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Student leaders at Central Jersey Catholic high schools meet with Bishop Checchio to discuss school safety

March 07, 2018

Four Catholic high schools in Diocese of Metuchen to hold 17-minute prayer service March 14 in solidarity with students across the U.S.

PISCATAWAY - Student leaders from the four Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Metuchen met with Bishop James F. Checchio March 2 to discuss the issue of school safety and security with regard to gun violence. The spiritual leader of the four-county diocese convened the meeting in an effort to learn what was in the students' hearts and on their minds following the deadly mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which claimed the lives of 17 innocent people.

Shortly after the tragic school shooting occurred on Ash Wednesday, Bishop Checchio invited student council representatives from Bishop George Ahr High School, Edison; Immaculata High School, Somerville; Saint Joseph High School, Metuchen; and Mount Saint Mary Academy, Watchung, to join him for a listening session at the Saint John Neumann Pastoral Center on Metlars Lane.

"The starting point - the bare minimum - in all our schools is safety; that should be a given," the bishop told the group of ten students in attendance. "We want you to know that we do all we can to protect you and keep you safe and we want to hear from you how you feel about what is happening in the nation regarding gun violence in schools and what you think can be done to combat it."

In response, students said they have felt and continue to feel safe in their Catholic high schools, as there are regular safety drills and other mechanisms in place. Still, they recognize the need for vigilance and continuous reevaluation of current practices as new methods or best practices evolve. The student leaders said it is expected that school safety and security methods and protocols may change or expand over time, based on the latest available information and recommendations provided by law enforcement.

For more than an hour, the Catholic high school students and the bishop took turns speaking and listening to each other. They exchanged thoughtful and intelligent dialogue on a range of topics, including the need for common sense gun-safety laws, enhanced school security and safety measures, effective reporting mechanisms, available mental health assistance, and early outreach and intervention methods.

As the students spoke, Bishop Checchio listened intently and scrawled handwritten notes on a piece of paper, recording key points and noting follow-up items. At times, laughter and lightheartedness interrupted the otherwise serious conversation.

Students also spoke about the courage displayed by a number of outspoken survivors of the Parkland, Fla. school shooting. They marveled at their peers who - in the midst of their own grief, sorrow and pain - have spoken to the media to articulate their outrage about gun violence and loss of human life. Students also expressed admiration for teens across the U.S. who have taken the lead in organizing various student walkout events and peaceful marches and are joining with Parkland survivors' call to Congress to enact legislation to prevent such horrific gun violence in schools, streets, homes and places of worship.

In solidarity with the survivors of the Parkland, Fla. school shooting and other supporters across the U.S., each of the four Catholic high schools and 23 Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Metuchen will hold a school-wide prayer service on March 14 at the same time of the widely promoted National School Walkout day. In each high school, the prayerful observance will begin at 10 a.m. and last for about 17 minutes, in honor of each of the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

In addition to collective efforts to prevent the scourge of gun violence, advocacy and concrete action must be accompanied by prayer, Bishop Checchio reminded the students.

"To truly be part of overcoming such a complex problem in our society, fervent prayer is needed and should not be undervalued," the bishop said.

He then reinforced the need for increased and ongoing prayer for peace, for an end to all violence, for all victims of violence, for all who have committed the grave sin of murder, and for all who suffer from mental illness, of any kind, that they are treated with compassion and receive the assistance and care they need.

Likewise, Bishop Checchio underscored the need for Catholics and all people of good will to demonstrate an authentic Christ-like love of neighbor, as revealed in the Gospel messages, and to promote a greater respect for human life and dignity at all stages, which is the underpinning of Catholic social tradition.

At the conclusion of the meeting, which began and ended in prayer, the Bishop of Metuchen told the student leaders they could contact him directly any time with concerns and asked them to keep in touch in the future. "As the eyes and ears on the ground, you know better than I what is going on in the schools and among your peers," the bishop said. "If there is anything you feel we should know, especially related to student safety and well being, we want to hear it from you. We love you and care about you."

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RELATED:
USCCB Domestic Justice and Education Chairmen Urge Concrete Actions to Address Scourge of Gun Violence http://www.usccb.org/news/2018/18-046.cfm

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