Francis' Address to Congregation for Catholic Education

“I also allow myself to suggest the need for retreats and Spiritual Exercises for educators”

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Here is a translation of Francis’ address today to the plenary session of the Congregation for Catholic Education (of Seminaries and Institutes of Study).

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Lord Cardinals,

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I give a particular welcome to the Cardinals and Bishops recently appointed Members of this Congregation, and I thank the Cardinal Prefect for the words with which he introduced this meeting.

The topics you have in the order of the day are exacting, such as the updating of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana, the consolidation of the identity of Catholic Universities and the preparation of the anniversaries that will fall in 2015, namely, the 50th of the Conciliar Declaration Gravissimum Educationis and the 25th of the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Catholic education is one of the most important challenges of the Church, committed today to carrying out the New Evangelization in an historical and cultural context in constant transformation. In this perspective, I would like to call your attention to three aspects.

The first aspect regards the value of dialogue in education. Recently, you developed the topic of education to inter-cultural dialogue in the Catholic school, with the publication of a specific document. In fact, Catholic schools and Universities are frequented by many non-Christian students and even by non-believers. The Catholic educational institutions offer to all an educational proposal that looks to the integral development of the person and that responds to the right of all to accede to learning and knowledge. However, all equally are called to offer — with full respect of each one’s liberty and of the methods proper to the school environment — the Christian proposal, namely Jesus Christ as the meaning of life, of the cosmos and of history.

Jesus began to proclaim the Good News in “Galilee of the Gentiles,” a crossroads of persons of different race, culture and religion. Such a context is similar in certain ways to today’s world. The profound changes that have led to the ever greater diffusion of multi-cultural societies ask all those who operate in the school and University sector to involve themselves in educational itineraries of encounter and dialogue, with courageous and innovative fidelity which will be able to make the Catholic identity meet with the different “spirits” of the multi-cultural society. I am thinking with appreciation of the contribution that the Religious Institutes and other ecclesial institutions offer with the foundation and running of Catholic schools in contexts of accentuated cultural and religious pluralism.

The second aspect regards the qualified preparation of the formators. We cannot improvise. We must engage seriously. In the meeting I had with the General Superiors, I stressed that today education is addressed to a generation that changes; therefore, every educator – and the whole Church which is Mother Educator – is called to “change,” in the sense of being able to communicate with the young people she has before her.

I would like to limit myself to recall the guidelines of the figure of the educator and of his specific task. To educate is an act of love, it is to give life. And love is demanding, it calls for using the best resources, for awakening passion and to begin with patience together with young people. The educator in Catholic schools must be, first of all, very competent, qualified and, at the same time, rich in humanity, capable of being in the midst of young people with a pedagogical style, to promote their human and spiritual growth. Young people are in need of quality teaching, together with values not just enunciated but witnessed. Coherence is an indispensable factor in the education of young people. Coherence! We cannot make them grow, we cannot educate them without coherence: coherence, witness.

Because of this, the educator himself is in need of permanent formation. Therefore, it is necessary to invest, so that docents and directors can keep high their professionalism and also their faith and the strength of their spiritual motivations. And in this permanent formation I also allow myself to suggest the need for retreats and Spiritual Exercises for educators. It is good to have courses in this and that argument, but it is also necessary to have courses of Spiritual Exercises, retreats, to pray! — because coherence is an effort, but above all it is a gift and a grace. And we must ask for it!

A last aspect concerns the educational institutions, that is, the Catholic and ecclesial schools and Universities. The 50th anniversary of the Conciliar Declaration, and the 25th of Ex Corde Ecclesiae and the updating of Sapientia Christiana induce us to reflect seriously on the numerous formative institutions spread throughout the world and on their responsibility to express a living presence of the Gospel in the field of education, of science and of culture. Catholic academic institutions must not be isolated from the world; they must be able to enter with courage in the Areopagus of present-day cultures and engage in dialogue, aware of the gift they have to offer everyone.

Beloved, the issue of education is a great open yard, in which the Church has always been present with her own institutions and projects. Today it is necessary to boost this commitment at all levels and to renew the task of all the subjects committed to you in the perspective of the New Evangelization. In this horizon I thank you for all your work and, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, I invoke the constant assistance of the Holy Spirit upon you and your initiatives. I ask you, please, to pray for me and for my ministry, and I bless you from my heart. Thank you!

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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