Muslims in Catholic Schools

Interview With Director of St. Dominic’s Institute of Rome

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By Gisèle Plantec

ROME, FEB. 25, 2010 ( The directors of an educational institute are stating that they have found a positive coexistence between Catholic education and Muslims who come to their schools.

Anthony Bardoux, director of St. Dominic’s Institute of Rome, and Sister Marie Joannes, the former director who held that position for 40 years, affirmed this in an interview with ZENIT.

They spoke about the challenges and goals of working in Catholic education, underlining its unique aspects and needs in modern day.
ZENIT: Can you explain the specificities of the Dominican educational project?
Bardoux: In the first place, it is a Catholic educational project, inspired, therefore, in the Gospel.
The Dominican charisms are the source of inspiration for our institution. The Holy Father has highlighted the notion of truth.

Truth, liberty and responsibility are the key words of our action on the spot.
We emphasize the development of the person in his totality, caring for the individual in a global way, including his affectivity, his intelligence and his heart.
ZENIT: Concretely, what differentiates you from a public school?
Bardoux: The first distinction is our capacity to show Christian values and to guarantee that the persons who come to work here are in agreement with those indicated values, which give us a norm of conduct, a framework.
The other distinction is Christian anthropology. We develop an approach to the child based on Christian anthropology.
The Social Doctrine of the Church is, of course, a source of inspiration for the institution’s educational project, but there is also a Dominican charism that we live in a particular way here, that of fraternity, of being able to live together.
We want this to be for all persons who work here a place of personal growth; this example is offered to pupils to follow.
We want them to be able to observe persons who are able to live together, who treat one another every day with warmth.
Hence, we are especially committed to helping persons who supervise the pupils to “be able to be.” And we show this commitment.

I believe this is a very strong distinction compared with what one sees in a public center, where there is no framework that governs human relations.
And, of course, our framework is the Gospel, and we show it.
Sister Marie Joannes: Yes, I think the most important point is that this be shown. This does not mean that in public education there aren’t persons who live it as well, but here we live it as a team.
I believe the Dominican note is […] Dominic’s passion for God and for man.
We must see man with an evangelical vision, a look that will lead our young people to the development of their personality to be the men of tomorrow, who will be men of the Gospel.
ZENIT: How do you live this, given the important presence of Muslims in the school?
Bardoux: There is a very strong seeking of spirituality by Muslim families, a strong commitment to the religious character, and very great respect.
Previously, I did social work with Muslims who came from the suburbs. They were very difficult young people, but they had immense respect for Catholic young people who prayed.
There is no Muslim social doctrine and I believe that, also because of this, Muslims are committed to that of Catholics.
They are quite close to the values defended by Catholic teaching. That’s true, at least, for the vast majority of Muslims, those who are moderate.
Sister Marie Joannes: In some cases, this coexistence is also stimulating.

Muslims have a sense of the sacred, a sense of God and religion, and explicit respect.
And these people pose questions to our young people who say they are Catholics but who are not always very convinced. They influence one another by mutually posing to one another real questions.
ZENIT: Do difficulties arise sometimes?
Bardoux: Indeed, there is fear of proselytism on the part of Muslim families.
We often organize celebrations and the Muslims are, of course, reticent.
However, when we explain to them that sometimes it is important “to be family,” they understand us.
At other times, on the other hand, one must be delicate, respect their religion and not call them to conversion.
There are celebrations to which we don’t invite Muslims (such as the Ash Wednesday Mass), because it is also important that the Catholics be able to recollect themselves without outside “observers.”
In general, this goes well. All is based on dialogue. For the society of tomorrow, the fact of living this type of experience in an educational institution is very positive.
This teaches tolerance, it shows them that there are no more differences than these and that we can live together around the same values.
In reality, when we speak of Catholics and Muslims, we are speaking here more of culture.

God still does not form part of the daily life of many children. And this is true both for Catholics as well as Muslims.
ZENIT: How does the institute foster collaboration between religious and laity?
Sister Marie Joannes: Religious-lay collaboration has never been a problem for us.
Bardoux: There are almost no religious at the head of school centers in France. There would be a real risk if sufficient attention was not paid to the profile of the head of the center who is contracted. At present Catholic education forms the directors of its centers.
And the religious institutions that have their own charism guarantee a continual formation. It is what is called “tutelage.”
The presence of the laity enables one to avoid the religious event being exclusively an affair of the congregation. It enables the existence of two worlds.
The committed layman will try to guarantee that all the laity join the educational project.
I have a letter of commitment with the exigency of committing myself to live the character proper to Catholic education and to develop this spirit in the teams. This is very strong.
I think it is important that we have a common culture between the laity and the consecrated. We must have a shared culture.
Sister Marie Joannes: Reciprocally, it is indispensable for the religious world. The fact of collaborating with a lay director who contributes a whole competency but who at the same time is able to fulfill his letter of commitment is very satisfying.
This enables one to avoid seclusion in the two worlds.
ZENIT: Do you have a sort of “charter” of the Dominican educational project?
Bardoux: We have attempted to develop ideas of education and to put them in writing. This will constitute a base that will inspire the whole of our pedagogical projects.
Here are some examples [of our goals]: to live our profession with a spirit of service and not as power, to accept without conditions and without a possessive character, to break false hierarchies, to uphold advice that rejects seclusion and labeling, to accept individual and atypical itineraries, to impose punishments that do not humiliate or wound, to develop the study of the present time, philosophical research, and to value experience and its revision.
The person, as a developing being, does not formulate the definitive judgment, does not reduce the person to his past, to his behavior, to his results. He develops opinions that stem from what already is a success.
The person, as a fragile being, avoids intransigence and insensitivity, destroys isolation. He considers mistakes, error and failure as an experience, a step.
The relations between persons are placed at the center of the school project.

[We aim to] promote the sense of the common good, take variety into account, develop the whole emotional
and sexual aspect, given that the integral dimension of the person also includes reflecting on these topics.
ZENIT: Do you sometimes see fruits of your commitment in Catholic education?
Bardoux: Sometimes there are requests for Baptism — especially among the littlest ones, but independently of that, it is clear that the children have gone through a place of education.
They don’t come out only with knowledge but also with a series of principles, with values, even though they don’t always identify them immediately as Christian values. It is often later, in difficult moments, when they remember.
 [Translation by ZENIT]
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