Pope’s Q-and-A Session With Roman Clergy, Part 4

On the Church’s Role in Education

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 14, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Following a Lenten tradition, Benedict XVI met Thursday with parish priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome. During the meeting, the participants asked the Pope questions. Here is a translation of a fourth question and the Holy Father’s answer.

ZENIT began this series of questions-and-answers Monday.

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[Father Daniele Salera, parish vicar at Santa Mary, Mother of the Redeemer in Tor Bella Monaca and a religion professor:]

Your Holiness, I am Father Daniele Salera, a priest for six years now and the parish vicar in Tor Bella Monaca; there I give religion classes. In reading your letter about the urgent task of education, I have taken note of certain elements that struck me as significant and that I would like to talk about with you. […] I would like to transmit to you in these short moments the beauty of working in a school with colleagues who for various motives no longer have faith or no longer identify themselves with the Church. Nevertheless, they give me an example of passion for education and for the rescuing of adolescents whose lives are marked by crime and degradation.

I perceive in many of the people I work with in Tor Bella Monaca an authentic missionary drive. Through different but convergent paths we fight against this crisis of hope that is always lurking when one daily interacts with kids who seem dead on the inside, without a desire for the future, or so profoundly wrapped up in evil that they don’t manage to perceive the goodness desired for them, or the occasions of freedom and redemption that in any case come along in their life. Before such a human emergency, there is no time for divisions. I often repeat to myself a saying of Pope Roncalli, who said, “I will always look for what unites, more than what divides.”

Your Holiness, this experience allows me to live daily with youth and adults who would have never found me if I would have concentrated only on the activities of the parish. And I see that it’s true: Many educators are giving up on ethics in favor of an affectivity that does not give certainties and creates dependence. Others fear defending the norms of civil coexistence because they think these norms don’t take into account the needs, difficulties and identities of the youth. Using a slogan, I would say that at the level of education, we live in a culture of, “yes, always” and “no, never.” But it is the “no” proclaimed with loving passion for man and for his future that often draws the line between good and evil, a limit that in the years of development is fundamental for building up a solid personal identity.

On one hand, I am convinced that, before the emergency, diversities are attenuated and therefore, in the realm of education, we can truly find common ground with those who freely do not declare themselves believers in the real sense. On the other hand, I ask myself, why do we, as a Church, who have written, thought and lived so much regarding education as formation in the correct use of liberty — as you say — fail to transmit this educational objective? Why do we seem, shall we say, so little free and freeing?

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this reflection of your experiences in the school of today with the youth of today, and also for these self-critiquing questions for us. In this moment, I can only confirm that it seems very important to me that the Church be present also in the school, because an education that is not at the same time an education with God and in the presence of God, an education that does not transmit the great ethical values that have appeared in the light of Christ, is not education. Professional formation is never sufficient without the formation of the heart. And the heart cannot be formed without, at least, the challenge of the presence of God. We know that many youth live in environments, in situations, that make the light and the Word of God inaccessible. They are in life situations that represent a true slavery, not just exterior, but that provoke an intellectual slavery that obscures the truth in the heart and in the mind.

We try with what is within the reach of the Church to offer also to them a chance to escape. But, in any case, we bring to this diverse environment of a school — where you can find a range from believers to the saddest situations — the Word of God. This is what we have said about St. Paul, who wanted to make the Gospel arrive to everyone. This imperative of the Lord — the Gospel should be announced to everyone — is not a diachronic imperative, not a continental imperative, that in all cultures it be announced in a big way, but rather an interior imperative, in the sense of entering into the various facets and dimensions of a society to make, at least a little, the light of the Gospel more accessible. That the Gospel really be announced to everyone.

And it seems an aspect of the cultural formation of today. To know what is the Christian faith that has formed this continent and that is a light for all continents. The ways in which this light can be made most present and accessible are various, and I realize I don’t have a recipe for this. But the need to offer oneself to the service of this adventure — beautiful and difficult — is really an element of the imperative of the Gospel itself. Let’s pray that the Lord helps us to respond to this imperative of making knowledge of him, knowledge of his face, arrive to all of the dimensions of our society.

[Translation by Kathleen Naab]

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