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‘Catholic’ means wide vision: Penna

By Glen Argan
Special to the Prairie Messenger


EDMONTON — Catholic educators must stir their students with a grand vision of goodness and beauty that can transform society, Rev. Stefano Penna told Catholic education leaders from across Alberta.

“The teacher who gives beauty doesn’t teach what the kid wants to hear; they teach what the kid needs to hear,” Penna told a Feb. 4 Conversation on Catholic Education and Contemporary Secular Society at the St. Anthony Teacher Centre.

Penna recalled telling students at Edmonton’s Archbishop MacDonald High School the previous day, “Don’t be small; don’t aim at small things. Don’t let people tell you that your marks, your paycheque, your little group is your identity, that that’s what you are.

“ ‘Catholic’ means a wide vision, so live for something powerful and real, for something that is worthy. Live for God. Don’t let yourself be treated as an object.”

Penna, a priest of the Saskatoon diocese, is now director of the Benedict XVI Institute for New Evangelization at Newman Theological College in Edmonton. The college and St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta sponsored the day of “conversation.”

Penna quoted Pope Francis — the first high school teacher to become pope — as saying the challenge of education today is not to teach students what to think or how to think, but simply to think.

If there is no search for truth and students are simply left with their own opinions, according to the pope, then there is no solution to the global economic crisis, no tool with which to critique pornography and the enslavement of women, Penna related.

If there is no truth, but only opinions, then there is no structure for freedom, he said.

“Kids come to us in a culture that loves tickling and distracting their ears,” Penna said. To accept that approach would be to give students a small vision. That would be “a complete betrayal” of the Catholic vision of the human person.

Beyond the secular world of the fragmented self and a lack of meaning, the Catholic vision is one where science, nature, spirituality and faith each have their part in “a harmonious ordered whole,” he said.

“The only reason we engage ourselves in the field of education is the hope for a new mankind in another possible world. The possible world is the reign of God.”

The eucharist is what shapes the Catholic understanding of the human person, he said. Just as the Holy Spirit transforms the elements of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood, so the Spirit “transforms our humanity to be the bread of the new world.”

“This gives us wings, opens up horizons beyond the crippling demands of the present moment.”

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