Teaching the Common Good

Teachers from the AIMC visited Liverpool earlier this month

When we disagree on so much, how will we build a life together in which everyone flourishes?

As a teacher in a school in Northern Italy, this is my daily concern. My colleagues in the Association of Italian Catholic Teachers (AIMC) share the same motivation. To help our pupils grow as responsible citizens, and to help them find fulfilment in life, we believe it is important to help them engage with the Common Good: 'an idea whose time has come.'

The work of Together for the Common Good (T4CG) has motivated me, and over the last two years my AIMC colleagues and I have decided to deepen the ideas and practice of the Common Good in our schools. Through T4CG, we have connected with like-minded teachers in Liverpool, culminating in a week’s visit to meet them, in early July.

I already knew Liverpool, and was familiar with the city’s ecumenical tradition, exemplified in the unlikely partnership between Archbishop Worlock, Bishop Sheppard and Free Church leaders, over a twenty-year period, a generation ago. My colleagues were also aware of this story, because I had shared it with them through a conference I organised – together with my fellow teacher Arcangela Bizzarri - with Together for the Common Good, in Italy in 2016. 

We could see and feel how the initial ecumenical journey started

Thirteen of us decided to come and see for ourselves how the Common Good can be realised: to ‘touch with our own hands.’  We were fascinated by this very deep experience. It was a ‘360 degree’ journey, organised for us by T4CG in partnership with Alsop High School.

Our visit began in Hope Street, at the Sheppard Worlock monument, positioned equidistant between the two great Cathedrals, Catholic and Anglican, in this city where sectarianism used to drive people apart. We could see and feel how the initial ecumenical journey started: a real foundation from which the Common Good can grow, and bear fruit.

We were moved by an ecumenical Evensong service for the Common Good at St. Columba’s Church, Anfield – a beautiful,  positive shock for us to discover an Anglican church where it was perfectly natural to pray with the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, with prayers for the Common Good, local, national and global.

“Faith 2017: working together for the common good” was the primary reason for our visit. A six-month schools-community initiative led by Peter Bull, Head of RE at Alsop High School, it was devised in partnership with Together for the Common Good and involved local schools, faith groups and community organisations, involving hundreds of children and local people. It followed their award-winning, ‘Hope 2016: working together for the common good’, a one-month series of events, talks and workshops. Arriving in the final week of Faith 2017, we joined in with several activities.

We accompanied over 230 eleven year-olds in a ‘Faith Encounter Day’ as they visited a Mosque, a Synagogue and Liverpool’s two great cathedrals. We saw for ourselves the expressions of wonder on the faces of the children, and heard their thoughtful responses to discussions about positive values from the faith traditions they encountered.

We visited schools and classrooms, experiencing British education first-hand, seeing our counterparts' way of working with young people. We noticed that Religious Education is important even in a non-church school, such as Alsop High School. We also visited Bruce Hicks and his colleagues at the Catholic school, Archbishop Beck College. We could see that all involved in Faith 2017 are fostering ecumenical joint working as a way of living. We could see this is something which must be at the core of any teaching about the Common Good.

By staying at Liverpool Hope University, and visiting the Sheppard Worlock library, praying in the ecumenical chapel and meeting the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Gerald Pillay, we saw that an ecumenical university is a living reality. Dr Ros Stuart-Buttle led us in a seminar looking at how Catholic social teaching and the Common Good is incorporated into the university’s teacher training programme, and how their Centre for Christian Education is working to build the relationship between theology and education in a UK context.

We were moved to have met Fr Kevin Kelly, a long time advocate of the empowerment of the laity, and to have met Fr Michael Fitzsimons who introduced us to the parish of St Wilfrid, where Catholic and Anglican lay people work and pray together whenever possible.

We were delighted to hear about the history of the Eldonian Village from its Chief Executive, George Evans, who told us about its founder Tony McGann and their extraordinary Common Good story. We were inspired to hear how local people were accompanied by the two bishops in their struggle to build what has become an award-winning, community-owned village of a hundred and fifty homes. It stands as a beacon of light showing subsidiarity in action, and how churches and communities can work together for the flourishing of all.

Jenny Sinclair, Director of T4CG, led us in a seminar at Alsop High School about the principles and practice of the Common Good, and we presented our experiences and stories about bringing Common Good into schools in Italy. We also heard stories from Peter Bull and his colleagues: Peter’s enthusiasm to position his school as a force for the Common Good in a deprived area was infectious, and it was great to hear about the many interventions he has led in Faith 2017 over the past six months and the impact this has had on school culture. 

Both our work and that of the Liverpool teachers involved in Faith 2017 has been prompted by a 'Common Good Schools toolkit', being developed by T4CG, built on what was learned in Hope 2016. We look forward to what more T4CG has to offer. 

We are each other's gifts

What a deep joy it was for us to meet with British colleagues! We realised we work on the same wavelength and that we can share our ideas and methodology. We are now planning to build on this connection and continue to learn from each other. In the spirit of the Common Good, we realised that ‘we are each other’s gifts - and we will remember this by a red candle holder given to us by Peter Bull -depicting people holding hands - which will now tour our AIMC member groups. It will help us to share the story of our trip more widely, starting in Sardinia, continuing to Lombardy, and concluding its pilgrimage in Modena.

One of our party was Fr Graziano Gavioli, a young Catholic parish priest from Modena. For ten years, he has lived the Common Good by hosting a daily shared lunch in his home with people who have been marginalised - people who we might call ‘the poor’. They are not ’served’, they prepare the food, eat, and clear up together with Fr Graziano, building a sense of family. Since he got home, he has preached about the trip to Liverpool, sharing that he was amazed by the ecumenical story and inspired by the work for the Common Good in schools. He would like to come again, and next time, bring young people with him. During the visit he met Father Ryan Cook, an Anglican priest, who has hosted dinners in his home with the poor and marginalised: they forged a friendship.

We all left Liverpool with thousands of ideas to put into practice. The Liverpool ecumenical Common Good story will be made known all over Italy in a very short time, and, we are sure, will lead to the flourishing of many young people, their communities and families.

Franca Gambari
AIMC President of the Province of Modena, Emilia Romagna



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