Category Archives: Education

Sierra Leone lifts ban on pregnant girls attending school

Screenshot_2020-03-31 Sierra Leone lifts ban on pregnant girls attending school
A girl holds her chalkboard as she arrives to attend lessons at the evening school in Ouakam neighbourhood, Dakar, Senegal January 16, 2019. Picture taken January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

DAKAR, March 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Sierra Leone on Monday overturned a ban on pregnant girls attending school in a victory for human rights activists who had fought against it for five years.

The West African country introduced the ban in 2015 after a rise in rape, abuse and poverty during the deadly Ebola outbreak fueled a spike in teenage pregnancies.

The government held that allowing pregnant girls to attend school would tire them out, expose them to ridicule and encourage other girls to get pregnant, while critics said the ban increased stigma and set thousands back in their studies.

“The Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education… hereby announces that the ‘ban on pregnant girls attending school’ is overturned with immediate effect,” the government said in a statement.

“Overturning the ban is the first step in building a radically inclusive Sierra Leone where all children are able to live and learn in safety and dignity.”

After years of advocacy proved unfruitful, human rights groups filed a case against Sierra Leone with West Africa’s top court in 2018.

The court ruled in their favour in December, saying the ban was discriminatory and violated the right to equal education.

“It’s been such a long fight,” said Sierra Leonean child rights activist Chernor Bah.

“We didn’t need to have gone through this. I feel for those girls who were abandoned by this policy, who went through all of this and who, most of them, will never probably recover,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Education Minister David Sengeh said the state would replace the ban with two new policies focused on “radical inclusion” and “comprehensive safety” in the education system.

Details were not yet announced, but the safety policy will include measures to protect girls from sexual violence in schools, said Judy Gitau, Africa coordinator of women’s rights group Equality Now, which worked with the government.

“We did not anticipate that the response would be as positive as it is,” she said.

Several other African countries also ban pregnant girls from attending school, including Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea.

Activists urged their counterparts in other countries to keep fighting.

“This victory shows the importance of collaboration between a variety of partners and not giving up,” said Sabrina Mahtani, a human rights lawyer who worked to lift the ban.

 

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200330132934-vp8ja/

 

Nigeria’s child development crisis is a tragedy. Here’s how we can end it

Najia child
Computer lessons in Lagos. A national emergency response is needed to get all Nigeria’s children into quality schooling. Photograph: Cavan Images/Alamy

If you want a window on the condition of children in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, there is no better vantage point than the Katanga health centre in the impoverished northern state of Jigawa.

In a hut that passes for a nutrition clinic, a group of 25 women wait with their children. Tiny bodies bearing the hallmarks of acute malnutrition – distended stomachs and twig-thin limbs – are lifted into a weighing harness and their arms measured to check for signs of wasting. Ali, who has just reached his first birthday, weighs only 5kg – the average age of a two-month-old in the UK. His mother is 14.

Sitting under a tree in the forecourt, another severely malnourished child is gasping for breath. Nayo, who is seven months, has the telltale symptoms of severe pneumonia – a collapsed rib cage, deep cough and fever. He desperately needs antibiotics and medical oxygen. The clinic has neither. “I’m worried for his life, there is nowhere to go for help,” his mother tells me.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and a global energy-exporting superpower. It is endowed with vast natural resources. But the country is rooted near the foot of the World Bank’s global league table for human capital – a composite measure capturing the health, education and nutritional status of children.

Five years ago Nigeria’s leaders joined the rest of the world in embracing the 2030 sustainable development goals. They include targets to end preventable child and maternal deaths, eradicate malnutrition and give all children a quality education. Almost half of Nigeria’s 200 million population is under 15, and achieving these goals would catalyse the dynamic and inclusive growth needed to create jobs.

Unfortunately, Nigeria is either treading water or sinking like a stone on all the key 2030 indicators for child development. More than 800,000 children lose their lives each year, mainly to preventable diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea. Over the past decade, the country’s share of global under-five deaths doubled – to 16% of the total – and continues to rise.

Malnutrition is endemic. Almost half of Nigeria’s children are stunted by nutritional deprivation, with devastating consequences for health and cognitive development. About 2 million face life-threatening malnutrition. Vaccination against killer diseases is critical for malnourished children. But millions of children in Nigeria have not been immunised.

More than 10 million children aged 5–14 years are out of school – more than in any other country – even though education is nominally free and compulsory. Most of those in school are getting a fifth-rate education after years of underinvestment. Children with eight years of schooling typically have learning skills equivalent to four years of primary education.

There are also deep fractures linked to inequalities in wealth, region and gender. Children born into the poorest 20% of families are eight times more likely to succumb to fatal illness. Young girls, especially those in the northern states, are far more likely to be forced into early marriage. Almost one in five girls are married by the age of 15, according to Unicef.

Nigeria’s child development crisis is a tragedy for the country. Over the next three decades the population will double, making Nigeria the world’s third most populous country. By 2050 almost one in every 10 children born in the world will be Nigerian. Sheer weight of numbers dictates that the fate of Nigeria’s children will shape the world’s development.

So what can be done to break the malaise?

First, Nigeria urgently needs to convert economic wealth into human capital, starting with investment in children. Current revenue collection levels are among the lowest in the world, holding back vital public spending in areas such as health and education. Changing this picture will require a broader and deeper tax base, with strengthened royalty collection from oil companies.

The federal government has passed some encouraging legislation on education and public health. But at 0.6% of GDP, Nigeria’s health spending is comparable to countries such as Yemen and Afghanistan. The result is clinics like the one in Jigawa, without trained health workers, medicines and vital equipment.

Second, a national emergency response is needed to get all children into quality schooling. Unlocking the potential of Nigeria’s children would transform the country.

That won’t be possible without a third component for change – a concerted drive to combat the deep inequalities facing girls and women. It is surely time for Nigeria’s politicians, as well religious and traditional leaders, to push for an end to child marriage – a practice that violates human rights, destroys opportunity and perpetuates poverty.

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jan/15/nigerias-child-development-crisis-is-a-tragedy-heres-how-we-can-end-it

High school founded by former NFL star aims to make virtuous students

Matt_BirkFormer NFL player and Unity School co-founder Matt Birk. Credit: Ravens by Richard Lippenholz at Ravens Practice Balto Co/wikimedia. CC BY 2.0

 

– Not everyone who goes to high school will go to college, the founders of a new Minnesota high school say, but everyone should be prepared for leadership, service, and virtuous lives.

Preparation for a good life, no matter what comes after graduation, is the goal of Unity High School, set to open this fall in Burnsville, Minnesota.

Matt Birk, a retired football player who played with the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, and Tom Bengtson, the owner of a small publishing company, are the founders of the school.

“At Unity, we are sure a lot of kids will go into college, some will go into the workforce, some will go into the military, some will discern religious vocations, and we think there is equal dignity in all of those things,” Birk told CNA.

“We are college prep but we are not only college prep. Not everybody is a candidate for college, people choose different paths and we believe that there is equal dignity in any of these paths. We are happy to prepare kids for post high school life regardless of what it looks like,” Bengtson added.

Birk has been involved with education programs in underprivileged communities since 2002, when he was playing professional football. As a father of eight, he said he knows that not all kids thrive in a competitive academic environment, noting that a “high-stakes” test-taking culture is not for everyone.

“If you look back at the genesis of the American education system, I think the original charter says the goal of education is to teach knowledge and develop character. As the U.S. keeps falling on the global list of test scores, we just keep focusing more and more on the testing,” he said.

“Character has been pushed out of mainstream education because it is all about the test now,” he added.

Birk said that because public school funding is tied to test scores, education models focus on test-taking skills, instead of adapting to the needs of each learner.

Birk added that while not every student is meant for college, every person can be formed for success.

“If we are only doing it to show how well we can take a test, what’s the point?” he asked.

“If you go to an Ivy League schools is that a guarantee to a great life? No, no it’s not. I would say the most important thing to me … is that they would have a firm foundation in their Catholic faith, that would be number one, and then, number two, I would say to be equipped with some skills to be able to help them with whatever path they choose.”

Birk added that digital technology has been detrimental to some areas of ingenuity – communication, teamwork, and social and emotional intelligence. As a result of increased technology and media influence, he said students are suffering more narcissism and depression, while developing less empathy and abilities to handle anxiety.

Unity will aim to address those issues when it opens this fall at Mary, Mother of the Church Parish in Burnsville. To start out, the school will only teach high school freshmen, but it plans to add a new grade each year, until the first incoming class graduate as seniors.

The school will start small. It has about a dozen students enrolled right now, and its founders hope to bring in around 25 for the first year. It is also working to be recognized as an official Catholic school in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Unity will focus on practical opportunities for students to develop skills in academics, character, leadership, and service.

Birk said the school will “be vigorously Catholic,” including opportunities for students to engage with an instructor who can foster “interior life and their personal relationship with Jesus.”

The former NFL center’s own faith is central to his life, he said. He is especially active in pro-life work. In 2013, after Birk’s team won Super Bowl XLVII, he declined to attend a reception at the White House.

“I have great respect for the office of the presidency, but about five or six weeks ago, our president made a comment in a speech and he said, ‘God bless Planned Parenthood.’ Planned Parenthood performs about 330,000 abortions a year. I am Catholic, I am active in the pro-life movement and I just felt like I couldn’t deal with that. I couldn’t endorse that in any way,” Birk said.

He said he hopes Unity School will form students who are committed to faithful Catholicism.

“We really want the faith to be alive, to really be a part of the kids’ lives, not just taking a religion class,” said Birk.

Citing the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude, Birk said, the Catholic faith has a great framework for building character. To foster character development, the school will be involved with long term service projects, like monthly outings to nursing homes, where the teens can get to know the people they are serving.

A major component of the school will be its “Real World Wednesdays.” On those days, the students will take “life skills” classes and character development, including opportunities to listen to guest speakers and undergo field trips and service projects.

The teens will learn entrepreneurship, leadership, interview techniques, resumes, and financial literacy. The students will also be exposed to trades, through courses and workshops in auto maintenance, metal or wood shop, or home economics.

The school will also partner with an organization called Pursuit Academy, which teaches ethical enterprise, encouraging students learn to become entrepreneurs, to plan and manage their future goals, and to be leaders in their communities. Among other things, the teens will learn about engaging with peer pressure, managing risk, and public speaking.

Birk said a focus of the “Real World Wednesdays” will be developing what he calls “the-other-people-matter” mindset.

By identifying the good in themselves and in other people, students will establish better relationships in the community and a better relationship with God, he said.

Developing leadership skills and character “might not necessarily help them get an A on a test or score higher on their SAT, but they are going to be equipped with skills that they can use in their lives, whether it is in the careers or their marriages or as parents or as communities members.”

“Let’s get them some of that stuff,” he added.

In light of the school’s emphasis on both academic and practical skills, Unity has chosen two patron saints: John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. These saints are not only modern figures for students to model after but fantastic examples of the school’s goals, Bengtson said.

“John Paul II had all this rich philosophy of the dignity of the human person, which we will be teaching at Unity High School, including Theology of the Body,” Bengtson said.

“Then you got someone like Mother Teresa who took that theology and put it into practice – reached out to the poorest of the poor and saw dignity in folks who were in extremely dire circumstances.”

“In my mind, I seem them as both the hands and the heart at work together,” he added.

Bengtson said the school is convenient financially and geographically. Tuition will be $6,500 for the first year, which is half or even a third of the prices at other Catholic schools, Bengtson said. He also said the school will fill a neighborhood need in the southern metro area of the Twin Cities.

“It’s a large geographic area with 10 Catholic grade schools, through eighth grade, who collectively are graduating 300 students per year. Most of those students will go into public schools,” he said.

“About 75 students will stay in the Catholic school system and they have to travel quite a distance to Catholic high school.”

The lower price does mean there will be tradeoffs, Bengtson said, noting that the school will have to improvise for a gymnasium, science lab, and auditorium. However, the school will have a thoroughly Catholic culture, he said, with Mass three times a week and a holy hour once a week, which is not offered at all Catholic schools.

Birk expressed enthusiasm for the new venture.

“We are still very much like a typical school in a lot of ways, but we are tweaking the model. I don’t know where this goes, but hopefully it will show people that there is a better way to do it.”

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/high-school-founded-by-former-nfl-star-aims-to-make-virtuous-students-60406

LA’s teachers can teach the working class about the power of labor strikes

los angeles photoTeachers from Kentucky gather inside the state Capitol in April to rally for increased funding. Photograph: Bryan Woolston/AP

Eric Blanc and Meagan Day

Educators in Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the country, are going on strike on Monday. By deciding to walk out for smaller class sizes, more support staff, fewer standardized tests and charter school regulation, LA’s teachers have ensured that California will be the next state hit by a strike wave that shows no signs of ebbing anytime soon.

The teachers’ upsurge was one of the defining stories of 2018. It began in West Virginia, where teacher and support staff decided to shut down the schools until their demands for better pay and healthcare were taken seriously. They won big, and they inspired educators across the nation to follow their example. Work stoppages soon swept across Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina and Colorado. Though not all their demands were met, teachers won major gains and changed the national conversation about the reasons for public education’s crisis.

Confounding all expectations, most of these actions erupted in Republican-dominated regions with relatively weak labor unions, bans on public sector strikes, and electorates that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Media pundits dubbed this a “red state rebellion”. But blue states are hardly immune to low pay, underfunded schools and frustrated teachers. Last fall, educators across Washington and charter school teachers in Chicago joined the strike wave – and strikes are now looming in Los Angeles as well as Oakland, threatening to disrupt business as usual for tens of millions of people on the west coast.

Above all, the teacher revolt expresses a rejection of the austerity and privatization agenda pushed by both Democrats and Republicans, particularly since the Great Recession. Today, 29 states have lower education funding than they did in 2008, and nationwide, education funding is still about $450 lower per student than it was a decade ago, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report. Last year, educators across the nation reached their breaking point, finally squeezed too tight by rising living costs, crumbling schoolhouses, and an encroaching school privatization campaign that opportunistically treats the crisis caused by underfunding as a pretext to further erode public education and labor unions.

However, 2018 wasn’t just the year that teachers had enough. Something else happened, too. West Virginia and subsequent battles have hammered home one of the labor movement’s most fundamental (and forgotten) lessons: strikes are the most powerful tool at working people’s disposal. Teachers have been rallying and lobbying against public education budget cuts for years – yet it was only once they began striking that politicians were forced to start making concessions.

At most times, in most places, workers feel powerless in the face of management. But when they organize to bring work itself to a halt, the balance of power fundamentally shifts. Suddenly the true importance of workers’ labor is laid bare, and the powers-that-be have a crisis on their hands. Strikes transform ordinary working people with little wealth and political clout into a force to be reckoned with. And all that’s necessary to tap into this game-changing, table-turning power is for workers to recognize the extraordinary value of their work, and organize with each other to withhold it.

Yet strike numbers have been declining for decades and it’s not hard to figure out why. Fewer workers are represented by unions than at any point in the last 70 years, thanks largely to a ruthless corporate offensive against the labor movement and basic union rights, including the right to strike. Unfortunately, most union officials have responded by retreating into a self-defeating reliance on electing and lobbying mainstream Democrats, instead of building disruptive strikes.

The teachers’ upsurge points the way forward for unions and the working class. But it will face new challenges in 2019. With the movement now spreading to the blue states, educators and their unions will no longer be primarily battling Republican politicians. To win in a city like Los Angeles means nothing less than taking on the Democratic party establishment. The corporate-funded drive to privatize LA’s public schools is not led by acolytes of Donald Trump. To the contrary: Austin Beutner, the billionaire investment banker installed as superintendent by deep-pocketed backers of school privatization, is a proud liberal and a longtime funder of the Democratic party.

Confronting Democratic politicians won’t come easy to many union leaders and educators, but the success of the movement depends on it. And if the strikes continue to spread, expect this growing labor militancy to exacerbate the polarizing intra-party struggle between the Democratic establishment and insurgent forces led by socialists Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Winning in 2019 will also require foregrounding progressive taxation. Though districts and states can afford to make some immediate concessions – LA, for example, is sitting on $1.86bn in financial reserves – public education’s crisis can’t be solved without a massive re-investment in our schools. But who will pay for this? Against the inevitable attempts of mainstream politicians to pit teachers against other workers by cutting other social services or raising regressive taxes, educators and their unions will have to convince the public to join the fight for the only equitable solution: tax the billionaires and corporations.

The stakes are high. Public education remains one of the few remaining public goods in the United States. For that very reason, corporate politicians are doing everything they can to dismantle and privatize the school system. But if the teachers’ upsurge can reverse this offensive, there’s little reason to assume that working people will stop there. Saving public education may be the first step towards building a revitalized labor movement capable of bringing many of society’s basic necessities – from healthcare to energy production – into the public sphere.
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/14/la-teachers-working-class-power-labor-strikes

The Adolescent Girl Holds the Key to Kenya’s Economic Transformation and Prosperity

Kenya photo
Dr Natalia Kanem, Chief of UNFPA, “We are steadfastly committed to our three goals: Zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and the elimination of harmful practices including violence that affect women and girls”. Credit: UNFPA Tanzania

By Siddharth Chatterjee

NAIROBI, Kenya, Teenage pregnancy in Kenya is a crisis of hope, education and opportunity.

The New Year has begun. Can 2019 be a year of affirmative action to ensure hope and opportunity for Kenya’s adolescent girl?

Consider this. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says that when a young adolescent girl is not married during her childhood, is not forced to leave school nor exposed to pregnancies, when she is not high risk of illness and death nor suffering maternal morbidities, when she is not exposed to informal work, insecurity and displacement; and is not drawn into an insecure old age-she becomes an asset for a country’s potential to seize the demographic dividend.

So what is the demographic dividend?

It means when a household has fewer children that they need to take care of, and a larger number of people have decent jobs, the household can save and invest more money. Better nutrition, education and opportunities and more disposable income at the household level. When this happens on a large scale, economies can benefit from a boost of economic growth.

One of the goals of development policies is to create an environment for rapid economic growth. The economic successes of the “Asian Tigers” during the 1960s and 1970s have led to a comprehensive way of thinking about how different sectors can work together to make this growth a reality. This helps explain the experience of some countries in Asia, and later successes in Latin America, and optimism for improving the economic well-being of countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Republic of Korea is the classic example of how its gross domestic product (GDP) grew over 2,000 percent by investing in voluntary family planning coupled with educating the population and preparing them for the types of jobs that were going to be available.

With over 70% of Kenya’s population less than 30 years of age, the country’s favorable demographic ratios could unlock a potential source of demand and growth, Kenya is currently in a “sweet spot”. Fertility levels are declining gradually and Kenyans are living longer. There is reason for optimism that Kenya can benefit from a demographic dividend within 15 to 20 years. It is estimated that its working age population will grow to 73 per cent by 2050, bolstering the country’s GDP per capita 12 times higher than the present, with nearly 90 percent of the working age in employment.

The key to harnessing the demographic dividend is enabling young people and adolescent girls in particular, to enjoy their human rights and achieve their full human potential. Every girl must be empowered, educated and given opportunities for employment, and above all is able to plan her future family, this is the very essence of reaping a demographic dividend.

Each extra year a girl stays in high school, for example, delivers an 11.6 per cent increase in her average annual wage for the rest of her life.

The UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem has said: “We are steadfastly committed to our three goals: Zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and the elimination of harmful practices including violence that affect women and girls”.

So what can be done?

First, end all practices that harm girls. This means, for example, enforcing laws that end female genital mutilations and child marriage.

Second, enable girls to stay in school, at least through high school. Studies have shown the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to become pregnant as an adolescent and the more likely to grow up healthy and join the paid labour force.

Third, reach the marginalized and impoverished girls who have traditionally been left behind.

Forth, make sure girls, before they reach puberty, have access to information about their bodies. Later in adolescence, they need information and services to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Finally, take steps to protect girls’ – and everyone’s – rights.

As we countdown to 2019, let us prioritize the development of every girl’s full human potential. Our collective future depends on it. We must do everything in our power to ignite that potential-for her sake and for the sake of human development and humanity.
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/adolescent-girl-holds-key-kenyas-economic-transformation-prosperity/

In new book on clergy and religious life, Pope Francis addresses homosexuality

Pope Francis 2

Pope Francis. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City:In a book-length interview to be published next week, Pope Francis addressed gifts and challenges for clerical and religious vocations, among them the challenge of homosexuality in the clergy.

“The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates, if that is the case. We have to be exacting. In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and that mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the Church,” the pope says in the book “The Strength of a Vocation,” set to be released Dec. 3 in ten languages.

In an excerpt from the book, released Friday by Religión Digital, the pope said he is concerned about the issue of evaluating and forming people with homosexual tendencies in the clergy and consecrated life.

“This is something I am concerned about, because perhaps at one time it did not receive much attention,” he said.
Francis said that with candidates for the priesthood or religious life “we have to take great care during formation in the human and affective maturity. We have to seriously discern, and listen to the voice of experience that the Church also has. When care is not taken in discerning all of this, problems increase. As I said before, it can happen that at the time perhaps they didn’t exhibit [that tendency], but later on it comes out.”

“The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates, if that is the case,” the pope reiterated.

Francis recalled that one time “I had a somewhat scandalized bishop here who told me that he had found out that in his diocese, a very large diocese, there were several homosexual priests and that he had to deal with all that, intervening, above all, in the formation process, to form a different group of clergy.”

“It’s a reality we can’t deny. There is no lack of cases in the consecrated life either. A religious told me that, on a canonical visit to one of the provinces in his congregation, he was surprised. He saw that there were good young students and even some already professed religious who were gay,” he related.

The pope said that the religious “wondered if it were an issue and asked me if there was something wrong with that. Francis said he was told by one religious superior that the issue was not “that serious, it’s just an expression of an affection.”

“That’s a mistake,” Francis warned. “It’s not just an expression of an affection. In consecrated and priestly life, there’s no room for that kind of affection. Therefore, the Church recommends that people with that kind of ingrained tendency should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life. The ministry or the consecrated life is not his place.”
We “have to urge homosexual priests, and men and women religious to live celibacy with integrity, and above all, that they be impeccably responsible, trying to never scandalize either their communities or the faithful holy people of God by living a double life. It’s better for them to leave the ministry or the consecrated life rather than to live a double life.”

The pope was asked in the book if there are limits to what can be tolerated in formation.

“Of course. When there are candidates with neurosis, marked imbalances, difficult to channel not even with therapeutic help, they shouldn’t be accepted to either the priesthood or the religious life, They should be helped to take another direction (but they should not be abandoned. They should be guided, but they should not be admitted. Let us always bear in mind that they are persons who are going to live in the service of the Church, of the Christian community, of the people of God. Let’s not forget that perspective. We have to care for them so they are psychologically and affectively healthy,” the pope replied.

The book is the transcript of an interview conducted by Fr. Fernando Prado, director of the Claretian publishing house in Madrid.

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/in-new-book-on-clergy-and-religious-life-pope-francis-addresses-homosexuality-27409

Pope Francis: Advent is a time of joy-filled waiting

Pope Francis

Pope Francis in the Paul VI Hall Dec. 6, 2017. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

By Hannah Brockhaus

As the Advent season begins, it is a good time to reflect on the Christian call to joyful expectancy, finding hope and consolation in waiting for Christ, Pope Francis said Saturday. “We Christians are called to safeguard and spread the joy of waiting: we await God who loves us infinitely and at the same time we are awaited by Him. In this way, life becomes a great betrothal,” the pope said Dec. 1.

“Tonight,” he continued, “begins a time of consolation and hope, the time of Advent: a new liturgical year begins, which brings with it the novelty of our God, who is the ‘God of all consolation.” “I wish you to experience Advent thus, as a time of consoling novelty and joyous waiting,” he said.

Pope Francis spoke about the start of Advent during an audience with a group of about 6,500 people from the Italian dioceses of Ugento-Santa Maria di Leuca and Molfetta-Ruvo-Giovinazzo-Terlizzi in the Paul VI Hall.

Francis thanked the travelers for coming, recalling that he had visited their diocese in April on a daytrip. “But God,” he pointed out, “will visit you where I cannot come: in your homes, in your lives. God visits us and waits to stay with us forever.”

In his speech, the pope referenced Servant of God Fr. Tonino Bello, who was the bishop of the Diocese of Molfetta-Ruvo-Giovinazzo-Terlizzi from 1982-1993.

Don Tonino once reflected, he said, on the fact that life is full of fear: “Fear of neighbor… fear of the other… fear of violence… fear of not making it. Fear of not being accepted… fear that it is useless to work hard. Fear, much, that we cannot change the world… Fear of not finding a job.”
Francis pointed out that Don Tonino would respond to this gloomy scenario by saying that “Advent responds with ‘the Gospel of anti-fear.” “If fear makes you lie on the ground, the Lord invites you to get up; if negativity pushes you to look down, Jesus invites us to turn our gaze to heaven, from where He will come. Because we are not children of fear, but children of God,” the pope said.

“Then we welcome the invitation of the Gospel, the invitation so often repeated by Don Tonino to stand up, to get up,” he continued. “From where? From the sofas of life: from the comfort that makes you lazy, from the mundanity that makes you sick inside, from the self-pity that darkens.” “Stand up, let us look up to the sky,” he instructed. “We would also advise of the need to open our hands to our neighbor. And the consolation that we can give will heal our fears.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-advent-is-a-time-of-joy-filled-waiting-31781