CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 7, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Catholic schools can contribute to integral development and help promote interreligious dialogue only if they are what they say they are, says John Paul II.
The Pope highlighted this point on Saturday when he received a group of Catholic bishops from the Indian ecclesiastical regions of Agra, Delhi and Bhopal, who were concluding their five-yearly visit to the Holy See.
Recalling the missionary example of the Apostle Thomas, of St. Francis Xavier, and of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Holy Father said: “From the very earliest days of her presence on Indian soil, the Catholic Church has demonstrated a deep social resolve in the fields of health care, development, welfare and especially education.”
“Many of your schools have large percentages of teachers and students who are not Catholic,” he noted. “Their presence in our institutions could help to increase mutual understanding between Catholics and those of other religions at a time in which misunderstandings can be a source of suffering to many.”
“It could also be an opportunity for non-Catholic students to be educated in a system which has proven its ability to form young people into responsible and productive citizens,” John Paul II added.
Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi told the Pope that Christians do not have an easy time in the territory served by the bishops in attendance. That territory is home to 38% of India’s 1 billion people.
“Anti-conversion” laws make evangelization extremely difficult, and the work of human development is looked upon with suspicion, the archbishop explained.
The Pope, who exhorted the bishops in their mission, stressed that “one of the greatest contributions our educational facilities, and all Catholic institutions, can offer society today is their uncompromising Catholicity.”
“Catholic schools must aim to create an atmosphere enlivened by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity striving to relate all human culture eventually to the news of salvation, so that the light of faith will illumine the knowledge which students gradually gain of the world, of life and of the human family,” he said.
“For this reason, it is essential that your educational institutes maintain a strong Catholic identity,” the Pontiff reiterated. “This calls for a curriculum marked by participation in prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist and requires that all teachers are well-versed not only in their fields of study but also in the Catholic faith.”
To achieve this, the Holy Father recommended placing “whenever possible, trained priests, religious and counselors in every school. This will help to ensure that every department and activity joyfully exudes the spirit of Christ’s Church.”