During the run-up to Easter the parish has lots of extra events to organise, including prayers, plays and similar with an Easter theme for kindergartens and schools. I went to a kindergarten where I told the little children the Easter story, and we prayed and sang hymns together. It was very enjoyable, although one unsavoury episode stuck in my mind.
One little boy refused to sit next to a dark-skinned girl. His teacher insisted, he cried, made a scene, left the room, returned, settled down and followed my story closely. He even asked a thought-provoking question about Jesus afterwards. I admired the teacher’s professionality. There was only a brief delay to my story, and the atmosphere was pleasant after all. The little girl seemed to be above such incidents.
It made me think about my childhood. Regrettably, children will always find a way to single out particular children to be bullied or teased in some way. Child A is of foreign origin, child B has a different religion, child C has a regional accent, child D is skinny, child E is fat, child F wears glasses, child G is from a poor family, child H is from a rich family, and so on ad infinitum. The main ethnic minority at my school was Italians; you might think they would barely stand out from the majority population children, but they did. They were different.
Fortunately, there is hope. Children can learn better ways. Good parenting and teaching can work wonders. The same is true of adults. So much prejudice is based on ignorance, fear and peer pressure. Telling the facts (not just knowing them and keeping them to yourself), setting a good example, spending time with people who are different in any way – these are all ways we can fight different types of prejudice. Jesus ignored his society’s prejudices – he spent time with foreigners (who were therefore non-Jews), collaborators (ie. tax collectors), prostitutes, lepers, the poor, and his opponents. What an example he set.