January 25, 2007
He is one of England’s best-known photographers. But it’s not photographing the royal family that has brought him award after award. No. It is turning his camera on the grief and tragedy of the human family that has brought world attention to 65-year old Don McCullin.
After receiving the World Press Photo Award in 1964 for his coverage of the war in Cyprus, he went out to cover wars in the Congo, Vietnam, the Holy Land and Biafra. In Biafra, he faced the sickening consequences of famine. But his photos peer beyond the barren limbs, the protruding ribs and the sunken eyes. His work uncovers a nobility in those approaching death.
When McCullin visited Botswana, the images of the dying haunted him. Botswana is rich in diamonds. Yet, it suffers the world's highest incidence of HIV. Almost 40 percent of the country's adults are HIV-positive. The stark poverty, the illness and the inevitability of death caught McCullin’s eye. He produced portraits of the suffering and dying with the classic form of photography reserved for celebrities.
Recently he did work with some celebrities. To prepare for a February 3 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London, he photographed 10 of Britain’s religious leaders. He welcomed the opportunity to be with these individuals of different faiths. He had so many questions about the grief and tragedy we inflict on one another.
The Archbishop of Canterbury sat for his camera. The Chief Rabbi posed for him. No word. No explanation. Former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, posed for him as well. But he “kept looking at his gold watch. He said he had to rush to another meeting” (
The Sunday Times, London, January 21, 2007, p.7). McCullin was disappointed.
Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn” (Robert Burns). But why? Only Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, tried to carry on a conversation during the photo shots. The real questions in life are difficult to discuss. Values. Respect of the other person. Forgiveness.
Not all cultures share the same values. And even our culture is rapidly readjusting its values. We are living at a moment of great transition. Values that were once held in common have become the source of debate and division. A Rubicon in political careers!
When the New Jersey Supreme Court (October 25, 2006) mandated the State legislature to grant those in same-sex unions civil benefits equal to married couples, the court decided to push the agenda of redefining marriage. The legislature’s quick acquiescence to the court (December 14, 2006) bypassed the rights of the citizens to make laws that are good and just. The effect is yet to be seen. Respect for marriage between a man and a woman is evaporating as tragically as respect for life itself.
Today we live with many who share our dream for justice and for a home where all can live in dignity. But many do not speak our language of values and fundamental rights. We meet still others (unfortunately some Catholics) who have chosen another language to frame the moral issues we face as a society. Their language has shifted from duty to rights, from the common good to personal fulfillment, from objective truth to subjective freedom. To respond to the challenges of our scientific and technological age, we need to recover and respect the fundamental values that come from the truth of the human person. Values need to be taught. And from an early age.
The parents are the first to form their children in what is true and good. They have the primary responsibility to educate their children. The family is the primary school where every individual receives the ABC’s of life itself. The home is where language is taught and love learned.
But parents need help. Families do not live in isolation. They are part of a community.
The Church rightly considers education as essential to her mission as the community of faith founded by Jesus. Christ is the Truth given for all. The Church, therefore, educates others with the truth of Christ in many different ways. Catechesis. Preaching. Liturgy. Social services. The witness of consecrated life. The Catholic school.
It is to the advantage of society as a whole, and our cities in particular, to have Catholic schools. The students are well prepared. They graduate at a higher percentage than in many public school systems. Their education forms them in such a way that they become productive citizens who contribute to society and do not become a burden.
But can many of our schools survive? Parents pay high taxes in their local communities. When they send their children to private schools, there is a significant saving to the State. Nonetheless, there is simply no government support to ease the tuition costs.
Today, schools find it impossible to keep tuition costs from rising. Many times young teachers leave the Catholic schools for higher paying positions in the public school system. Salaries need to be just. With every increase in salaries and the escalating cost of health benefits, tuitions increase. This becomes a problem for families with lower and middle incomes.
Catholic schools cannot be funded merely by tuition. However, there are not always the sophisticated structures in place to raise funds from other sources. Furthermore, with decreases in enrollment because of shifting population, with buildings that are in need of repair and technological updating, our schools find their resources stretched to the limit.
The costs are great. The need is urgent to do something to keep Catholic education available for those who want it. Reorganizations. Consortia. Some mergers. Some closures. Parents are concerned. Teachers anxious. At the very time when there are no longer the financial resources necessary to keep all our schools open, the need for Catholic schools is greater than our grandparents’ day.
Catholic schools enable young people to acquire knowledge and to develop as full, human persons. Catholic schools keep as the core of their curriculum the religious formation and spiritual growth of the individual. What a benefit for society! Individuals formed with a moral compass based on truth.
A solid education can no more exclude the religious and spiritual dimension of the person than it can exclude the physical development of the individual. Without such a formation, society produces people with technological and scientific know-how, but not with the necessary moral and ethical principles to apply their knowledge for the common good. “
If religion is neglected or set aside in the educational process that forms a nation’s heart and soul, then a morality worthy of man will not survive; justice and peace will not endure” (Pope John Paul II,
Address to the Bishops of Westminster, February 29, 1988, n. 2).
In the past, our culture was saturated with Christian values. The culture supported the values that families wished to give their children. This is no longer true. In fact, society stands, in too many ways, clearly against what the faith holds as sacred.
If ever there was a need for Catholic schools to continue, it is today. The South African novelist Alan Paton said, “
There is only one way in which one can endure man's inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one's own life, to exemplify man's humanity to man.” Catholic schools form individuals, like Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who are examples of true humanity. That is why Catholic schools are an irreplaceable gift of the Catholic community to society.