CATHOLIC SCHOOLS AT THE SERVICE OF SOCIETY (II) – The New Evangelization

Fr Leonard E Dollentas

 

While Catholic schools have taught countless people about the faith, the ministry of the Catholic school will be more meaningful and relevant if they are able to form Catholic students who possess a strong Catholic identity and live a life worthy of Catholics. Today, Catholic schools are fully equipped and invest much in marketing with more innovative and state of the art academic curricula approach, strong athletics programs complete with state of the art sports facilities, teachers highly trained in arts and music, the latest laboratory equipment and fully updated computers. Along with this development, tools and approach for evangelization should also be restructured and made more relevant in the program of the schools.

Perhaps we have to recall that the Catholic Church hopes to promote evangelization in Catholic schools. The Vatican II’s Declaration on Christian Education is one of the important documents for understanding this role. This document stresses that Catholic schools are extensions of the Church’s mission to evangelize the world.

 

THE NEW EVANGELIZATION

 

To grasp the meaning of the New Evangelization, we look back to the three kinds of missionary effort of the Catholic Church: (1) Evangelization as a regular activity of the Church, a lifelong process directed at practicing Catholics; (2) The mission ad gentes, meaning the first proclamation of Christ to non-Christian persons and peoples; (3) New Evangelization, “meaning outreach to baptized Catholics who have become distant from the faith” (Archbishop Nikola Eterović, Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization 2013).

In this light “New Evangelization” means bringing the presence and teachings of the Catholic Church into the crowded lifestyle of the people of the postmodern world. This demands some effort and commitment to bring back alienated or distant Catholics back to the church. In the same way, it also involves efforts to seek those who have no faith or church affiliation and invite them to “come and see” the Catholic church. The Catholic schools serve as advantageous venues for this evangelization efforts.  That’s where the New Evangelization enters the picture in the life and mission of the Catholic schools.

 

CATHOLIC SCHOOLS AND RELIGIOUS PLURALISM

 

I am always amused as I watch the morning ceremonies at Colégio Diocesano de São José (CDSJ) 2 & 3, which is just in front of our new St Joseph Seminary. One can admire how the pupils pray so beautifully every morning and how they sing the school hymn with all their heart before trooping to their classrooms. I was told that a significant percentage of those students are non-Christians. Everyone takes part in the morning rituals and prayers; and everyone attends the school liturgical services. The schools’ chaplaincy takes every opportunity as an occasion for evangelization. As the Congregation for Catholic Education observed: “We have already referred to the fact that, in many parts of the world, the student body in a Catholic school includes increasing numbers of young people from different faiths and different ideological backgrounds…. In these situations, however, evangelization is not easy—it may not even be possible. We should look to pre-evangelization: to the development of a religious sense of life…. It is fertile ground which may, at some future time, be able to bear fruit.”

We may recall that the salvific mission embraces the totality of every person, leading each one to a deepening relationship with Christ. In Catholic schools, this is realized by inspiring students to see and understand the role of faith in one’s daily life and in society at large. “This unique Catholic identity makes our Catholic elementary and secondary schools ‘schools for the human person’ and allows them to fill a critical role in the future life of our Church, our country and our world” (The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, 1997).

 

SUSTAINING THE EFFORT IN EVANGELIZATION

 

In his visit to the United States in 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict urged educators to lead students to deeper faith. He said: “Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students, it also is not dependent upon statistics nor can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content.” He stressed that the Catholic identity of a school “demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith.” He underlined as well that teachers and administrators in universities and schools have a “duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice.” Not doing this, he said, would weaken Catholic identity and cause “moral, intellectual or spiritual confusion.” While the Pope’s admonition is true, we have to also think about the situation that has prevailed in most of the Catholics schools. Most Catholic schools have undergone an almost complete transformation on how they are staffed and how they are financed over the years.

The migration to different places and countries of a big number of increasingly mobile population, that includes Catholics, have altered the original mission of many Catholic schools, which are now welcoming all kinds of learners regardless of their nationalities, ethnicity and religious affiliation.

An eminent Harvard political scientist, Robert Putnam points out that institutions created for one period often need to be reinvented in subsequent eras (cf Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon &   Schuster, 2000)

Aware of this, some Catholic schools are becoming more responsive to the call of the church for them to focus on evangelization. They have implemented new innovative methods and models of finding and forming faith-filled Catholic teachers and leaders. These are renewed efforts and successful initiatives to make these schools effective means of evangelization while maintaining higher academic standards and at the same time affordable and accessible to all.  Ultimately, these efforts promise a new vitality for our Catholic schools.

(Fr Leonard E Dollentas is a Filipino diocesan priest and a missionary in the Diocese of Macao. He holds a doctor’s degree in education and have held academic and school administrative positions in the Philippines before coming to Macau.)

 

 

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