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Catholic education must respond to new realities

12:01 AM April 08, 2014

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(Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from a speech delivered recently by the author before the Congregazione Educazione Cattolica in Vatican City.) 

I stand before you today acutely aware of what I must represent in this ecclesial gathering: first and foremost a woman, an Asian from a developing nation and a lay leader of a Catholic school. My story reflects the new realities the Church needs to respond to.

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We know what education is all about.  What is important for us to note is that education is the most effective means of helping raise others from the shackles of ignorance and poverty.

Through the ages, Catholic schools worldwide have shown their competence in educating the youth. What makes parents and students come to us? What attracts faculty to our schools, what makes them stay? We must be doing something right.

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Research shows our schools are able to create a climate characterized by a strong sense of community and caring, where order and discipline exist, where duty, responsibility and commitment are taken seriously and where parents and families are partners in this enterprise.

But we need to be more than that. Our goal should be more encompassing. … We have to create vital faith communities in our schools and our universities. Religious instruction, values formation [and] faith development should be integrated into the academic development of our students. We have to take on the role of “cultural catalysts,” and look for ways of enhancing our Catholic culture and demonstrating core consistency.

We are educating the youth of the 21st century—those who will take over as leaders after us—and we are educating them for a future largely unknown and difficult to predict.

Today’s Catholic school students are much more diverse than before. This is the age of globalization and mobility after all. Still mostly Asian, our foreign students are Koreans, with an increasing number from Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam. We welcome the opportunity to develop future Catholic leaders who will later go back to their countries strong in faith and Christian values.

How do we connect with the youth, influence them for the better and educate them?

1. Paul Tillich said:  “The first duty of love is to listen.”  Listen so we get to know them better. … The youth are not often to be found in churches, so let’s meet them where they are. Christ himself gathered crowds everywhere he could.

2. We need to begin by gaining their trust. … We do not need to invade their space—our young people cherish their freedom—but we should look upon them as partners. We can try using their own tools and language such as social media networks. FYI: 29 million Filipinos have Facebook accounts, and each friend has, on the average, 150 other friends.

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3. We have to recognize this truth: We cannot change them without changing ourselves. The need today is for a leader and a teacher of a different kind, one whom they see as truly authentic. … We are called upon, not to preach or lecture, but to create an environment so they can grow in their faith and in their personal and academic lives.

4. Today is the age of collaboration and networking.

Catholic schools have to start thinking of themselves as a whole—not as a “group of schools.” … We can take strength and support from having each other, aware that, together, our work is amplified and will have greater impact.

I head a small group of Catholic Women Consortium (composed of Assumption College, St. Scholastica’s College Manila and Miriam College) in the Philippines and we pooled our resources together to sponsor fishermen whose boats and livelihood were destroyed by Supertyphoon “Haiyan” (Peter’s Boat Project). We helped five times as many because we worked together.

5. Education consists of three important domains: academic, research and community work and practice.

The last is very important.  Thoughts, concepts, ideas that originate in the classroom should lead to action. … Volunteering in the community in this case becomes a true instructional strategy. … There is complete integration of both the students’ and the teachers’ roles.

The main driving force in the Church’s movement … is the move toward increased pastoral care and inclusion. We are all sheep needing care—and the Church has taken steps to be more informed and in touch with the lives of common people. The sheep are different—but so too is the shepherd.

Thus we see the voice of the laity assuming a different proportion. The Church as people of God is composed of three-fourths laity, ordinary men and women. We, and I am part of this group, welcome ways to learn from and work with the Church. … We need effective training programs so we become committed agents of renewal who will add balance, depth and reach to the Church….

Being inclusive means creating environments fair to both genders. … Pope Francis himself says the role of women should be seen as one of service, not servitude. He points out that the Church is a Mother, nurturing and accepting. It’s time to fully empower women and make use of our strengths, which is that of bringing people together.

This is a prime advocacy of our school.  We have a project to help bring peace to our strife-ridden areas in Mindanao. Our Women and Gender Institute has also just received a large grant giving women a central role in the peace process, sitting at the peace table as negotiators, not hovering at the sides like we used to.

Educating a woman doesn’t just help her—its effects are multiplied and benefit all her significant others—children, spouse and, ultimately, society.

The same empowering philosophy applies to persons with disabilities, as well as the poor and marginalized among us, whether individuals, sectors, communities and nations. When we help others achieve their true potential, they surprise us with their abilities.

Mother Mary Joseph, founder of the order of the Maryknoll Sisters (our school’s origin) said that it was the work of all Catholics “to make God’s love visible.” That is the most noble of all missions, the true educative mission of all Catholic schools.

 

 (The author earned her undergraduate degree from Assumption College, her Master in Education from Boston College, her Master of Science in Gerontology from the University of Massachusetts and her Doctorate in Education from the University of the Philippines. She was one of 15 heads of Catholic universities worldwide chosen to participate in the International Federation of Catholic Universities Rector’s Program, “Leading Catholic Universities in the 21st Century: An Action Oriented Program for Institutional Heads.”)

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