At St Croix, during the mass of Father Laval, Cardinal Piat focused his homily on the problems in the world of education.
The bishop dwelt on those who are sheep without a shepherd in Mauritius today:
- Young people are being left behind by an education system that is not adapted to their needs and culture
- These young people are left to their own devices, some of them being homeless. They are exploited by drug dealers or unscrupulous bosses – they are at risk of becoming drug addicts themselves – and often end up in prison for several months, ‘on remand’. And as drug addicts or ex-prisoners, they are despised and singled out. Their parents suffer a lot. They are unemployed; 24% unemployment among young people.
Cardinal Piat then elaborated on the reasons behind this: “We are lucky to have free education in Mauritius, but this system unfortunately leaves about 25% to 30% who fail at the end of PSAC primary. The mock exams for the NCE (National Certificate Education), held recently, also give a very bad signal.
It must be acknowledged that the Ministry of Education and other institutions, such as the NSIF, are currently working hard to try to correct this trend. Several projects are underway to support and encourage the weakest.
It should also be recognised that several NGO’s grouped in ANFEN are doing remarkable work for children who leave school early because they are discouraged and cannot keep up.
Instead of working separately, wouldn’t it be better if all these people, MoE, NSIF, ANFEN and teachers who are personally committed to finding new pedagogies to adapt to the needs of these young people, could work together?
Taking inspiration from the day’s Gospel, Cardinal Piat began by drawing a parallel between the sheep without a shepherd in Jesus’ time and in Father Laval’s time. In Jesus’ time, the sheep without shepherds were the poor and the small farmers who were
- Crushed by the Roman authorities who demanded very heavy taxes
- Exploited by revolutionary parties who used them to come to power
- Despised by the Jewish religious authorities because they did not know the details of the Law of Moses and could not put it into practice.
Jesus is seized with compassion before them; he understands their suffering and suffers with them; he enters dialogue with them and teaches them at length. The apostles are annoyed when Jesus asks them to give food to this crowd. They say “not capav”, “it is beyond our means”. So Jesus tells them to make them sit down as guests and enter into conversation with them and share the little bread they have. The crowd is then “satisfied”, happy not only because of the bread but above all because of the free welcome they have received.
Cardinal Piat then explained that at the time of Father Laval, the recently freed slaves were “sheep without a shepherd” because they were
- Released into the plain, without work, without a home, without education
- Exploited often by bourgeois owners
- Rejected to the last rank in the Church, the rich whites were in front and the poor blacks behind
- Their language was despised
Father Laval, like Jesus, was seized with compassion before this crowd. He listened to them at length, learned their language and spent time with them. Like Jesus, he too was criticised – he was told that he would not succeed, that there was nothing to do with these poor people. But, like Jesus, he perseveres:
- He teaches them at length (in the Cathedral) every night
- He empowers them to become catechists themselves
- He teaches them to help each other – to contribute to a poor box to share
- He teaches them to “walk together” in small communities
- to meet in the neighbourhoods
- Listen to the Word read by the catechists
- to organise themselves for the care of the sick, for mutual aid
Result: the former slaves regained their dignity, felt loved and recognised. They saw that they too could be apostles. They saw that they could make a valuable contribution to society.
According to Cardinal Piat, “the stakes are too high”
The Pope told us when he came to Mauritius: “How hard it is to see that despite the economic growth that your country has experienced in recent decades, it is the young people who suffer the most, it is they who feel the most the unemployment that not only causes an uncertain future, but also takes away the possibility of feeling privileged actors of their own common history. An uncertain future that pushes them aside and forces them to conceive their lives on the margins of society, leaving them vulnerable and almost without reference points in the face of the new forms of slavery of this 21st century.
The Cardinal concluded his homily by inviting us to “walk together, step by step, on the path of our first mission”.