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Beatitudes of Catholic education: reflections on World Congress on Catholic Education

By Gertrude Rompré

More than 1,500 Catholic educators gathered in Rome from Nov. 18-21 for the World Congress on Catholic Education. Together they explored the theme, Educating Today and Tomorrow: Renewing the Passion. Sponsored by the Congregation for Catholic Education, the congress celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis, and the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

The congress spoke to the very soul of Catholic education. The whole process, from the initial working document to the keynote and panel presentations, the informal interactions among participants to the final audience with Pope Francis, shone a light on how the mission of Catholic education is currently being lived out in every corner of the globe. What emerged, for me as a participant, was something akin to a list of beatitudes for Catholic education.

Blessed are Catholic educators who pay attention to the world in which they live. A key theme of the congress revolved around the need, as Catholic schools and universities, to analyze the social contexts in which we work and to respond to the needs of our local and global communities. There is a continued call for Catholic educators to read the signs of the times and to bear witness to gospel values in light of the challenges we face as human communities today.

Blessed are Catholic educators who engage in dialogue. Speakers spoke of “dialogue as the preferred way of engaging” with the world, about the need for continued dialogue between faith and reason, and the call to engage with a diversity of cultural, religious and social groups. Rev. Herminio Dagohoy, OP, rector of the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines, proclaimed that, “As a community we need to communicate our stories, and we need to listen to the stories of others as well.” Our Catholic identity as institutions is best lived in relationship.

Blessed are Catholic educators when they create communities of learning. Education is not a solitary endeavour. Catholic education is embedded in Catholic communities that create a place of belonging for students, particularly those students who would not otherwise have access to education. Such communities include more than just their current members, but are connected to past and future members as well. They provide a “mirror for the world we wish for” (Rev. Paul Béré, SJ) and become communities of witnesses to Christ’s loving action in the world.

Blessed are Catholic educators who open students up to the possibility of transcendence. Catholic education is based on a Christian anthropology that calls us to educate the whole person, nurturing the spirit as well as the mind. Students in Catholic schools and universities are invited to see themselves as beings capable of transcendence and of entering into ever deeper relationships with God and others.

Blessed are Catholic educators when they move out to the peripheries. Catholic education has an anti-elitist bent. It is meant to embody a preferential option for the poor. Pope Francis himself asked us to pay special attention to the peripheries and allocate our educational resources to meet their particular needs. He called us to take risks, “reasonable risks.”

Blessed are Catholic educators when they act as peace-makers. The congress was held only a few days after the Paris attacks. The question of how Catholic educators ought to respond to violence in our world became an unexpected theme of the congress. When the question was posed to Pope Francis directly, he cautioned us against the temptation to build walls and to barricade ourselves behind them. He called us to embody the works of mercy through education.

Blessed are Catholic educators when they are united in their diversity. As a global event, the congress highlighted the incredible diversity that exists under the umbrella of Catholic education. Catholic education happens in countries where Catholics are minorities and majorities, in rich nations and poor nations, and in a multitude of linguistic and cultural contexts. Yet, Catholic educators are united in a common, Christ-centred, mission. As such, there is no room for competition in Catholic education.

The World Congress on Catholic Education was ultimately a celebration of Catholic education, Catholic education that exists in challenging times but nevertheless brings a message of hope to the world.

Rompré is the director of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.