Do I have time to read a Church document and reflect on it? Not usually, but having listened to Catholic School Matters podcast series on Church documents, I was intrigued by the task. Perhaps some of my thoughts will give you pause and a desire to check it out.
Expanding on ideas from the post-Vatican II encyclical letter Populorum Progressio, Educating to Fraternal Humanism challenges Catholics to dialogue and act in solidarity on social justice inequities. Ironically, in the fifty years since Populorum Progressio, we find ourselves living in a globalized world with astonishing achievements in technology and science but find it difficult to coexist due to a host of inequalities. How does the Church answer this dilemma? Published in April 2017, Educating to Fraternal Humanism calls for Catholic education to work towards “humanizing education”, putting the person at the center of intellectual, moral and civic education while cultivating relationships that form a community.
How is this different? How is it more challenging? The Church sees Catholic schools as the conduit to the formation of students in a culture of true dialogue, even suggesting Catholic higher ed design dialogue courses and share research. The document explains that “fraternal humanism” dialogue goes beyond the usual exchange of ideas to a deep respect for the dignity of all those present, regardless of faith or cultural background: dialogue based in freedom coupled with a commitment to action. Pope Francis believes such deep dialogue is necessary and will, “…build bridges and …find answers to the challenges of our time” .
Having just returned from the NCEA convention, themes from Educating to Fraternal Humanism are resonating. After days of discourse, the importance of being inclusive, of understanding that everyone has a story and that we need to take time to listen to that story to fully understand another’s experience was truly humanizing. For me, the idea that Catholic universities can and should assume a leadership role in forming communities of dialogue and networks of collaborative research and formation supports the body of work currently being discussed by members of CHESCS (Catholic Higher Ed Supporting Catholic Schools) and NCEA.
Finally, as I re-read the document and reflected on conversations, I feel compelled to heed the Pope’s challenge for Catholic educators to create needed change in our schools by dissolving our “thought bubbles” and replacing them with what he calls the three languages: head, heart, and hands – hands doing good, minds seeking truth, and hearts touching the beauty of mankind. NCEA President Dr. Tom Burnford reminded me that Rome defines humanism as being human and to be human is to be as Jesus was. I heard this theme again during Bishop Caggiano’s keynote address when he stated that we are set on the right path through encounters with Christ and these encounters are made possible through the transformative power of Catholic education. Here is how I see the connection: the Church document urges us to live out fraternal humanism especially in Catholic schools and if that is where we encounter Jesus who modeled for us how to be human then Catholic schools play a pivotal role in humanizing education. For me the challenge remains, what more can I do with my head, heart and hands to humanize education. It doesn’t get more Christian than that.
I’ve often described my work in Catholic education as “an exercise in information overload.” Teachers, principals, and diocesan leaders are constantly bombarded by parent emails, unexpected student issues, required reports and surveys, and other demands. In the midst of all the noise and haste, it’s easy to get distracted from our true educational mission. In my role as a Superintendent, I try to intentionally reflect on the adage: “You are what you do, not what you say.” Am I truly engaged in activities that foster our Catholic mission, or am I just completing “busy work”? Am I asking principals and teachers to perform tasks that actually benefit children, or I am just feeding the bureaucracy (or worse, feeding my own ego)?
Our calling as Catholic educators is to carry on the essential teaching ministry of Jesus Christ. In spite of numerous internal and external pressures, we strive to focus relentlessly on the development of our students. We accept and embody the evangelizing commission of Christ to “make disciples of all nations,” shaping the next generation in the faith and academics they need to be successful in life.
Such refocusing on our mission is at the heart of the document Educating to fraternal humanism, written for educational institutions by the Congregation for Catholic Education. Defined as a “working paper”, this document reflects on the 50 years that have passed since Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on human development. Like its predecessor, Educating to fraternal humanism reminds us to keep the growth of each individual, as creations of a divine God, at the core of our educational work: “Humanizing education” means putting the person at the centre [sic] of education, in a framework of relationships that make up a living community which is interdependent and bound to a common destiny.”
The Congregation’s document reminds us that our mission is lived out in an increasingly challenging world. We exist in a period of social turmoil, political polarization, and growing hostility towards organized religions. It is easy to become distracted from our mission of evangelization and academic formation. We know from recent national market research that many families are not drawn to Catholic schools for the presence of our faith alone. Other factors, such as academic rigor and extra-curricular activities, tend to rise higher on the list of priorities for families. While we acknowledge this reality, Educating to fraternal humanism reiterates that our mission is to bring Christ to our students (and their families!). We acknowledge the growing secular environment while remaining steadfast in our call to form disciples.
Educating to fraternal humanism further states that our work cannot happen in a vacuum. The document suggests “Cooperation Networks” of educators, parents, and other supporters to come together on behalf of our educational mission. Such a community-based approach resonates strongly for those of us in Catholic education. We have long believed that educators must work in tandem with families, and that schools work best within the context of the larger Church community.
Pope Francis and his predecessors have been outspoken advocates for the dignity of the human person, from conception to natural death. To me, Educating to fraternal humanism is a clear reminder that our children must remain at the core of our work, even in the midst of distractions, confusion, and challenge. We must be relentlessly focused on their spiritual, academic, social, and emotional development. By doing so, we equip our students to become disciples themselves, passing on the grace and beauty of our faith to future generations. This is the divine work of Catholic education.
As I read through this document, I ask myself what my role in educating for fraternal humanism is and how to work toward building a civilization of love. I come back to the idea that we are all part of humanity and that we must work together for multicultural coexistence. I have an opportunity to spread the hope of peace by being a part of Catholic education thus contributing to building a global peaceful world. It is inspiring to note that the Church has long supported the idea that we need to develop the whole person (Gravissimim Educationis, Vatican II, 1965); and that humanizing education by focusing on relationships that make up an interdependent community with a common destiny will help feed interactive dialogue on a local scale and a global scale. I can be a part of this mission in a real way, supporting educators and administrators in their daily vocation.
As a Catholic educator, I do support the Church’s position that the family is the primary educator, but that we need to assist the family to endeavor to embrace an education that will “ generate solidarity, sharing and communion” as Pope Frances reminds us. I am also reminded that we have a specific responsibility to model for students and to form students spiritually, socially and morally so that they can all contribute to the common good. I see myself as an extension of families who bring their children to us.
I concur with the idea presented that as an educator I can lay foundations for peaceful dialogue. This church document posits that we need to embrace the ongoing challenge to understand our place in the dialogue and come to the table without egocentrism or ethnocentrism. I think that egocentrism and ethnocentrism are what will continue to be the challenge of humanity. Thus it is ever important that we embrace this idea of fraternal humanism so that we do not loose sight of the global message of peace and hope for all.
I am struck by the idea of inclusion presented given the current climate in society. We live in a pluralistic society where we have a responsibility to enter into dialogue that will respect others and seek to widen the horizon of the common good. Pope Francis continues to challenge us to go out in the world and walk together. We are also challenged to seek new means to meet the needs of future generations. I appreciate the notion of linking our history with current society and our future so that we build relationships for “universal solidarity.” It gives me hope that my church is part of the conversation to work for the common good for all humanity.
As an educator, I play an integral role in modeling how to build relationships where dialogue is welcome, especially with our administrators and other pastoral ministries. We all play a role in the moral formation of our students and modeling dialogue that respects a multicultural pluralistic society. In this way, Catholic educators have always contributed to civic conversations for the common good. I hope that this Church document inspires educators to continue on this path to build a global society of hope and love.