TEACHERS' ENTERPRISE IN RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
Feedback from Secondary Teachers
STUDY VISIT TO ROME 22- 27 OCTOBER 2007
A SUMMARY OF THE COMMENTS FROM TEACHERS
“For months the prospect of a Study Visit in Rome was looked forward to with great excitement and anticipation. Not only the idea of a week in Rome but also the incredible venue of the Institute Maria SS Bambina in the Via Paolo VI, overlooking St. Peter’s Square proved absolutely stunning.
Our Speaker was ‘Top of the Range’ – Fr. Herbie Alphonso SJ from the Gregorian University, whose talks were both stimulating and challenging and certainly very thought-provoking. We were so privileged to have had him. We listened with bated breath as he made the scriptures come alive for us, giving us new insights, correlating and cross referencing his biblical quotes and tracing links from Genesis right through to their fulfilment in the New Testament. Time simply evaporated while we hung on to his every word.”
“Fr. Herbie opened the scriptures to us taking the theme of Reconciliation. He is an excellent teacher using a wealth of expertise and knowledge of the scriptures shot through with the love of God. He unpacked the parable of the Prodigal Son which he claimed should be called the Prodigal Father. He demonstrated how throughout the Bible there is always mention made of God’s saving love. Father said that there were three movements in repentance, awareness, acceptance and turning to the God who loves us. It was most thought-provoking and faith-enriching….”
“Having never visited Rome, the opportunity to embark on a week of study and reflection was one not to be missed. The balance of talks, time for prayer and worship, sight-seeing and mixing with other religious studies teachers, was a superb way to spend a half-term….
The talks from Fr. Herbert Alphonso were thought-provoking and relevant for teachers and pupils alike. They also opened our eyes to the greater spiritual dimension beyond and surrounding everything we do as religious educators… It is hard to put a value on a trip such as this. At a personal level, this has been incredibly important and rewarding. At a practical level, this has been a very useful piece of INSET. It is hard to imagine a better way to spend a half-term both on a professional and individual level.”
“The experience this week has allowed me to meet people from all over the country whom I consider now to be my friends. It has allowed me to grow spiritually. My heart has been opened due to a greater understanding of the love God has for me. I am blessed to have been given this great opportunity.”
“This conference gave me many thoughts for reflection and the time to do so. We all have our ‘busy’ teacher lives. Here I had space – to think about where I am in relation to this ‘handing over of self’. I need now to think deeply about what type of image of God I portray to our children. I need to share the new insight ‘handing over’ with colleagues and friends – amazing! I have loved the question/discussion time afforded – often listening further to insights from our group which has been so impressive. It’s been wonderful to touch base – a privilege to be part of this conference. Further discussions during lunch and dinner have helped me gain greater insight about the talks.”
“I really enjoyed the lecture on ‘Reconciliation’. Father managed to wake me up to the love of God the Father. He based his talk on the prodigal son and he interpreted it in a way I had never heard before. Essentially, he demonstrated how at the heart of the story lies the great love of God for all of us. God accepts us with love and mercy. Although this may not sound new – Father’s communication of it felt revelatory.”
“I came to Rome not knowing what to hope for or expect, perhaps with a slight feeling of disappointment at the titles of the daily lectures. What new light would be shed on the Eucharist, on reconciliation, on prayer? My meeting with Fr. Alphonso was more than a meeting, it was an encounter, a coming into the presence of the Lord, through a soul that had been tried and tested in the furnace of prayer, experience and self-giving.
The messages were taken from texts familiar and much studied, but were refreshingly new and starkly challenging. Fr. Alphonso, or Fr. Herbie as we have come to know him, is an extraordinary character. He commands attention immediately, radiating warmth and affection and engaging the listener with a remarkable voice which can be soothing, challenging, exciting and commanding by turns. His words are like pure, clear water flowing direct from the heart. I am used to lectures on philosophy, lectures on liturgy, lectures on theology, lectures on spirituality, lectures on scripture. He was a man who could combine all these disciplines and weave them together into a coherent whole.
Fr. Herbie has the gift of breaking open the word and in so doing, breaking open your heart. Again and again while he was talking, I had the Emmaus experience of my heart burning within me. Everything Fr. Herbie seemed to say was of universal significance, but it also seemed to be aimed at me personally, as if he knew the ways of my heart.
Now I must leave the shadow of St. Peter’s and go into the world, to put into practice the wisdom that Fr. Herbie has shared with us. I have much to digest and process and ponder over, the Eucharist as a handing over of the self in love and the fact that love was never more alive than when Jesus handed himself over on the cross. I must make real in my daily dealings with my students, an unconditional acceptance of them as they are, while continuing to help them to grow through my handling of their words and actions. I must see unity and integration to my life, including my life of relaxation and re-creation, by freeing my self from my self, to be free for God and in God for others. And I must continually give thanks to God for Sr. Marcellina, for calling me, for bring me to this place, at this point in my life, to this man, to hear these words of love and truth.”
“This has been a wonderful, God-given, opportunity to grow in faith and deepen our trust in the God who loves us. We have also been able to share, soul to soul, with other teachers in order to enrich our understanding of self and others, deepen existing friendship and strengthen our ability to communicate the faith to others. On Monday, we explored St. Peter’s and appreciate the beauty of Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ and the peace of the area in which the Pope’s tombs have been placed. We were able to share in the celebration of the Mass beneath the window depicting the Holy Spirit.
On Tuesday, we heard Fr. Alphonso speak to our hearts as he urged us to hand ourselves over to the God of love. He unpacked the scripture and gave us new insights into the importance of the Eucharist. Mass was celebrated in the chapel where the sermon which brought together Philippines 2 with John 13 illuminated our minds.”
“I found all the talks I attended useful, but perhaps the most useful for me personally was his last talk concerning prayer and personal vocation. It was there that I really understood where Fr Herbert was coming from, his project, and also his view of education. Using a variety of analogies, Fr Herbert reminded us of the importance of hard-work, discipline in achieving the goal of freedom of expression in any educational field. However, he stressed the role of the teacher of listening to the experience of the student and responding to them through the giving of an exercise that will draw out the student’s own uniqueness and ownership of what is being studied. Fr Herbert was talking about this in the context of a person’s relationship with God, but this is no less important in the field of Religious Education. This is, perhaps, obvious; but it is all too easily forgotten in a world of education that could be described as driven by targets and syllabus content, or at least (using Fr Herbert’s words) “input, input, input…”
Fr Herbert challenged us to find our own ‘personal Jesus’ and, as a route to achieving this, he talked about the role of discernment of a person’s own personal vocation. He went on to talk about baptism as the moment where we are ‘plunged into Jesus’, a helpful image in understanding our vocation to discover our own unique expression of living out the Christian faith. What this week has given me is a chance to reflect upon my own journey and, as a result, I hope that I am better placed to guide my own students along their own faith journey.”
“Overall, I felt privileged to be here. I felt that a lot of people would give anything to be able to enjoy what I was enjoying and that filled my heart with gratitude; gratitude to God for giving me the opportunity and gratitude to those who made it possible and invited me.”