WINNIPEG — For Catholic schools to fulfil the hopes and dreams of Pope Francis, they will have to make some noise, get dirty and do so by proclaiming the joy of the Gospel.
“Catholic education exists to serve the mission of the church, which is the proclamation of the Gospel,” said Rev. Len Altilia, SJ. “There is no other reason for its existence. It is the only thing that distinguishes Catholic education from any other form of education. And that mission must be firmly established at the core of Catholic education, and not be simply some peripheral adjunct. From the highest levels of leadership to the classrooms and playgrounds and cafeterias the mission of the church must guide, inform, and inspire the work of Catholic education.”
Altilia, president of St. Paul’s High School in Winnipeg, was speaking to about 400 Catholic educators and support staff on Catholic Schools Day Feb. 12, co-ordinated by the Archdiocese of Winnipeg’s Catholic Schools office with the participation of the Archdiocese of St. Boniface and the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Winnipeg.
“Is the compassionate love of Jesus Christ at the core of your work? Do people see in you a reflection of Jesus Christ?,” Altilia asked the teachers present.
“You will be tested by government, by society, by parents. Your leadership will be judged by your responses. Only those responses that reflect the compassion, the joy and the active love of Christ can be considered acceptable. Anything less is inadequate.”
Francis’ vision is one of mercy, joy and action, Altilia said. “These three themes, then, being at the centre of the mission of Pope Francis, and therefore of the church, become of necessity the principal themes of the mission of Catholic education, as an embodiment of the mission of the church under the leadership of the pope.”
Altilia said when Francis spoke at World Youth Day in Rio in 2013 he told the crowd to go out into the streets. “I hope there will be noise,” the pope said. “He was challenging young people to stir things up.” From Evangelii Gaudium, Altilia quoted Francis, who writes: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out in the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
Altilia further quoted Francis, saying: “The school is not a parking lot. It’s a meeting place for teachers, students and parents, to know each other, love each other as a complement to the family.”
Catholic schools also “need to do a far better job at teaching kids to pray,” Altlilia said. “All schools need to work on teaching kids how to pray.” And prayer, he added, does not only mean talking to God, one must also listen. “God speaks. If you’re not paying attention you’re not hearing it.”
Altilia said everything Francis does, he does with a smile, and he quoted Francis again, saying: “We live for the joy of being believers, for the joy that Jesus Christ gives us, for the joy of having hope, for the joy of being courageous, for the joy of not throwing ourselves down. We live for that!”
“Francis wants the church to move out of the comfortable confines of its buildings and to engage the world on its own turf, to enter into the hurly-burly of everyday life, and the messiness of human existence, to be out in the streets,” Altilia said. “But that means confronting the confusion and commotion of life.
“So if the church is going to deal with that messiness it cannot respond ‘by the book’ unless that book is the Gospel.”