School Chaplains Can Re-cultivate Hope Among Students
Sem. Robert BigabwarugabaKatigondo National Seminaryrobertbigabwarugaba@gmail.com
When Covid-19 came in, schools got closed, and so were other social activities. Schools particularly in Uganda have been closed for more than 77 weeks – the longest anywhere in the world. This long stay out of school has had a negative toll on students. Some lost interest in reading and other activities that would benefit them in future. This difficult situation came with a lot of hopelessness among students.
It is good news now that schools have been opened and the students have reported back to school. We have all seen the medical and social impact of the Corona Virus! However, what needs attention among students as they begin anew the journey of school is the emotional and spiritual needs. For the good of the students schools urgently need to set up psycho-social and spiritual support for their students specially through school chaplains to provide counsel and preach hope to students.
Pope St John Paul II taught that: ‘The purpose of the Catholic school is the advancement of the human person; each individual in their material and spiritual needs is personally at the center of Jesus’ teaching.” This role is fulfilled by the ministry of the chaplain of the whole school community with the support of the leaders who collaborate with him in the day to day life of the school; with the teachers and other staff, who often involve him in their lives as well as the day to day life of the school; and with the parents and guardians who look at him as a link to their children.
We must also understand that the Corona virus weakened the spiritual lives of individuals especially students when worship places were closed. Most students lost access to pastoral programs that supported their lives and fostered hope in them. It will be with the help of school chaplains availing themselves to students that hope will be sparked again while in school. The counsel and preaching of chaplains has capacity to re-center and refocus students around Christian values.
Scripture assures us we were made in the image of God. Not only that but we were “created for good works” (Ephesians 2:8-10). Someone who believes this world is as good as it gets will live differently from the person who believes he or she has an everlasting future full of abundance and joy. Hope has a way of getting us through whatever we are facing. Christian students can live peering through the lens of eternity – future. Instead of seeking fame, wealth, sexual fulfilment, enlightenment, or any other source of personal pleasure that must be enjoyed at the moment, believers recognize that even the most beautiful of our earthly experiences pale in comparison to what the Lord has in store of us.
A school chaplain is a safe person for young students to connect with at school and provides a listening ear, a caring presence, and a message of hope. Chaplains in relation to the school religious body run positive, fun activities for students and assist in fostering practical hope and care for school communities. Working with other members of the school’s support team, the chaplain cares for students struggling with multiple and complex issues such as relationships, poor self-esteem, and depression.
It is my humble prayer as a current student, that schools consider getting their students competent chaplains to help them in re-igniting after a long period under the dark cloud of the Covid-19 pandemic with its associated challenges.