World Catholic Education Day and Pope Francis’ Global Compact

The following blog was contributed by Quentin Wodon, OIEC & Loyola University New Orleans.

Catholic schools serve 62 million pre-primary, primary and secondary school students globally, and close to seven million students enrolled in universities and other institutions of higher learning. While in some countries like the United States, Catholic education is celebrated on a particular day or week, at the global level World Catholic Education Day is observed each year 40 days after Easter, which this year falls on May 26.

The principle of observing the day was agreed upon at a Congress of the International Office of Catholic Education (OIEC in French) in Brasilia in 2002. In 2021, for the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the day, the Global Catholic Education project prepared in collaboration with OIEC series of resources that could be used by Catholic schools to celebrate the day all over the world. This included a series of 25 interviews of Catholic education leaders and practitioners.

This year again, resources are being made available for the celebration of the day, including a one page flier, an 8-page brochure and a new report based again on interviews with educators. The theme for this year’s report is “Responding to the Call from Pope Francis: Seven Commitments for a Global Compact on Education.” This focus comes from the fact that in September 2019, Pope Francis suggested the need for a Global Compact on Education to renew our passion for a more open and inclusive education. He called for a broad alliance “to form mature individuals capable of overcoming division and antagonism, and to restore the fabric of relationships for the sake of a more fraternal humanity.”

A year later, in a video message for a meeting on the Global Compact, the Pope called for seven commitments related to the Global Compact on education: (1) to make human persons the center; (2) to listen to the voices of children and young people; (3) to advance the women; (4) to empower the family; (5) to welcome; (6) to find new ways of understanding (the) economy and politics; and (7) to safeguard our common home.

To share examples of what educators are already doing to help implement the vision of Pope Francis, the first part of the new report produced for World Catholic Education Day reproduces a text forthcoming in the Journal of Global Catholicism. The text builds on stories and insights from about 130 interviews conducted to date with educators for the Global Catholic Education project. Insights from those interviews are shared as they relate to each of the seven commitments called for by Pope Francis.

The second part of the report consists of seven interviews illustrating how Catholic educators and others are putting these commitments into practice. One interview is provided to illustrate each of the seven commitments.

The first interview with Sister María Antonieta García Carrizales from Peru is broad on the mission of Catholic schools. It illustrates how Catholic schools aim to fulfill the first commitment called for by Pope Francis, which is to make human persons the center.

The second interview with Sr. Antoinette Nneka Opara from the Africa Province of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus illustrates the second commitment, which is to listen to the voice of children and youth. Sr. Antoinette shares the example of a survey implemented in two schools for girls in Nigeria to understand the nature of violence in schools and how to end such violence. These online surveys were a unique approach to give voice to children in confidentiality.

The third interview with Sr. Mickerlyne Cadet in Haiti relates to the commitment in the Global Compact to advance women. Sr. Mickerlyne belongs to the FMA congregation which runs schools and other institutions globally with a focus on educating girls. She currently heads a vocational school in Haiti that prepares young women for work in the hospitality industry.

The fourth interview is with Cathy Low, a permanent volunteer of the International Movement ATD Fourth World in Switzerland. Cathy talks among others about street libraries, and how building on the aspiration of parents for their children is essential to the fight against extreme poverty. The interview relates to the commitment under the Global Compact to empower the family. The International Fourth World Movement for which Cathy works has long argued that the family is the first line of defense against extreme poverty. In the realm of education as well, parents and siblings have an essential role to play for children to learn.

The fifth interview with Father René Micallef, SJ, in Rome is about the commitment to welcome under the Global Compact. Catholic schools must be inclusive. This applies to children with disabilities, those from minorities or other religions, as well as the poor. It also applies to refugees. Fr. René talks about the importance of education for refugees, a topic that is especially relevant today given the dramatic increase in the number of refugees globally.

The sixth commitment under the Global Compact is about finding new ways of understanding the economy and politics. The penultimate interview with Idesbald Nicaise, a professor of economics at KU Leuven, Belgium, illustrates how this can be done. That interview is part of a broader series of interviews with Catholic economists.

Finally, the seventh commitment is about care for the environment. The last interview with Myriam Gesché, also from Belgium, explains an initiative taken to promote a better understanding among Catholic school students of the need to safeguard our common home, with a particular emphasis on the energy sector. That interview is part of a series on digitalization in education. These interviews are illustrative of the efforts already made by educators all over the world to “live” the commitments suggested under the Global Compact on Education. The hope is that these interviews and the broader report for World Catholic Education Day will inspire you in your own work to implement the vision and seven commitments suggested by Pope Francis toward a Global Compact on Education.