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Audience with the Pope

 

Members of the College community took part in the World Congress on Catholic Education, held in Rome between 18 and 21 November 2015. Among the hundreds of participants were Bishop Donal McKeown, member of the College Board of Governors; Fr Feidhlimidh Magennis, Director of the Liberal Arts programme; Mr Micheál Martin, Associate Lecturer in the Irish Department; and Tiffany Liddy, a BEd graduate who is teaching Religious Education in a school in London.

The Congress was titled "Educating Today and Tomorrow: a renewing passion" and marked the 50th anniversary of Gravissimum Educationis (the Declaration of the Second Vatican Council on Catholic Education) and the 25th anniversary of Ex Corde Ecclesiae (the Apostolic Constitution of Pope John Paul II on Catholic Universities). At the end of the Congress, the participants met with Pope Francis in the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican.

During the audience with Pope Francis, representatives of Catholic schools and universities gave witness to their work, and then Pope Francis shared his thoughts on some key themes of the Congress in a question-and-answer session. A translation of the pope’s comments is given below (testo originale)

Prof Roberto Zappala, director of studies at the Instituto Gonzaga, Milan:

"The Catholic educational institutions represented at the Congress come from a great variety of nations and contexts: the wealthier nations and those on the path of development, from cities and rural area, nations with a Catholic majority and those where Catholics are in a small minority. Given this great diversity, what, in your opinion, makes an institution truly Christian?"

Pope Francis:

We Christians are a minority. What comes to mind are the words of a great thinker: "to educate is to introduce others into the totality of the truth". You cannot talk about Catholic education without talking of humanity, because the character of Catholic education is precisely God who created humanity. To move forward to engage the attitudes, the human values, in full, opens the door to the Christian seed. Then comes faith. A Christian education is not simply a catechesis; this is part of it. It is not only proselytism - never proselytise in schools! Never! A Christian education carries forward the young, the children, in human values in all realities, and one of these realities is transcendence. Today there is a tendency towards neo-positivism, that is to educate about immanent things, towards immanent values, be this in traditionally Christian countries or those of a pagan tradition. This does not introduce the youth, the children to the totality of reality; transcendence is missing. For me, the greatest crisis in education, from a Christian perspective, this closure to transcendence. We become closed to the Transcendent. We need to prepare hearts so that God manifests himself in the totality, that is, which is humanity who possess this transcendent dimension. Educate humanly but with open horizons. Every kind of closure fails to serve education. 

Fr Juan Antonio Ojeda, lecturer at the University of Malaga:

Holy Father, in your discourses you make reference to the breakage of links between the school, the family and other institutions of society. Nevertheless, Holy Father, you often invite us to promote and to live personally a culture of encounter. What does this mean for all those in promoting education?

Pope Francis:

It is true that not only that education links are broken, but education has also become too selective and elitist. It seems that the right to education belongs only to peoples or persons who have a certain level or a certain capacity - but the right to education certainly does not belong to all children and young people. This is a world-wide reality which makes us ashamed. It is a reality which carries us towards a human selectivity, and which instead of bringing people together creates distance between them. The rich are distanced from the poor. One culture is distanced from another. But this is happening on the small-scale also: the educational pact between family and school is also broken. We must begin again. Also the educational pact between the family and the State is broken. At least where there is an ideological State which wishes to profit from education to carry forward its own ideology: like those dictatorships which we saw in the last century. It is terrible. Among the worst paid workers, there are the educators: what does this say, then? It says the State is not interested. If it were, things would not be this way. The educational pact is broken. And we find out work, to find new avenues. 

The testimony from Senegal, from the priest who spoke of seeking to do what Don Bosco had done. In a time of the most brutal working conditions, Don Bosco sought an "emergency education". And today an "emergency education" is needed. The emphasis needs to be on "informal education" [the informal curriculum] because formal education has been impoverished by the heritage of positivism. It conceives only of an intellectual technicalism and the language of the head. And in this way it is impoverished. We need to break this schema. There are experiences, in the arts and in the sports - art and sport educate! We need to open ourselves to new horizons, to create new models. There are many such experiences; you know about those which were presented to you which seek to open the horizon to an education which not simply about concepts in the mind. There are three languages: the language of the head, the language of the heart and the language of the hands. Education must move along these three avenues. To teach how to think, to help how to develop good affections, and to accompany in doing: thus the three languages would be in harmony. That a child or young person thinks about what she feels and does, that she feels that which she thinks and does, and that she does what she feels and thinks. This way, education becomes inclusive because each has its place - it is inclusive and human. 

The educational pact is broken by the phenomenon of exclusion. We look for the best, the most select - who could be the most intelligent, or could be those who have the money to pay for the better school or university - and we leave the others to one side. The world cannot move forward with a selective education because that is not a social pact which includes everyone. And this is a challenge: to search for avenues of informal education. Such as art, sport, so many options. A great Brazilian educator said that in formal schooling, one must avoid falling into a teaching of concepts. The true school must teach concepts, habits and values: and when a school is not capable of doing this, such a school is selective and exclusive and for the few.

I believe that the situation of a broken educational pact, as we have today, could be grave. It is grave. Because it leads to the selection of "super-humans", but only on the criterion of the head, and only on the criterion of interest. Behind this lies, always the phantasm of money - always - which overturns the real humanity. One thing which helps is a sure and healthy, respectful informality: this works well in education. Why confuse formality with rigidity? And this takes me back to the first question: where there is rigidity, humanism is absent, and where there is no humanism, Christ cannot enter. He finds the door closed. The drama of closure begins in the roots of rigidity. The people want something else - and when I speak of people, I speak of all of us, the families - they want community, they want dialogue. Cardinal Versaldi [who welcomed the Pope on behalf of the Congress delegates at the start of the audience] underlined this: they want dialogue. But when the educational pact is broken, there is rigidity and there is no place for dialogue. I think my way; you think yours and there is no place for universality or fraternity. On the two occasion I have had, here at the Vatican, talking and connections with students from five continents - they were organised by the Scolas occurrentes - I saw the need for unity. And today the project on offer is precisely a project of separation, not of unity. And that is also selectivity.

"What does this mean for those involved in the promotion of education?" - that was how your question ended. It means to take risks. An educator who does not know how to take risks does not know how to educate. A father and a mother who do not know how to take risks do not educate their child well. To take risks in a reasonable manner! What does this mean? Think of teaching a child to walk. You show that one leg must be firm, on sure ground. And with the other the child seeks to go forward. And so, if it wobbles, it can steady itself. Education is like this. You are secure at this point, but this is not the definitive goal. You must make another move. Perhaps you wobble, but you pick yourself up and off you go. The true educator must be a maestro of risks, but of reasonable risks, you understand. Just as I have attempted to explain here. I don't know. I think I have answered the question.  

Sr Pina Del Core, president of the Faculty of Education Sciences, Auxilium, Rome:

Holy Father, what challenges open up for educators at the time of a "third world war on terror", so as not close in on ourselves but to be and to become patient builders of peace? What encouragement do you want to offer all educators who dedicate themselves with passion to such a delicate mission?

Pope Francis:

First of all I would like to give a testimony in response to that just given by the Mother General of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary [concerning a school for street children in Mumbai, India]. When I was university Rector, my secretary was a sister of that congregation. This sister did the work of secretary at the university and after, in the afternoon, she had a snack lunch, took the car and drove to the periphery to do the work of director of a school for the poor. The secretary of the university, of the faculty of theology, went to the poor. Many congregations like this one have never lost this ideal. Perhaps in a few moments they emphasised the work among the elite of the city, they have the vocation to go to the periphery. So many foundresses of religious or gregarious were born to help young girls; so many founders to help the boys of the streets, the poor youth. I have spoken of Don Bosco. It is no coincidence that the Mother General was here and I would like publicly to thank her Congregation and all the congregations, male and female, who have never forgotten the streets on the periphery.

Someone could say, "But we must form the leaders! We must form people who think, who make..." This is true. It must be done. But when I went to Paraguay, in a school on the periphery they had an encounter of several days with the youth, not of the streets I will say but of the margins; poor, without the essentials. And these youth, boys and girls of 14 to 16 years old, had chosen to some important themes. And I listened to their discussion, to the conclusions of the discussion on one theme: to their adolescent gravity. And I thought: how can these youth, who live like this - on the river bank, going and coming barefoot, with little to eat - capable of thinking like this? Because they had a method and an educator who took them by the hand. No-one, no-one can be excluded from the possibility of receiving values, no-one! And from this, here is the first challenge I speak to you: leave the posts where there are so many educators and go to the margins. Or at least, half of you should leave! Search there! Search there for the needy, the poor. That have something that the young people of richer districts do not have - not by their own fault, but it is a sociological reality. They have the experience of survival, also of cruelty, of hunger, of injustice. They have a wounded humanity. I think now that our salvation comes from the wounds of a man wounded on the cross. From these wounds, they share a wisdom, if there is a brave educator who will bring it out. I am not speaking of going there to do good deeds, to teach them to read, to give them something to eat. No! That is necessary, but it is provisional. It is the first step. The challenge - And I encourage you in it - is to go there to help them grow in  humanity, in intelligence, in values, in habits, so they can go forward and bring to others experiences which they do not recognise.

In this very hall, fifteen days ago - I believe - we welcomed. Like today, 7,000 Roma from all over Europe. And the presentation was made by one who had grown up in a Roma district and now is a Slovakian parliamentarian. He is able to give a different experience to those who do not know the margins. Reality is better known from the margins than from the centre because you from the centre are always covered, always defended.

A broken educational pact, selection, exclusion, the inheritance of a selective positivism: these things must be resolved. And to go forward, to go forward with this challenge. To a congregation of sisters which has a special vocation in Argentina for the south of the country, for Patagonia, I said, "Please close half of the colleges in Buenos Aires and send the sisters there, in the periphery of the homeland", because from there will come the new contributions, the new values, and from there will come the people capable of renewing the world. Go to the margins. This I want to underline; to go to the margins is not only to do good deeds. It is in education to take by the hand those you would lead to do what they are able. To the Salesians in Turin I said, "Do what Don Bosco did in his time, where there were plenty of street children, plenty. Emergency education. Varigated education."

Another thing because the sister asked, "what challenge opens for educators in the time of a 'third world war on terror'"? What is the greatest temptation of war at this moment? Walls. Walls, to defend oneself. The greatest failing that an educator could have is to educate "behind walls". To educate behind walls: the walls of a selective culture, the walls of a culture of security, the walls of a social sector which is well-founded and not moving forward.

I would like to finish by inviting educators, prompted by this question, to rethink - this is a task to do at home, but do it in community! - to rethink the works of mercy, the 14 works of mercy: to rethink how to do them but in education. I will not ask you to raise your hands, those who know them well, by memory. I did that once in this hall: it was full. Only some twenty hands went up. But think, in this Year of Mercy, is mercy only to give alms? In education how can I do works of mercy? They are the works of the Love of the Father. The first word spoken by Cardinal Versaldi - the works of Love. What can I do so that this Love of the Father, which will be especially emphasised in this Year of Mercy, will appear in our educational works?

And I thank you educators so much - poorly paid - I thank you for what you are doing. We must re-educate so many civilizations. We must re-educate Europe. The Jesuit rector of a college asked me how much would cost me to change mentality, to re-educate for the path which the Church wants today. And in this way, one can also reach those who do not believe. And I want to thank an educator who became educator through the path of canon law - I do not know how but he became one - Cardinal Grocholewski. He is present here. And he is an example that answers the question: he has made accords with universities of all the world, catholic and non-catholic. Why? Because the passion to educate leads to this goal: to humanize the peoples. And so also to him I say publicly, Thank you, Eminence.