January 24, 2019
First Celebration of the International Day of Education

Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See

At the Maiden Celebration of the International Day of Education
United Nations, New York, 24 January 2019
Madame Moderator,
Your Excellencies, Dear Friends,

I am very happy to represent the Holy See today at this inaugural celebration of the International Day of Education. Prior to the adoption of Resolution 73/25 on December 3 last year, there were 158 different international days observed by the United Nations. While some deal with education, like the International Literacy Day on September 8th and World Teachers’ Day on October 5th, it is fitting to have a day dedicated to the work of education as a whole, as a good in and of itself, as well as a crucial element in integral development and the building and maintenance of peace and security.

When Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2015, speaking immediately before the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he spoke three times about the importance of education and stressed that this means education for all. To enable men and women to escape from extreme poverty, he said, we must allow and assist them to be dignified agents of their own destiny.

In United Nations parlance, this means that education is a fundamental enabler and key to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That is why the international community, in adopting the 2030 Agenda, committed itself resolutely in SDG 4 to ensure that by 2030, all girls and boys have access to early childhood development, care and preprimary education, to free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education, and to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education. These commitments flowed from the fact that there are still 120 million children in the world who have no access to primary or secondary schooling and another 130 million who go to schools that are of such poor quality that they don’t acquire even the basics of literacy or numeracy.

Resolution 73/25 extended an explicit invitation for faith-based organizations to observe today the International Day of Education in an appropriate way. The Catholic Church is very proud that over the course of its 2,000-year history, it has played a major role in the rise of schools, universities and other forms of institutions of learning across centuries and in so many places. Thousands of Catholic religious orders were founded with the explicit purpose and charism to educate children at a time when none but the richest families with private tutors received any formal education at all.  I am grateful to Her Excellency Mary Robinson and to Her Excellency the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, for paying homage to the tremendous contribution to education of the Irish missionaries in many regions of the world, in particular in deprived areas. Saint Mother Teresa arrived in Calcutta through Ireland, and with the Irish missionaries of her Religious Order taught at Saint Mary’s School for Girls in Calcutta before she received her specific vocation to serve the poorest of the poor.

Today the Catholic Church runs approximately 220,000 schools in all pre-University levels in all regions of the world, educating more than 65 million children and youth, and millions more at its thousands of technical schools and universities. More than half of these students are girls, and more than half of them are not Catholic and not even of the other Christian Churches; they belong to other religions or no religion, because we believe that education, quality education, is for all. In all of this, the schools run by the Catholic Church seek not to supplant neither the parents nor the State: they assist parents who are the first teachers of their children in the irreplaceable school called home, giving them the opportunity to choose the education of their children; and they help the State to provide greater educational opportunities for its young citizens.

Providing access, however, to schools and basic education, although essential, is not enough. For children to grow into flourishing adults, much more is needed. Education is far more than instruction. As the Latin word edúcere indicates, it means leading people out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge, from immaturity to true maturity. Its aim is not just at helping people become smarter, but wiser and genuinely good. It involves not just imparting information but formation. Its aim is not only to develop the brain, but, more importantly, the heart, the character.

In this regard, I can’t help but recall the haunting words of Haim Ginnott who after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust became an educational psychologist and wrote to teachers about the indispensable place of proper ethical formation in education. “Dear Teacher, I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness: Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education. My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more humane.”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we celebrate education, not the one that produces learned monsters and skilled psychopaths, but the one that makes us more humane and human.


Thank you for your invitation to join in today’s festivities.