Dearest Brothers and Lasallian Partners in East Asia,
Today we celebrate the gift of St. John Baptist de La Salle to the Church and the world at a time when, painfully, more than 1.5 billion children and youth of school-age are currently out-of-school. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy, severely affected our way of life and has created such a disruption in our educational systems that we have yet to ascertain its long-lasting effects on learning, on school operations, but more importantly on the lives of young people.
“To close schools during a crisis like this is to ask our youngest generation to make a tremendous sacrifice on behalf of its elders.”1 We are all aware of the difficulties that educators, parents and school administrators are going through as they attempt to cope with the cancellation of classes and adjust to the new normal. But we need to recognize that the ones who will be most affected by the rules on social distancing and quarantine protocols are children and the young. Their sacrifice will only be given meaning and value if we are able to discover the essential lessons from COVID-19 and reorder our lives as we pick up the pieces and bury our dead.
During normal times, our schools provide a safe haven for young people and an ideal environment for learning to take place. But we are dealing with a most devastating health hazard that none of us has been adequately prepared. We could easily justify that our educational mission does not include responding directly to the health hazards and other upheavals caused by the pandemic. We could simply follow government orders to close our campuses, follow the existing protocols and wait for the lockdown to be lifted. Dare we ask ourselves today how our Lasallian legacy responds to the emerging and urgent needs in the time of the COVID-19?
Br. Luke Salm describes a similar disruption during the time of the Founder:
An unexpected and tragic famine in the winter of 1683-1684 provided an answer. The high price of food and the rigor of the winter turned the city of Rheims into one vast almshouse. To the three schools and to the house on the Rue Neuve the poor came in droves, children and adults alike, all close to starvation. None of them went away unprovided for. The daily distribution continued until there was nothing left. It got to the point where De La Salle himself had to beg for the bread that he could no longer afford to buy. Yet when it was all over, De La Salle reminded his community that, through it all and relying now on Providence alone, they had never lacked the basic necessities.2
We carry on our shoulders the Founder’s legacy during these very difficult times. It is difficult to see through this pandemic and plan for the post-COVID scenario. If we cannot foresee the future, do we have a responsibility to respond to the present? De La Salle and his Brothers did not close the doors of the Lasallian schools during that terrible winter. He looked for ways to respond to hungry stomachs. Lessons could not be given so he distributed bread using his family wealth and the meager resources of his struggling community.
Today, I ask myself how the Lasallian Family should respond to the urgent and emerging needs of the communities around us. It is tempting to simply hibernate and wait for the dust to settle until life is normalized. Should we keep the gates of our campuses closed? Should we focus on how we could deliver distance learning? Should we focus on keeping connected with our students, parents, and alumni? Where should we redirect the stigmatized, hungry, and homeless? Or should we just pray?
When schools are closed, classes are cancelled and we could not deliver our usual lessons, how do we live the values that we treasure in our hearts? If this were a teachable moment, how shall I seize the opportunity? What does it mean to be a Lasallian today in the time of COVID-19?
During this most sacred of weeks, may we be gifted with the grace to embrace the cross of COVID-19. As we unite ourselves with the Passion and Death of our Lord, may we live in hope for the resurrection that is to come.
Br. Armin A. Luistro FSC