly to discuss moral issues, but said board policies should reflect the autonomy of the board and if he was referenced, the policy could be misinterpreted.