An invitation to First Communicants and confirmands: Promise Jesus not to bully

This spring, hundreds of young Catholics in the Diocese of Peoria will receive their First Communion or the sacrament of confirmation. Along with the promises of faith they have made or will make to Jesus, we invite the young people to make another:

Promise Jesus you will never engage in bullying.

Our invitation is not original. Last month, Pope Francis asked 45,000 pre-teens preparing for confirmation who had gathered in a soccer stadium in Milan, Italy, to make the same promise.

The pope told the youths he was very worried about the growing phenomenon of bullying. He asked them to be silent and reflect on if there were times when they made fun of someone for how they looked or behaved. And, as a condition of their confirmation, he made them promise Jesus they would never tease or bully anyone.

We don’t have that kind of authority. But after learning that an 11-year-old boy in Peoria took his own life on April 6 after a history of being bullied, we’ll promote the idea.

Keegan Beal’s mother, in an effort to protect him from the bullying at other schools he had attended, had just enrolled him at St. Mark School in Peoria. It was a good choice. Four years ago, St. Mark became the first parochial school in Illinois to implement Safe School Ambassadors, a program that trains student leaders to intervene when they see mistreatment of friends and other students. Apparently, however, the seeds of despair planted by past bullying had taken deep root.

According to published reports, Keegan’s mother is already planning ways to battle bullying, including outreach to bullies. “Keegan is going to save some people,” she told the Peoria Journal-Star.

Name-calling. Teasing. Leaving someone out of a conversation or game. Shoving. Bullying online or in person. It has to stop.

And maybe we can all start by making a promise to Jesus. We’re inviting our First Communicants and confirmands to lead the way. — Thomas J. Dermody


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