Networking in hope

This Monday, Pope Francis met with members of the Gravissimum Educationis Foundation. That somewhat scary-named organization was established by the Holy Father in 2015 on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s declaration by that name promoting Catholic education. “By this foundation, the Church renews her commitment to Catholic education in step with the historical transformations of our time. The foundation is in fact a response to the appeal made by the conciliar declaration, which suggested that schools and universities cooperate so as better to face today’s challenges,” the pope said to the group. 

Their meeting was entitled “To Educate is to Transform.” “Only by changing education can we change the world. To this end, I should like to offer you some suggestions,” said Pope Francis. “First, it is important to ‘network.’” This sounds rather boring, but he explained, “Networking means uniting schools and universities for the sake of improving the work, education and research, drawing upon everyone’s strong points for greater effectiveness on the intellectual and cultural levels. Networking also means uniting the various branches of knowledge, the sciences and fields of study, in order to face complex challenges with an inter-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary approach.” In other words, the pope isn’t suggesting getting together for a cup of coffee. Rather, he is calling upon Catholic educators to work together, between various levels of schools and between our schools and other arms of the Church, so as to better prepare our children to transform the world. The schools of the Diocese of Fall River have been working on meeting these challenges through their reorganization over the last few years, so as to create stronger schools for the future.

The pope continued, “Networking means creating spaces for encounter and dialogue within educational institutions, and encouraging similar spaces outside our institutions, with people of other cultures, other traditions and different religions, so that a Christian humanism can consider the overall reality of humanity today.” Through your generosity to FACE (the Foundation to Advance Catholic Education) you can help this type of networking continue to grow. We thank the many teachers, administrators and staff who work to build this “culture of encounter,” which Pope Francis has been promoting throughout his pontificate. Special mention goes to Miss Cecilia Felix, the recently-retired principal of Holy Family-Holy Name School in New Bedford. Beginning back in the days of St. John Paul II’s reign, she has worked to bring children of all nationalities into her school. She has moved Heaven and earth (through her prayers and through searching for generous hearts) to be able to welcome these children — and she admits that it has been a real blessing from God to get to know these children and their parents. This is the type of “networking” which Pope Francis loves (not the “hey, baby, let’s keep in touch” mentioned in the song by the rock group Blues Traveler, “Run-Around”).

Continuing this line of thought, the pope said, “Networking also means making the school an educating community where teachers and students are brought together not only by the teaching curriculum, but also by a curriculum of life and experience that can educate the different generations to mutual sharing. This is so important so as not to lose our roots!” Our more successful programming in Religious Education finds ways to have the various generations share their experience of living the Christian life as a loved relationship with Our Lord. 

There is a lot of pessimism in our world today, but Catholic education should be a means of sharing Christian optimism. The Holy Father said, “I pointed out in my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: ‘we must not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope!’ (n. 86). With this appeal, I meant to encourage the men and women of our time to face social change optimistically, so that they can immerse themselves in realty with the light that radiates from the promise of Christian Salvation.

“We are called not to lose hope, because we must offer hope to the global world of today. ‘Globalizing hope’ and ‘supporting the hopes of globalization’ are basic commitments in the mission of Catholic education, as stated in the recent document of the Congregation for Catholic Education, ‘Educating to Fraternal Humanism’ (cf. nn. 18-19). A globalization bereft of hope or vision can easily be conditioned by economic interests, which are often far removed from a correct understanding of the common good, and which easily give rise to social tensions, economic conflicts and abuses of power. We need to give a soul to the global world through an intellectual and moral formation that can support the good things that globalization brings and correct the harmful ones.”

Since the Holy Father was just saying this on Monday, he knows the various challenges that globalization faces — that not all of it is good, but nor is it all evil. He calls upon Catholic educators to discern the difference and to share this with their students. The pope himself noted the positive: “[a] beneficial historical force [that] marks a greater cohesion among human beings”; and the negative: globalization “giv[ing] rise to injustices and the close relationship between grave forms of human poverty and the ecological crises of our world  [and the] spread [of] a throw-away culture that engulfs objects and persons without distinction. It entails a vision of man as a predator and the world in which we live as a resource to be despoiled at will.”

The pope reminded his audience (and all of us) about the importance of Catholic “identity. This calls for consistency and continuity with the mission of schools, universities and research centers founded, promoted or accompanied by the Church and open to all. Those values are essential for following the way marked out by Christian civilization and by the Church’s mission of evangelization, with a preferential regard for those who are most needy.”

Although he was speaking to educators, his last words are a challenge which speak to our entire society. “Your work cannot overlook the goal of the common good. The common good is difficult to define in our societies characterized by the coexistence of citizens, groups and peoples belonging to different cultures, traditions and faiths. We must broaden the horizons of the common good, educating everyone to understand that we belong to one human family, building a future in which the dignity of the person and universal fraternity are global resources upon which every citizen of the world can draw.”

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts