Papal audience to the partecipants at the World-wide Congress “Educate today and tomorrow. A renewing passion”


Pope’s Q-and-A on the Challenges of Education

“To rethink the works of mercy, the 14 works of mercy; to rethink how to do them, but in education”


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

On Saturday, the Holy Father received in audience participants in the World Congress “Education Today and Tomorrow: A Passion that Is Renewed” (Rome, November 18-21, 2015), organized by the Congregation for Catholic Education (of the Institutes of Studies) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Gravissimum Educationis (Declaration of Vatican Council II on Christian Education) and the 25th of Ex Corde Ecclesiae (Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities).

Several testimonies were given during the course of the meeting by representatives of Catholic schools and universities of the world. Then the Holy Father answered off-the-cuff three questions addressed to him by a school Director, by a University Religious docent and by a woman Religious President of a Faculty.

Here is a translation of the transcription of the questions and of Pope Francis’ answers.

* * *

Professor Roberto Zappala, School Director of the Gonzaga Institute of Milan.

Catholic educational institutions are present in a great diversity of nations and contexts: richer nations, developing nations, in cities, in rural areas, in nations of a Catholic majority and in countries in which Catholics are a minority. In this great variety of situations, what, in your opinion, makes an institution truly Christian?

Pope Francis

We Christians are also a minority. And there comes to mind what a great thinker said: “To educate is to introduce in the totality of the truth.” One cannot speak of Catholic education without speaking of humanity, because, precisely, the Catholic identity is God who became man. To go forward in attitudes, in full human values, opens the door to the Christian seed. Then faith comes. To educate in a Christian way is not only to engage in catechesis: this is one part. It is not only engaging in proselytism – never proselytize in schools! Never! To educate in a Christian way is to lead young people, children, in human values in the whole of reality, and one of these realities is transcendence. Today there is the tendency to neo-positivism, that is, to educate in immanent things, to the value of immanent things, and this happens in countries of Christian tradition and in countries of pagan tradition. And this is not to introduce youngsters and children in the total reality: transcendence is lacking. For me, the greatest crisis of education, in the Christian perspective, is being closed to transcendence. We are closed to transcendence. It is necessary to prepare hearts for the Lord to manifest Himself, but totally, namely, in the totality of humanity, which also has this dimension of transcendence. To educate humanly but with open horizons. Any sort of closure is no good for education.

Father Juan Antonio Ojeda, Docent at the University of Malaga

[Question in Spanish]

Holy Father, in your addresses you refer to the break of the links between the school and the family and the other institutions of society. Moreover you, Your Holiness, often invite us to promote and live personally a culture of encounter. What does this mean for all individuals committed in the promotion of education?

Pope Francis

It is true that not only the educational links have been broken but education has become too selective and elitist. It seems that only people or persons who have a certain level or who have a certain capacity have a right to education, but certainly all children and all young people have a right to education. This is a global reality that makes us ashamed. It is a reality that leads us to a human selectivity, and that instead of bringing peoples closer, it distances them; it also distances the rich from the poor; it distances one culture from another … But this also happens in a small way: the educational pact between the family and the school is broken! We must begin again. The educational pact between the family and the State is also broken. Unless there is an ideological State that wishes to take advantage of education to carry it ideology forward: such as those dictatorships that we saw in the last century. It’s awful. Educators are among the worst paid workers: what does this mean? This simply means that the State is not interested. If it was interested, things wouldn’t be the way they are. The educational pact is broken. And here comes our work: to find new ways.

The testimony of Senegal, of Father … [he turns to him]  you, who spoke: try to do what Don Bosco did. At the time of the worst Masonry in Northern Italy, Don Bosco sought an “emergency education.” And today we have an “educational emergency,” we must push for “informal education,” because formal education has been impoverished by the legacy of positivism. It only conceives an intellectual technicality and the language of the head. Hence, it has been impoverished. This scheme must be broken. And there are experiences with art, with sport … Art and sport educate! We must open ourselves to new horizons, create new models … There are so many experiences: you know the one that was presented by you, Scholas occurrentes, which in fact seeks to open, to open the horizon to an education that is not only concepts in the head. There are three languages: the language of the head, the language of the heart and the language of the hands. Education must move in these three ways. To teach to think, to help to feel well and to accompany in doing, so that the three languages are in harmony; that the child, the youngster think about what he feels and does, feel what he thinks and does, and that he does what he thinks and feels. And thus education becomes inclusive, because everyone has a place – inclusive also humanly. The educational pact was broken by the phenomenon of exclusion. We find the best, the most selective – those that are the most intelligent, or those with the most money to pay the best school or university – and the others are left to one side. The world cannot go forward with a selective education, because there is no social pact that unites everyone. And this is a challenge: to seek ways of informal education – of art, of sport, so many, so many. A great Brazilian educator – are there Brazilians here? –, one of yours said that in the school – in the formal school – one must avoid falling solely into teaching concepts. A true school must teach concepts, habits and values, and when a school is incapable of doing this at the same time, that school is selective and exclusive and for a few.

I think the situation of a broken educational pact, such as that of today, is grave, it is grave, because it leads to the selection of “super-men,” but only with the criteria of the head and only with the criteria of interest. Behind this there is always the ghost of money – always! – which ruins true humanity. One thing that helps is a sure and healthy respectful informality; and this is good in education, because formality is confused with rigidity. And a go back to the first question: where there is rigidity there is no humanism, and where there is no humanism, Christ cannot enter! The doors are closed! The drama of closure begins in the roots of rigidity. And peoples want something else, and when I say “peoples” I mean people, all of us, families … They want coexistence, they want dialogue – Cardinal Versaldi stressed this: they want dialogue. However, when the educational pact is broken and there is rigidity, there is no place for dialogue: I think my way, you think your way and there is no place for universality and for fraternity. In the two experiences I have had here, in the Vatican, speaking, connecting with students of five continents – which was organized by Scholas occ
– I have seen the need for unity and today, the project that is offered is precisely the plan of separation, not of unity – also of selectivity.

What does this mean for individuals committed to the promotion of education? — the question ended. It means to risk. An educator who is unable to risk is no good for education. A father or a mother who are unable to risk, do not educate their child well — to risk in a reasonable way.  What does this mean? To teach how to walk. When you teach a child to walk, you teach him that one leg must stay put, on the pavement he knows, and with the other, he must try to go forward so that if he slips, he can defend himself. This is to educate. You are certain on this point, but this is not definitive. You must take another step. Perhaps you will slip. But you get up and go forward … The true educator must be a teacher of risk, but of reasonable risk, one understands, as I have now tried to explain. I don’t know. I think I’ve answered the question …

Sister Pina Del Core, President of the Faculty of Sciences of the Auxilium Education of Rome

Holy Father, what challenges open for educators at the time of the “third world war fought piecemeal,” to not close oneself in oneself but to be, and to become, patient peacemakers? What encouragement do you wish to give all educators who dedicate themselves passionately to such a delicate mission?

Pope Francis

First of all, I would like to give a testimony in the discussions of what the Mother General of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary just said. When I was Rector of the University, my secretary was a Sister of that Congregation – she is still alive, Mother Asuncion, quite elderly – but this Sister did the work of a secretary at the University and then, in the afternoon, she ate a bun, got the car and went to the periphery, to be Director of a school for the poor. The secretary of a University, of the Faculty of Theology, went to the poor. So many Congregations, like this one, have never lost this idea. Perhaps at times they have stressed more work among the elite of the city, but they have the vocation to go to the periphery, from where they were born … And how many Founders, how many Founders of Religious Congregations were born to help girls, or how many Founders were born to help street children, poor youngsters! I spoke of Don Bosco … The coincidence so happens that the Mother is here, and I would like to thank her Congregation publicly and all Congregations, male and female, which have never forgotten the streets of the periphery.

Someone might say: “But we, we must form leaders! We must form people that think, that do …” This is true, it must be done. However, when I went to Paraguay, a meeting of a few days was planned, I wouldn’t say of the street  youths but youths of the periphery, poor, without the essentials, and these youths, boys and girls between 14 and 16 years old, chose to talk about some subjects, some strong subjects. And I heard the discussion among themselves, and the conclusions on one of the subjects: adolescent pregnancy. I thought: how ever are these youths — who live like this, who live on the bank of a river that comes and goes [often flooded], who have little to eat — capable of thinking this way? — because they had a method, a man or woman educator that took them by the hand. No one, no one can be excluded from the possibility of receiving values, no one! Hence, here is the first challenge I tell you: leave places where there are so many educators and go to the peripheries. Seek there, or at least leave half of them! Seek there the needy, the poor. And they have something that young people of the richer neighborhoods don’t have – not because of their fault, but it is a sociological reality: they have the experience of surviving, also of cruelty, also of hunger, also of injustices. They have a wounded humanity. And I think that our salvation comes from the wounds of a man wounded on the cross. Those, of those wounds, bring wisdom, if there is a good educator that leads them forward. It is not about going there to engage in charity, to teach to read, to give to eat …, no! This is necessary, but it’s provisional. It’s the first step. The challenge – and I encourage you – is to go there to make them grow in humanity, in intelligence, in values, in habits, so that they can go forward and bring to others experiences that they don’t know.

In this same Hall, 15 days ago – I believe – we received, as today, 7,000 gypsies of the whole of Europe. Rom, and the presentation was made by one who had grown up in a Rom neighborhood and is now a Slovakian parliamentarian. And this can offer a different experience to those that do not know the peripheries. And the realities are understood better from the peripheries than from the center, because you are always covered by the center, you are always defended in the center …

Broken educational pact, selectivity, exclusion, legacy of a selective positivism: these things must be resolved. And then go forward; go forward with this challenge. To a Congregation of Sisters, which has a special vocation in Argentina, in the South of Argentina, in Patagonia, I said: “Please, close half of the schools of the capital of Buenos Aires and send the Sisters there, in that periphery of the homeland,” because new contributions, new values will come from there and also persons that are capable of renewing the world will come form there. Go to the periphery. However, I want to stress this: go to the periphery but not only to engage in charity. It lies in education, to lead by the hand on the path up to where they can . To the Salesians I said at Turin: “Do what Don Bosco did in that time, where there were so many street children, so many: emergency education, variegated education.”

Something else, because in the question the Sister asked, “what challenges are opening to educators at the time of the ‘third world war fought piecemeal.’” What is the greatest temptation of wars at this moment? The walls, to defend oneself with walls. The greatest failure an educator can have is to educate “within walls.” To educate within walls: the walls of a selective culture, the walls of a culture of security, the walls of a social sector that is well-off and does not go further.

I would like to end, in fact, on this question, inviting men and women educators to rethink  – it is a task to be done at home! – but to be done in community! – to rethink the works of mercy, the 14 works of mercy; to rethink how to do them, but in education. I won’t ask you to raise your hands – those who know them well, by heart, no. I did it once in this Hall: it was full …. And only some twenty raised their hand … But think, in this Year of Mercy, is mercy only to give alms? –or, in education, how can I do the works of mercy? They are, namely, the works of the Love of the Father, the first word said by Cardinal Versaldi: the works of Love. How can I have this Love of the Father, which is especially stressed in this Year of Mercy, come to our educational endeavors?

And I thank you so much, men and women educators – badly paid — I thank you for what you do. We must re-educate so many civilizations. We must re-educate Europe. A Jesuit Rector of a college was telling me how hard it is for him to change his mentality, to re-educate on the path that the Church wants today. And thus one can also reach those who don’t believe. And I also want to thank an educator who became an educator through the path of Canon Law – I don’t know how it can be done, but he has become so: Cardinal Grocholewski. He
is present here. And he is an example that answers the first question: he has made agreements with universities around world, Catholic and non-Catholic. Why? Because the passion for education leads to this: to “humanize” people. And to him I also say publicly: thank you, Eminence.

I don’t know how the program continues … Is it finished? Thank you so much for your work. And I hope you have a good lunch.

And now we pray together to Our Lady: Hail Mary.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation