Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pope Benedict in the UK: on Education

Friday 17th Sept
St. Mary's University College at Twickenham

"You form new generations not only in knowledge of the faith, but in every aspect of what it means to live as mature and responsible citizens in today's world", said the Holy Father. "Education is not and must never be considered as purely utilitarian. It is about forming the human person, equipping him or her to live life to the full - in short it is about imparting wisdom. And true wisdom is inseparable from knowledge of the Creator".

"This transcendent dimension of study and teaching was clearly grasped by the monks who contributed so much to the evangelisation of these islands", he said. "Since the search for God, which lies at the heart of the monastic vocation, requires active engagement with the means by which He makes Himself known - His creation and His revealed word - it was only natural that the monastery should have a library and a school. ... It was the monks' dedication to learning as the path on which to encounter the Incarnate Word of God that was to lay the foundations of our Western culture and civilisation".

The Holy Father thanked the members of the teaching orders which, he said, "have carried the light of the Gospel to far-off lands as part of the Church's great missionary work. ... Often", he told his audience, "you laid the foundations of educational provision long before the State assumed a responsibility for this vital service to the individual and to society.

'As the relative roles of Church and State in the field of education continue to evolve", the Pope added, "never forget that religious have a unique contribution to offer to this apostolate, above all through lives consecrated to God and through faithful, loving witness to Christ, the supreme Teacher. Indeed, the presence of religious in Catholic schools is a powerful reminder of the much-discussed Catholic ethos that needs to inform every aspect of school life. This extends far beyond the self-evident requirement that the content of the teaching should always be in conformity with Church doctrine".

Beatification Mass, Cofton Park, Birmingham, Sunday 18th September

I would like to pay particular tribute to his vision for education, which has done so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today. Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together. The project to found a Catholic University in Ireland provided him with an opportunity to develop his ideas on the subject, and the collection of discourses that he published as The Idea of a University holds up an ideal from which all those engaged in academic formation can continue to learn. And indeed, what better goal could teachers of religion set themselves than Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity: "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it" (The Present Position of Catholics in England, ix, 390). On this day when the author of those words is raised to the altars, I pray that, through his intercession and example, all who are engaged in the task of teaching and catechesis will be inspired to greater effort by the vision he so clearly sets before us.

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