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Pope Praises Saint John Baptist de La Salle as ‘Genius and Creative Innovator’

Meeting Lasallian Christian Brothers Celebrating 300-Year Anniversary, Holy Father Recalls Immense Impact in Education of Their Founder

Pope Francis has welcomed the entire spiritual family, through those representing it today in the Vatican, founded by Saint John Baptist de La Salle, on the occasion of the third centenary of his death.

Meeting the community today at noon in the Vatican, Francis greeted and thanked Superior General Brother Robert Schieler, and gave his “affectionate greeting” to “each one of you and I would like it to reach all the Brothers of the Christian Schools, who work in the Church with generosity, competence and faithful adherence to the Gospel.”

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“This important anniversary of your Founder,” the Holy Father said, “is a propitious occasion for your Institute to highlight the figure of a pioneer in the field of education, who devised in his time an innovative educational system.”

“His example and his witness confirm the original timeliness of his message for today’s Christian community, illuminating the way to follow. He was a genius and creative innovator in the vision of the school, in the conception of the teacher and in the methods of teaching. ”

Here is a ZENIT working translation of the Pope’s address to those present.

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The Holy Father’s Address

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I welcome you who represent the entire spiritual family founded by Saint John Baptist de La Salle, on the occasion of the third centenary of his death. I greet and thank Brother Robert Schieler, Superior General; my affectionate greeting goes to each one of you and I would like it to reach all the Brothers of the Christian Schools, who work in the Church with generosity, competence and faithful adherence to the Gospel.  This important anniversary of your Founder is a propitious occasion for your Institute to highlight the figure of a pioneer in the field of education, who devised in his time an innovative educational system. His example and his witness confirm the original timeliness of his message for today’s Christian community, illuminating the way to follow. He was a genius and creative innovator in the vision of the school, in the conception of the teacher and in the methods of teaching.

His vision of the school led him to mature ever more clearly the persuasion that education is a right of all, also of the poor.  Therefore, he did not hesitate to give up the canonry and his family’s rich inheritance, to dedicate himself entirely to the education of the lowest social class. He gave life to a community of only lay people to carry out his ideal, convinced that the Church cannot remain foreign to the social contradictions of the times, which she is called to address. It was this conviction that led him to institute an original experience of consecrated life: the presence of religious educators that, without being priests, would interpret in a new way the role of “lay monks,” immersing themselves totally in the reality of their time and thus contributing to the progress of the civil society.

Daily contact with the realm of the school matured in him the awareness of identifying a new conception of the teacher. He was convinced, in fact, that the school is a serious reality, which needs adequately prepared people. However, he had before his eyes all the structural and functional deficiencies of a precarious institution, which needed order and form. He then intuited that teaching cannot be only a profession, but that it is a mission. Therefore, he surrounded himself with persons suitable for popular schools, of Christian inspiration, with attitudinal and natural gifts for education. He dedicated all his energy to their formation, becoming himself an example and model for them, who had to exercise at the same time an ecclesial and social service, and doing his utmost with alacrity to promote what he described as the “dignity of the teacher.”

In the attempt to give concrete answers to the instances of his time in the school field, John Baptist de La Salle undertook daring reforms of the methods of teaching. He was moved in that by an extraordinary pedagogic realism. He substituted the French language with Latin, which was normally used in teaching; he divided the students in homogeneous groups for learning, in view of more effective work; he instituted Seminaries for country teachers, namely for young men who wished to become teachers without entering to form part  of a religious institution; he founded Sunday schools for adults and two retirees, one for young delinquents and another for the recovery of the imprisoned.  He dreamed of a school open to all; therefore, he didn’t hesitate to address also the need for extreme education, introducing a method of rehabilitation through the school and work. He initiated, in these formative realities, a corrective pedagogy that, in contrast with the custom of the time, brought study and work to punished youths with craftsmanship activities, instead of just the cell or the lashes.

Dear spiritual sons of John Baptist de La Salle, I exhort you to deepen and imitate his passion for the least and the rejected. In the wake of his apostolic testimony, be protagonists of a “culture of resurrection,” especially in those existential contexts where the culture of death prevails.  Don’t tire of going in search of all those that find themselves in the modern “sepulchres” of loss, degradation, hardship and poverty, to offer hope of a new life. May the impetus for the educational mission, which made your Founder teacher and witness for so many of his contemporaries, and his teaching, still be able to fuel your projects and action. His figure, ever so timely, is a gift for the Church and a precious stimulation for your Congregation, called to a renewed and enthusiastic adherence to Christ. Looking at the divine Teacher, you can operate with greater generosity in the service of the New Evangelization, in which the whole Church is involved today. The ways for the proclamation of the Gospel require being adapted to the concrete situations of the different contexts, but that also implies an effort of fidelity to the origins, so that the apostolic style, which is proper to your Religious Family, can continue to respond to the people’s expectations.  I know that this is the commitment that animates you and I exhort you to walk with courage in this direction.

May you be able to fulfil your mission among the young generations with renewed vigour, with that reforming daring that characterized John Baptist de La Salle: proclaim to all the Gospel of hope and of charity. May the Holy Virgin sustain you always and obtain for you abundant apostolic fruits.

Drear brothers and sisters, I thank you for all that you do in the field of education. I accompany you with prayer and my blessing. And I ask you, please, not to forget to pray for me.

[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

About Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is a Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in four languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, at times from the papal flight, and has done television and radio commentary, including for Vatican Radio and BBC. She is a contributor to National Catholic Register, UK Catholic Herald, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, and other Catholic news outlets. She has also collaborated with the Vatican in various projects, including an internship at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and is a collaborator with NBC Universal, NBC News, Euronews, and EWTN. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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