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The Road to Damascus

As well as many other aspects of the school which we are proud of, the racial and cultural diversity of St Benedict’s stands out very powerfully for me. It adds hugely to the richness of our community, as does our spirit of inclusion. So, when we see things happen in the world which attack this, we are all affected by this.

I’m sure you don’t need to follow football to be aware of the two latest appalling incidents of racism towards black footballers at the weekend. One of these was in Italy and one in England. When I was growing up, racist attitudes were pretty widespread in this country, sadly, but I rather hoped things had got better. To be honest with you, I was speechless with disbelief, anger and upset when I learnt of the chants and gestures which were aimed at these two men simply doing their job at the weekend, and I’m conscious that I am white, so how they feel I can hardly imagine. Chants and gestures? In 2024? Really? It breaks your heart, doesn’t it?  

Many people, including the representatives of black footballers, believe that the authorities don’t do enough to stamp out these behaviours, which then encourages them to continue. In these days of CCTV, face-recognition technology and allocated seating in football stadiums, it surely can’t be that hard to identify the culprits? I did read last night that Udinese, the Italian club involved, has identified the perpetrator and banned him for life; it will be interesting to learn what the English club do with theirs, as well as the football and civil authorities in terms of sanctions they might impose on the clubs of the offending “fans”.  

But we must not give up hope that things can change and that justice can be achieved. I was reminded yesterday in the excellent Upper 4 assembly that today is the Church’s feast day of the conversion of St Paul. As you will know, Saul – as he was before he became Paul – mercilessly persecuted the early Christians, however, he experienced a powerful change of heart. You may also be aware that this coming Saturday is Holocaust Memorial Day, when we remember the millions of Jews who suffered at the hands of the Nazis – a profound example of what unchecked and unchallenged fear, bigotry and intolerance can lead to.

The perpetrators of the acts at the weekend must receive their punishments – that is what justice means – but having done so, we should pray that, like St Paul, their hearts will be opened, and they too will be transformed into the people that God created them to be.