VATICAN CITY, NOV. 19, 2002 (Zenit.org).- A new Vatican document highlights the role of the consecrated in the field of education, even as their numbers are dwindling.
The text, entitled “Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in the School. Reflections and Guidelines,” was written by the Congregation for Catholic Education, whose prefect is Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski.
Speaking during a press conference today, the cardinal revealed the document’s objective.
“We want the document to serve as a stimulus to consecrated persons so that, in the present circumstances, given the decrease in vocations, the temptation to leave the educational service, and the complexity of the world of education and the school, they will be conscious of the loftiness of their educational mission,” he said.
The document states that the mission of the consecrated in this field consists in “giving reasons of life and hope to the new generations, with learning and culture that are critically elaborated, based on a concept of the person and of life inspired in evangelical values.”
Cardinal Grocholewski said that “consecrated persons make an essential contribution to the development, in educational and scholastic activity, of the vertical dimension, that is, openness to God, in addition to the horizontal dimension, the education to live responsibly together.”
He added that consecrated persons “through the evangelical counsels [poverty, chastity and obedience] and the experience of community life, are witnesses of a totalizing and definitive commitment, of a response of love to Christ, teacher and Lord, who opens them to the gift of self to others.”
The cardinal noted that the Church has 250,000 scholastic institutions, with 42 million students. He also cited UNESCO data that estimates there are 135 million children ages 6 to 11 who do not go to school and more than 280 million children and young people who are illiterate or have had little schooling.
Cardinal Grocholewski urged the consecrated to make a decisive contribution in education, at a time when, especially in the West, teachers often “feel unmotivated.”
Another “very worrying sign is the increase in violence in schools and among adolescents, as well as the difficulty of families,” the cardinal said.
“I think that at the heart of the unrest in schools today is the obfuscation — I hope it is not the loss — of the meaning of education,” he continued.
“This loss of meaning is closely linked to the loss of values, especially of those who support the life options: family, work, morality in general,” the prefect said. “In this way, education also experiences the evils that afflict our societies: widespread subjectivism, moral relativism and nihilism.”
“Frequently, the school is asked to be simply instructive, that is, capable of offering cognitive instruments and to make human resources function in the complex economic system of our world,” the cardinal added.
“Catholic pedagogical tradition, on the contrary, confirms forcefully the central character of the human person in the educational endeavor,” he said.
“A correct pedagogical program is called to seek the integral formation of man, putting him in contact in a systematic and critical manner with culture and reality,” the cardinal continued.
“The most profound needs of a society characterized by scientific and technological development, which can end in depersonalization and mass production, calls for adequate answers and makes manifest the need of an education that knows how to form strong and responsible personalities, capable of free and responsible moral choices,” the prefect concluded.
During the press conference, Archbishop Giuseppe Pittau, secretary of the congregation, indicated that there were no exact statistics on the numbers of religious teaching in Catholic schools throughout the world, but stated that since the Second Vatican Council there has been a strong decline in their numbers.
He pointed to the United States, where in 1970, for example, 51% of the teachers in Catholic schools were priests or religious. That figure declined to 7.5% by 2000.
“This is only one nation, but it is probably a typical description of the situation of a great part of the countries in the West, and also of many other countries,” Archbishop Pittau said.
Mother Antonia Colombo, general superior of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, also spoke at the press conference. She described the commitment to education as a “path to sanctity, a requirement for justice and solidarity, especially toward the poorest young boys and girls.”
“With their presence, consecrated persons are a tacit invitation to question oneself about God, about the mystery of life,” she added.
The teaching of religion in school “acts as a cultural proposal for everyone, independent of the faith that one professes,” she affirmed.
“A dimension highlighted in the document is that of being united to the poor and not excluding them,” Mother Colombo stressed. “The better option for the poor requires a different way of organizing the scholastic program.”
The religious took note of the section of the document dedicated to education for peace.
“The underlying conviction,” she said, “is that peace cannot be assured without a commitment to justice, without promoting equal opportunity to the access of goods, especially the good of education.”