By Lisa Zengarini
The new challenges faced by Catholic education in our changing times need to be addressed with creativeness and imagination, and openness to sharing with one another, the Vatican says.
“It is essential that clergy, religious men and women, and lay people all sing as one choir, and that lay people be given the chance to echo the educating voice of a Diocese and even the unique timbre of a religious charism”, reads a joint letter addressed by the Dicastery for Culture and Education and the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to all Church actors involved in the mission of education.
Addressing difficulties involved in the mission of education in our time
The document was released on Wednesday, following a meeting convened in the Vatican on May 22 bringing together leading figures in the worldwide network of Catholic schools, to discuss the prospects and difficulties involved in the mission of education in our time.
The session, the letter explains, was organized jointly by the two Dicasteries, because a significant number of the over 240,000 Catholic schools that make the Church one of the world’s leading players in primary and secondary education are directed by Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
The joint initiative, the letter further explains, was “not only strategic, but also – and above all – concerned with respecting what the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium recommended in its call for ‘reciprocal listening, whereby everyone has something to learn’.”
“Two eyes always see better than one, and two ears hear better than one.”
The impact of Covid, economic crisis and secularization on Catholic schools
Participants in the session discussed a number of serious difficulties, some existing worldwide, others felt more acutely in certain local contexts.
Among them the long-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ongoing global economic crisis, decreasing birth rates, severe poverty and unjust disparities in access to food, water, health care, education, information, culture and the internet.
They also spoke about the lack of public financing of non-state schools in some countries, the drop in vocations, and secularization, affecting in particular the western world.
All these circumstances have given rise to complex practical consequences, leading in some cases to the closure or sale of Catholic schools.
“Wherever a school run by a Diocese or by a Religious Congregation is closed, something of the history of that unique local Church, or of the distinctive charism of that religious congregation, disappears from the educational environment.”
Lastly, those taking part in the Vatican meeting pointed out that new and unprecedented circumstances, opportunities and questions are at times making it more difficult to express the Catholic Christian identity “in a way that is open to dialogue yet firmly committed, solidly grounded and on good terms with all.”
Pope to Pontifical Universities: Work together harmoniously
Need to “sing in unison”
In the face of this complex situation the temptation might be to lose hope. However, the letter stresses, “what first seems to ‘block’ our courage could turn out to be a kind of ‘starting block’ for making a new leap forward”. For example, they “might spur us to make greater efforts to ‘sing in unison’”, as Pope Francis asked the Pontifical Academic Institutions in Rome in February this year. The letter renews this call for sharing and working together.
“It is urgent for the various Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to sing together as a choir, and for Bishops, parish priests and diocesan pastoral offices to sing in tune with the rich educational charisms present in schools run by Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.”
Addressing difficulties with creativeness
The two Vatican Dicasteries hence encourage ”initiatives and even experiments that are imaginative and creative, open to sharing with one another and to concern for the future.”
“As Offices charged with assisting the Holy Father in the exercise of his Petrine ministry, we especially wish to offer you these words of encouragement. We shall make use of both old and new ways to listen to your voices on our common journey, to address realities in a timely way and to help the body of the Church to develop forward-looking solutions, even in the most difficult circumstances.”