A new feature started in issue 564 of the newspaper showcasing the writing of student leaders from New Zealand’s Catholic secondary schools.

It is planned that each “Heads and Hearts” column will feature two pieces of writing from head students on selected topics. NZ Catholic editor Dr Michael Otto said that, given the many demands on young people today, he is grateful that students have taken time to contribute to this feature, which will run occasionally, initially, and later, hopefully, regularly.

He is also grateful to directors of religious studies in schools for helping facilitate this new feature.

The first “Heads and Hearts” column features writing by two student leaders from Christchurch Catholic schools, which was thought appropriate, given all that their community has been through in recent past.

Rebecca Everingham , Marian College

On Friday, March 15, a terrible tragedy struck Christchurch in a way that we have never experienced before. So many innocent men, women and children were killed. They were practising their freedom of religion. A freedom of religion that is what allows us to be sitting here together today.

These are the words I spoke to the school in a liturgy on the Monday following the tragic event, to an assembly full of girls sharing in the suffering of our Muslim brothers and sisters of Christchurch.

As a calm reflection descended on our college this day, the strong emotional response of the Marian students was clearly evident. I believe that our fundamental understanding of spirituality and religion allowed a strong sense of empathy and community to reside among us. Amidst the grief and heartache, there was a powerful underlying notion of hope.

Our immediate response as a school was, of course; what could we do to help? A day of belonging and compassion to appreciate and celebrate our cultural diversities within the Marian community was organised where the school, adorned in an array of colours, donated practical toiletry items, that were to then be given to the affected women in need in the Linwood mosque community.

The immense student support and generosity seen on this day was moving. We participated in the citywide “paper chains for love” movement, with each paper chain created representing a collaborative effort to stand up for love, a love shining so bright through the darkest of times.

In a world of conflict, disputes and enmity on both sides, our calling as Catholics is to be artisans of peace: to exemplify acceptance, inclusiveness, gratitude and love to every human who is made in the image of God. Our focus as Mana Wahine of the Marian community is to truly put into action the words “we are one”. We cherish the diversity of our Marian community — a diversity that transcends into the wider society that we call Aotearoa. Just like many links make up the chain — it is this diversity that unites us. The events of Friday the 15th only make these links stronger. While we are wounded, we still have hope.

Cameron Brewitt, St Thomas of Canterbury College

My name is Cameron Brewitt, and I am the college captain at St Thomas of Canterbury College. Last month, thousands of Christchurch secondary school students descended on the Deans Ave Memorial to participate in the Students’ Uniting in Love movement.

As a student leadership team, my peers and I drummed up support among the boys to show their solidarity for the victims of this tragedy. We had a really large contingent of boys in attendance at the prayer, speeches and song, with St Thomas students outnumbering many other schools. I believe this speaks volumes of the connection, passion and pride that the boys hold in the school and in the city.

We were wounded, but we still have hope.

We had a strong turnout from students of all ages, and I was impressed by their effort to participate and not succumb to the fear that most had held of another potential terror threat.

We were the subject of much media attention with our large numbers, especially when we stood up and spoke in front of
thousands of people about rebounding from this event.

We, as a group, felt compelled to contribute our own song and college haka to let our emotion out and show that we as St Thomas stand in solidarity with the victims of this tragedy. What followed was one of the most powerful and emotional song and haka that I and many of the boys have ever taken
part in at school.

Our haka was to honour Hussein Al-Umari, an old boy who died in his mosque. We also prayed with our local primary school and made peace chains to show our solidarity.

I know that I can speak for all the boys when I say that was a special experience for all, and one that I will remember in years to come.

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