Brothers for the 21st Century

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When Edmund Rice contemplated the Waterford of 1802 and saw the plight of the poor, his response was daring, bold and imaginative. He established an education system for poor boys where none existed. It was a creative response to a crying need. Over the past two centuries, generations of brothers and their co-workers have build upon Edmund’s dream.

Nevertheless, there has been a growing awareness that while we have been good at replicating Edmund’s response, we have lost something of his boldness and daring. In the world of young people, new needs have emerged to which the congregation has been slow to respond. Galvanised by recent Congregation Chapters, brothers have been encouraged to rediscover a splash of Edmund’s boldness and daring.

In Africa where the congregation has been growing steadily, the most obvious crying need is the scourge of HIV/Aids. The brothers have committed themselves to address this appalling tragedy through a variety of initiatives.

In South America, the crying need is the countless numbers of homeless children. Many of these unfortunates end up in squalid jails with no provision for their welfare. The brothers have responded by involvement in juvenile prison ministry, and by initiating projects for the education and care of street children.

In India, the brothers have traditionally worked in prestigious private schools. In more recent years, the brothers have changed the focus of their ministry, and all of their recent openings have been for the benefit of the Dalits, the untouchables, in the tribal villages.

Working with the poor, it soon becomes apparent that unjust structures ensure that the poor remain poor. Brothers have learned that advocacy on behalf of those who have no voice is an important dimension of their ministry. Recently, the Christian and the Presentation Brothers have established an NGO called Edmund Rice International. Associated with ERI is a community of four brothers who live in Geneva, and work in advocacy at the United Nations.

Brothers have heard the crying need of the earth itself, and appreciate the importance of advocacy on behalf of the whole earth community. A number of Eco-justice centres have been opened to raise awareness in the human community of the consequences of our profligacy and wasteful use of resources.

Br. Mark McDonnell