There is a paradox, says the Prefect of the Vatican’s dicastery responsible for education, namely: where there has been ancient Christian tradition, the Catholic schools may be in a bit of a crisis; whereas in those with Christian minorities, Catholic schools may be in great demand, even if the students and teachers are not Catholic.
Speaking to ZENIT, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, affirmed this, when he responded to how the Synod on young people is dealing with all aspects of young people’s lives. A majority of them are at the age of formation, in school or at university, but, despite their right to, not all have access to education.
The Church already in the texts of the Second Vatican Council, in the Declaration on Christian Education “Gravissimum educationis,” he said, had reaffirmed the right of every person, not just the privileged, to education. “For this reason it is a fact, with its presence in society, the Church has devoted particular attention to the field of education,” he said.
Cardinal Versaldi reminded that even in mission countries, the Church did not just build churches, it also built schools and hospitals. He noted that as education remains a theme present in the Synod debates, that he emphasized this presence in his speech in the Synod Hall.
“Above all, I stressed how paradoxical it is that in the countries of ancient Christian tradition Catholic schools and universities are a bit in crisis, with regards to their Catholic identity, and the possibility of subsistence, for economic reasons too.”
“Instead in countries where the Catholic Church is a minority, there is a growth of both schools and Catholic universities, although both the students and especially the professors are not generally Catholic, sometimes they are not even Christians!”
He explained that it is the overall population, sometimes even the public institutions, that require the presence of our schools.
“This is not because they want to convert,” he clarified, “but because they understand that in our schools, in our educational institutions, there is a humanism that fosters the encounter, the culture, the dialogue, otherwise called the culture of dialogue and encounter, unlike many schools that instead indoctrinate fanaticism and fundamentalism.”
“So, if almost all of teachers and students are Muslims, for example, why should the Church be present?” he asked. “Because that presence is a testimony, it is a service!”
“It is a way of being present as a Church with our spirit, with our vision of the world and of teaching. It is not a matter of proselytizing, but in the long run the seed of this universal fraternity inspired by the Gospel gives fruit, this spirit of fraternity is grasped by simple people. And this is a richness.”
He also underscored to Zenit that there are of course still plenty of difficulties. Yet, in spite of them, “the presence of the Church in the world of education in many places of the world is really significant, certainly improvable, but already now is for many an opportunity to rise from their position of poverty and waste.”