Pope Francis

Address to Participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Catholic Education (and Institutes of Study)

[Unofficial translation by Murray Watson]

Dear brothers and sisters,

I would like to thank the Cardinal-Prefect for his introductory words to this gathering, and I warmly greet the members of the Congregation for Catholic Education who were recently appointed—among them the Prefect himself, who is presiding over this Plenary Assembly for the first time. I greet those who are part of the “Gravissimum Educationis Foundation," recently established to give a new impetus to what is found in that conciliar declaration.

Over these last few days, you have been considering many topics, taking stock of the dicastery’s work over these last three years, and sketching out the directions its future undertakings will follow.

You have been engaged in reflection and discussion on a variety of important aspects of the sectors of the vast field of education, which fall within the competence of your Congregation—such as the initial and ongoing formation of teachers and directors, as well as considering the need for a type of education that is both inclusive and informal; and the irreplaceable contribution made by religious congregations, not to mention the support that can come from particular Churches or organizations in this field. A significant part of your work was devoted to ecclesiastical and Catholic university-level institutions, in order to bring the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana up to date; to promoting Canon Law studies linked to the reform of the process for marriage nullity; not to mention supporting campus ministry in universities. Furthermore, you considered whether it is opportune to offer guidelines to promote a greater sense of personal accountability on the part of all those involved in this demanding field of education.

As I recalled in my exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, "Universities are outstanding environments for articulating and developing this evangelizing commitment” and “Catholic schools … constitute a most valuable resource for the evangelization of culture, even in those countries and cities where hostile situations challenge us to greater creativity in our search for suitable methods” (§134).

It is within that overall framework of evangelization that I wish to share some expectations with you.

First of all, in the face of a pervasive individualism, which impoverishes on a human level and creates cultural barrenness, it is necessary that we humanize education. Schools and universities only attain their deepest meaning insofar as they are linked to the formation of the person. All educators are called on to collaborate in this process of human growth, with their professional skills and with the richness of the human values they bear, to help young people to be builders of a world of greater solidarity and peace. Furthermore, Catholic educational institutions have as their mission to offer worldviews that are open to transcendence. Gravissimum Educationis reminds us that education is at the service of a thorough and well-rounded humanism, and that the Church, as a mother who teaches, is always looking at new generations from the perspective of “the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which, as a human being, he is a member, and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share” (§1).

Another expectation is that the culture of dialogue will grow. Our world has become a global village, with multiple types of interactions, where each person belongs to humanity, and shares the hope of a better future with the whole family of peoples. At the time same, however, there are so many forms of violence, poverty, exploitation, discrimination, marginalization, approaches which limit access to fundamental freedoms and create a throw-away culture. Within this context, Catholic educational institutions are called to be on the front line in practicing a grammar of dialogue, which forms people for encounter, and to value cultural and religious differences. For dialogue itself educates when a person relates to others with respect, esteem and genuine listening, and speaks with authenticity, without obfuscating or diminishing their own identity, nourished by the inspiration of the Gospel. What encourages us is the conviction that new generations—educated in a Christian way for dialogue—will go out from the halls of schools and universities, to build bridges and, therefore, to find new answers to the many challenges of our time. More specifically: schools and universities are called to teach a method of intellectual dialogue, which has as its goal the search for the truth. St. Thomas was, and still is, a master of this method, which consists in taking the other—one’s interlocutor—seriously, seeking to plumb the very depths of their reasoning and their objections, in order to respond, not a superficial way, but adequately. It is only in this way that we can truly progress together in knowledge of the truth.

There is one final expectation that I would like to share with you: the contribution of education to sowing hope. People cannot live without hope, and education gives rise to hope. Education is actually something that brings about birth, that brings about growth and a life lived out in the search for beauty, for goodness, for truth and for communion with others, for shared growth. I am convinced that young people today need, more than anything else, this kind of a life which builds up the future. Therefore, a real educator is like a father and a mother, who transmit a life which holds future potential. In order to have such a temperment it is necessary to sit down and listen to young people—“the task of the ears.” Sitting down and listening to young people! And we will do precisely that with the next Synod of Bishops, which is dedicated to them. And so education shares in common with hope the same “fabric” of risk-taking. Hope is not a superficial optimism, nor the ability to look at things in a pleasant way, but it is, above all, knowing how to risk in the right ways, just as education does.

Beloved brothers and sisters, Catholic schools and universities make a great contribution to the Church’s mission when they are at the service of this growth in human-ness, in dialogue and in hope. I wish to thank you for the work you are doing, in order to make educational institutions into places and experiences of evangelization. I invoke the Holy Spirit upon you, through the intercession of Mary, Sedes Sapientiae, that it may make fruitful your ministry of behalf of education. And I ask you to please pray for me, and I bless you from my heart. Thank you.