Intervention of Bishop Charles Drennan to the Synod on the New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, 7-26 October 2012, Rome.
Most Holy Father,
Dear brother Bishops and fellow participants,
I wish to focus on the place of our Catholic schools in the New Evangelisation (cf. Instrumentum laboris, 147 – 157). In the dioceses of New Zealand an extensive network of schools and Colleges exists with more resources dedicated to this apostolate, than any other.
Some question this preference. Yet, in a secular country such as mine, where most of those who identify themselves as Catholic no longer frequent a parish Church, the primary community of faith has become the school. It is in our schools that the large majority of the baptised, and the yet to be baptised, encounter for the first time, in any systematic way, the person of Jesus Christ, prayer, liturgy and the sacramental life of the Church. Teachers rather than parents have become in many instances the first formators in faith of our young.
This actuality presents both an opportunity and a challenge for our schools. For many parents the choice of Catholic schooling for their children, rather than being specifically religious, is one in favour of positive academic outcomes, fair discipline and a selection of values. The provision of these perceived benefits can see governors tempted to obfuscate the nature and purpose of Catholic education in order to accommodate the incomplete motivation of some choosing Catholic schooling.
This Synod provides a timely opportunity therefore to appreciate anew the evangelising role of our schools and to reinvigorate their sense of mission. Catholic schools are not products of the Church’s mission. They are agents, engaged in the satisfying task of forming a new generation of believers, disciples and evangelisers.
Among the various pillars of the social fabric of a school committed to the New Evangelisation, would surely be the following four:
1. The encounter with Jesus Christ: beyond the teaching of a robust curriculum, and comprehensive catechesis, every Catholic educational institution must nurture among its students a personal relationship with Jesus. Friendship vivifies every community. Befriending the Risen Lord himself, will see our schools animate with prayer, liturgy, the respect that stems from relating to others as brothers and sisters in Christ, attentiveness to the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and charitable service, especially towards the less fortunate.
2. The diakonia of truth: friendship with the Lord deepens when the young discover that God reveals to every generation the truth of life’s purpose and the path of lasting fulfilment. In societies where the winds of relativism and individualism leave the tragic debris of moral confusion and crushed aspiration, our schools stand out as beacons of hope. Knowing the loving truth of Jesus and his Gospel – creative and life-changing, performative not just informative (cf. Spe Salvi, 2) – leads our young to discover the good: the path of inner peace, inner beauty and respect for self and other.
3. A third pillar of the evangelising school, is the spirit of wisdom. This characteristic helps our schools to relish the living tradition of our faith which through the ages has been enriched by the best of cultural insight into the mystery of the human person while shielding us from all which does not speak of God. Wisdom surely is an antidote to the superficiality and triviality which can entrap the young. With almost limitless access via the internet to undifferentiated opinion there is a pressing need – a wonderful opportunity of collaboration between teachers and parents – to sharpen among our young the art of discernment and critique.
God, out of his wisdom, chose to make known the purpose of his will (cf. Dei Verbum, 2; Eph. 1:9), and so set the context for the exercise of freedom and choice. Far from being mere means to access the cult of entertainment, they are gifts through which the young can be guided to embrace the very life of God himself.
4. Attuned to the Lord’s daily encounter with us, awakens in the young the sense of belonging to God’s people. Here the questions of identity and conviction are galvanised when the school reverberates with the Church’s ecclesial life of faith. Essential to this is a manifest appreciation of the vital significance of the Day of the Lord and participation at Mass. Much creative work has already been elicited by the Year of Faith in regard to the parish-school relationship. And much remains to be seen.
I am convinced that when the faith leadership and initiative found among both staff and pupils in our schools is given ample resonance and responsibility in our parishes, the school communities themselves, as part of their contribution to the New Evangelisation, will do much to bring renewal to our parishes, (as distinct from the usually presumed opposite direction of initiative).
Brothers and sisters, to conclude I wish to note that in my ministry as a diocesan Bishop little gives me as much joy as praying, celebrating Mass and reconciliation, and simply spending time in our schools, colleges, and tertiary chaplaincies. When young people are touched by the wonders of God’s life of truth, goodness and beauty, I am convinced that they themselves can become powerful witnesses in their own families to the life in Christ that the New Evangelisation is proposing afresh to each and every one of us.
+Charles E Drennan
Bishop of Palmerston North.