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Building a Civilization of Love: Global Catholic Schools Congress


A gathering of more than Catholic 600 educators from all corners of the globe came together for the Concluding Congress of the Catholic Schools of the World Congress at the United Nations on Sunday last, June 9. 
Sponsored by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in conjunction with Fordham University and the Catholic International Education Office (OIEC), those gathered heard 15 speakers who addressed the challenges and benefits of Catholic education particularly with regard to Goal Four of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 
After welcoming those gathered, Archbishop Auza recalled the five papal visits to the United Nations and particularly the visit of Pope Paul VI who said two things pertaining to Catholic education. First, that the United Nations is a school of peace in which delegates are first students and then are sent forth as teachers. Second, that the UN is a reflection in the temporal field of what the Catholic Church is in the spiritual field, catholic, universal, seeking to serve people everywhere. He called upon Catholic schools to be salt, light and leaven.
In a special pre-recorded message for the Catholic educators’ present. Pope Francis spoke of the importance of Catholic education and highlighted some of the challenges it is currently facing, as well as ways to address these challenges.
Pope Francis referenced the Second Vatican Council's statement that "men and women of every race, condition, and age, thanks to their dignity as a person, have the inalienable right to education.” He stressed that youth need to be equipped with the necessary means to contribute to the common good and participate in society.
He spoke at length on the need to revive an authentic humanism in education and warned that one of the greatest difficulties facing education is the current, deconstructed version of humanism. This is in part due to consumerism that overwhelms common values and treats human beings as mere machines or economic instruments. Such consumerism also leads to the "dictatorship of results." 
While drawing attention to the pervading culture of indifference that is leading to a corrosion of humanism, Pope Francis said that true humanism should place the human person at the core of education and promote a proper ecological outlook. He underlined that Catholic education must also reach out to those on the peripheries. 
Quentin Wodon, Chief Economist in the Department of Education at the World Bank, shared some statistics about Catholic education in the world today. Many countries in Africa are experiencing high growth rates in enrollments, he said, as half of all children who attend Catholic schools live in Africa.

One of the greatest contributions of Catholic schools lies in its teachers and in how they are formed, he said. He noted the positive way that teachers in Catholic schools treat the children in their care and what that does for the society in which they live. 
Raoul Sika from the Episcopal Commission for Catholic Education in the Congo shared a video from his school tree planting ceremony, where each tree carries the name of a child. His school students are taught respect for their environment, based on the idea of taking care of God’s creation. All students at this school are trained in essential skills so that they will have a responsible attitude to protecting the earth. The students are in turn encouraged to be ecological missionaries to their families and their villages so that together they can protect and preserve the environment.
Brother Habib Zraibi, a De La Salle Brother, described the initiative of his order, in conjunction with the Marist brothers, to educate child refugees in Lebanon. Named the Fratelli Project, this initiative seeks to help the refugees in Lebanon. He said that the Lebanese school system and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) cannot serve all the children who need schooling. These religious orders operate two centers in Lebanon, one in Rmeileh and one in Bourj Hammoud. They serve roughly 1,000 children from Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon. Br. Zraibi related that, initially, Lebanese people expressed resistance towards welcoming Syrian refugees, as Lebanon had suffered from the Syrian occupation of its country. They were tempted to ignore these refugees, saying "they deserve to suffer," but their Christian belief in charity and forgiveness enabled them to view children as victims needing assistance. The centers provide a variety of activities – sports, tutoring, accelerated learning, summer school for mothers, and English classes. Br. Zraibi said that the brothers will continue to help as long as there are children in need.
Danielle Radenen from Marseilles, France, address the congress and spoke about the role of schools in promoting a culture of dialogue. Teachers, she said, to adapt to the individual needs of students, often because students at her school come from varied backgrounds. Despite the differences between students and the difficulties they face, Radenen shared how all students are united in the respect they show towards staff, facilities, and each other. She mentioned that 80 percent of the population at her school was Muslim, which afforded many opportunities for interreligious dialogue. 
Jaime Palacio, a lay missionary in Yurimaguas, Peru, addressed the work of Catholic education in the Amazon. He said that Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato Si', proposed an ecology that is important not just for the Amazon but for the whole world. The Amazon Church has the task of having a Church with an Amazonian face and stressed the importance of making the people of the region feel included by listening to their needs. He said it is important to reread the Gospels with the perspective of Amazon culture and spirituality. He echoed Pope Francis' remarks on the deconstruction of humanism and summed up the mission of the Synod as the defense of life, the earth, and cultures. 
Jose Arellano spoke about the situation of education on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, where Catholics are in the majority, but there is a significant Muslim population. He explained that historic injustices drive many of these Muslims to join violent extremist groups, with devastating consequences for their communities and for the Philippines. His organization, the Madaris Volunteer Program, tries to assist the Muslim population in the newly autonomous region of Bangsamoro and to prevent its youth from developing violent extremist views. He explained that the region suffers from a low quality of basic education, as well as interreligious misunderstandings and conflicts that contribute to the possibility of extremism. The Madaris Volunteer Program sends volunteers to teach and assist with interreligious and intercultural dialogue. 

Kiran Bir Sethi, Founder of Design for Change in India and Brother Juan Antonio Ojeda Ortiz, FSC, Project Manager for I Can! in Spain, spoke together about their hopes for Catholic education. Bir Sethi quoted Mahatma Gandhi, who said that “the law of Love could be best understood and learned through little children." 
In this context, she pointed out that children show their capabilities in their first two years of life, but adults surrounding them often hinder their realization because of factors such as unrealistic expectations. 
She highlighted that education should be framed in a methodology where children are not helpless but can unleash their potential. The approach that she proposed is based on "FIDS", meaning "Feel,” “Imagine,” “Do," and “Share."  
She described the commitment of children to take care of a disabled child, underlining that love and respect makes a difference in someone's life. Bir Sethi also spoke about the project “I Can!" that will be presented in Rome. She is particularly inspired by the words of Pope Francis on the need of being seeds of change for the society, not just observers. 
Br. Ojeda presented a book on humanity and sustainable education, stressing the importance of responding both to the cry of the poor and the earth, and giving solutions to the problems that have been spelled out by the UN through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 
He also noted the role of Catholic schools to provide comprehensive education, based on Gospel values and critical thinking. He mentioned the project "I Can!," that has been promoted by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, and supported by OIEC, as well as the Union of Headmasters and Headmistresses. 
Msgr. Paolo Rudelli, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the Council of Europe, addressed the notion that there are three basic languages: that of the head, heart, and hands. Only by taking into full consideration the development of the entire person can humanity flourish, he said.

He also underlined the notion of fraternity. Authentic human development is fraternal and no one should be left behind. Such a notion is not inconsistent with the deepest aspirations of the international community, as alluded to in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Catholic education is open to the universality of knowledge, the full development of each person, and open to dialogue with different religions and traditions. He asserted that a turn to Catholic education will embrace one's full humanity and lead one to defend the rights of all.
Dr. Philippe Richard, Secretary-General of the OIEC, noted that the conference was focused on a new dialogue to promote the future of the planet, in accordance with Laudato Si'. Catholic schools must promote sustainable development, peace, human rights, and a culture of dialogue between students of different religions and noted that the Christian identity of schools must be founded in its religious roots, where the goal is not to earn money, but to serve. 
Dr. Richard emphasized that Catholic schools must be open to all, especially those on the peripheries and must, therefore, adapt their own structure and education to the needs of young people on the peripheries. To this end, they must train teachers to fight academic failure, illiteracy, and violence. Quality education must be inspired by the Gospel and address climatic and economic problems. He closed by acknowledging the need to protect children against all forms of abuse.
Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani, Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education in the Vatican, noted that this conference recalls Populorum Progressio, the 1967 encyclical by Pope Saint Paul VI, who encouraged the faithful to take the path of dialogue, subsidiarity, reconciliation, peace, and human development. Zani affirmed that a lack of education is an injustice, and at the basis of injustice is a lack of humanity. He encouraged all to think openly and to support children's mental formation – so that they may think freely and creatively, fully grounded. Children will thereby stay rooted in reality, which is a higher, richer plane than that of indoctrination or ideology. 
He also said that a full understanding of the human being is necessary for effective education. We must reject a materialist reduction of humanity. The  Church, through education, has a responsibility and opportunity to promote a new paradigm regarding the human being and society, opening hearts where there is despair, and fostering community. Zani concluded by thanking the conference attendees and organizers for their work in this regard. 
The choir of Moore Catholic High School from Staten Island, New York, sang two choral numbers during the Conference, including one to conclude the day. 

To watch the Holy Father's address click here

To watch the entire conference, click here