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In a certain, real, unnamed country, each of the 92 graduating students entered the auditorium crowded with parents.
In their maroon gowns and academic caps, they looked as grown up as they felt.
Dads swallowed hard behind broad smiles, and mums freely wiped away tears.
No prayer would be said during the celebration of these high school graduates, not by choice, but because of a recent court ruling prohibiting any reference to religious faith.
The principal and several students were careful to stay within the guidelines. They gave amusing and pertinent speeches, but no one in any way referred to anything spiritual and no one asked for blessings on the graduates and their future lives.
The speeches were nice, but unremarkable until the final speech…
A solitary student proudly walked up to the microphone. He stood still and silent for just a moment, and then, it happened – the remaining 91 students, every single one of them, suddenly sneezed!
The student on stage simply looked at the audience and said: ‘God bless you all.’ And he walked off the stage.
The audience exploded into applause. This graduating class had found a unique way to invoke God’s blessing on their futures with or without the court’s approval.
In that country, like many other countries around the world, school prayer or reference to faith in a spiritual context is being squeezed out of children’s experience, if not already absent.
The claim is often made that ‘they can make their own minds up when they’re old enough’.
Knowledge and experience are fundamental for a real choice.
Surely, it’s the richness of a child’s experiences that gives them the material on which they may choose to draw on later in their lives?
Reverend Tony Wood, St Kieran’s RC Church.