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Getting used to a new normality

Pope Francis sprinkles holy water with an aspergillum as a blessing during the Palm Sunday Mass on St Peter’s Square at the Vatican last week. The Church may soon go through a phase of austerity to return to its roots. Photo: Reuters

Pope Francis sprinkles holy water with an aspergillum as a blessing during the Palm Sunday Mass on St Peter’s Square at the Vatican last week. The Church may soon go through a phase of austerity to return to its roots. Photo: Reuters

Few would deny that change is all around us. Some of it is undoubtedly for the better, some possibly for the worse. Change in all aspects of our lives is inevitable but in recent years we seem to be undergoing major changes in various aspects of our lives.

Frugality has become a much valued virtue

As the waves of change batter us from every angle, we seek an anchor that will keep us safe from being wrecked on some sharp pointed rocks. This anchor is the much valued normality that most of us aspire to in our daily lives.

But the new normality may be quite different from the normality we used to experience up to some months or years ago. On the economic front, the protracting crisis in Europe is creating a spectre of long-term unemployment for millions of people.

What I really find saddening is that this plague is hitting mainly young people who risk becoming a lost generation as they struggle to find meaning in their lives.

It was so depressing to see Adel Kedhri, a young Tunisian graduate who could only manage to work as a cigarette vendor on the streets, fatally set himself on fire with his last words allegedly being “all my qualifications enabled me to achieve is to sell cigarettes”.

It is time for our political and business leaders to come up with robust employment creation plans to save millions of young people from the much dreaded human scrap heap.

Our social habits are also undergoing major changes as a result of the austere economic climate that has gripped Europe in the last few years. Frugality has become a much valued virtue as most people find that they need to count their cents before they even consider spending them on social activities that we now consider as luxuries.

For many Europeans, holiday travels are becoming shorter. Some now choose to make their clothes and shoes last longer and eating out is reserved for special occasions. Locally we are becoming used to having a new political administration after a quarter of a century of almost uninterrupted rule by the same party.

The majority of people have decided that they were interested in experiencing a new normality in the way the country is managed. It seems that the introduction of divorce which very few people ever envisaged could happen in such a speedy way in a socially conservative society ushered a desire for a more liberal and tolerant outlook on life.

Some weeks ago, I queried whether the Catholic Church was ready for change following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. The first indications are that things are indeed changing in the Church. The new Pope has a refreshing attachment to humility and the defence of the poor. Despite coming from the Jesuit religious order, known for its intellectual robustness, Pope Francis I immediately set the scene for his pontificate by saying that he wants “a Catholic Church that is poor and defending the poor”.

The Church may soon go through a phase of austerity, not for economic reasons, but to return to its roots that were always characterised by the defence of the weakest members of society. I would love to see the Church rid itself of much of its pageantry and the power dressing.

As Jacky Jones, the Irish Times correspondent, wrote: “The long dresses, red caps and fancy shoes are designed to impress observers and let them know where the power lies. This style of clothing shows a Church clinging to the trappings of power despite the power abuses and criminality exposed over the past few decades.”

Another change that I long for, but seems so elusive, is that of measuring our success in education by the importance that we give to quality learning. I cringe when I hear our educational leaders professing solemnly that they are committed to quality in our educational system, but then seem more interested in improving statistics.

We need a new normality in education where the great majority of students show a high level of employability skills: advanced reading and writing ability, competence in natural science, information and communication technology literacy, and enhanced numeracy skills.

Normality in education is not evidenced by colourful diplomas and certificates or the wearing of togas and graduation caps by our students, but by a reality check that shows that our young people are indeed finding the quality jobs that they aspire for.

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