As stated on their website, "the Episcopal Commission for Education and Culture organizes the Congress 'The Church in Education' which will have its final session on February 24 in Madrid". Before this "final session", a "preliminary phase" took place during the whole month of October, which started on the 2nd in Barcelona, in which every Monday and Wednesday there has been a Experience and participation panel. In these panels 78 projects have been presented "which are developed in different educational areas". "In addition, in the Congress website spaces have been set up in which the entire educational community is invited to leave their experiences and reflections", as indicated on the Congress website.
On the occasion of the end of this first phase, which took place during the month of October, we interviewed Monsignor Alfonso Carrasco, president of the Episcopal Commission for Education and Culture.
How did the congress project come about and what are its main objectives?
The congress project arises as a response to a widely shared ecclesial responsibility for education, felt as urgent at this time of great educational changes in Spain and in the world, to which the Pope calls us with his proposal for a "global educational pact".
It is also the fruit of the experience of a long path of participation and of many meetings made possible by the work of these years also from the Commission. If there already existed in our educational world the perception of the need for mutual listening, collaboration and support in the face of the profound changes we are living, the public debate provoked by the elaboration of the Lomloe meant a new challenge to our presence and commitment as Church in education.
In this context, in 2022 the Congregation for Catholic Education published an Instruction on "the identity of the Catholic school for a culture of dialogue", insisting on the primary need to grow in the awareness of one's own identity and reminding us of some essential ideas: the educational mission is an intrinsic requirement of our faith and part of the very mission of the Church, first of all towards our own children; but at the same time it is also a fundamental instrument of our openness to society, of our willingness to propose and dialogue in an increasingly intercultural world.
From this set of factors, the initiative arises and the forms chosen for the realization of a Congress, as well as its main objectives, are explained:
- to grow in awareness of the relevance of our educational mission, of the indissoluble relationship between faith and education;
- to meet and listen to each other as the presence of the Church, to make it possible to face together the challenges of the present educational moment, to walk together and share resources;
- to explain and propose our educational experience in the context of the social dialogue on education.
What are the main educational challenges facing society today?
I think that the main educational challenges are always the same, even if the social circumstances and the ways of implementation change a lot. The challenge today is no longer that our society does not respond to the right to education of children and young people, nor do the problems of the educational system lie in the lack of resources.
The difficulties originate rather from the rupture of the "educational pact": in the difficulty for families to assume their responsibility in education; in the tendency to restrict freedom of education, limiting the space for social initiative and its necessary financing, and privileging in many ways state-owned centers; in the temptation to impose on the educational world from the political power anthropologies and ideologies that contrast with those of important parts of society, as well as with the laicism or neutrality of the State.
But the challenges, in the end, are always the same: to ensure that the educational system, and each center, safeguards the centrality of the person, serves his or her integral formation, so that he or she is introduced to the knowledge of the world, grows in freedom and responsibility, and can make a real contribution to the renewal of society.
These challenges are posed in our time in all their radicality. Because the growth of social power and of technical means make the temptation to instrumentalize education and the pupils a credible one. And because then, since we do not educate sufficiently in the respect for the person of each one, the necessary learning of essential personal and social skills, of a real capacity for dialogue and tolerance does not take place, so that the uneasiness and conflicts tend to grow.
What can the Church contribute to this picture?
The Church can bring, first of all, a true educational passion, in which the person occupies the central place. By faith we know that our Lord gave his life on the cross for each one of us, that no treasure is worth as much as the life and soul of the least of us. Charity expresses itself in the desire for good, for the person to grow, to mature integrally, to understand the world and life in the light of true faith, to know how to assume his or her own responsibility. This is why the educational passion has moved the Church from the beginning.
This has given rise to a multitude of educational works and institutions, schools and universities. Therefore, we also bring concrete possibilities of education in the light of faith, an identity and a method that enrich the panorama of the educational system of a pluralistic society such as ours.
The way, fully realistic, to take care of the concrete person is also an important contribution. We are aware of the limitations, the pains, the difficulties, but we always carry a greater hope that allows us to attend to and take care of each one; and to make the school a place where everyone finds new possibilities. And, on the other hand, being introduced in the horizon of the full truth by the Gospel, we trust in reason, we look for it to be exercised and developed, as a fully personal factor: how could we respect someone, if we fail to propose a reasonable way of learning, of intelligence of the world and of life?
The Church does not exclude any dimension of the world or of the person from this apprenticeship, in order to safeguard the horizon of an integral formation. She insists, in particular, on the importance of moral and religious education, taking into account the identity of the learner, his or her cultural and religious heritage. The defense of respect for the person of the student, in the concrete of his existential roots, is a constant contribution of the Church, which insistently proposes it as necessary also today to the whole educational system.
In short, we value the existence of a good educational system, we defend the goodness of pedagogy, we accept the need to renew didactic methods without fear. And we want to be in the public educational space, in the school world, to promote joint deliberation, social dialogue, the desirable collaborative work.
And we would like our particular presence and commitment as Church in education to contribute not only to the freedom of teaching and the plurality of our educational system, but also to be a great public affirmation of the immense good that education is, as the first and indispensable expression of a sincere affection for the learner, of hope for his future and that of our society. We want to bring true love for education, a radical appreciation of each person.
What conclusions and fruits can be drawn from the meetings of the nine Experience Panels to date?
It is too early to draw conclusions and gather the fruit of the nine Panels. It would be necessary to wait to receive the contributions of reflection and experience of the protagonists of the different fields, of which only a brief selection has been able to express itself up to this moment.
It can already be said, however, that the preparatory work has involved the collaboration of many people, whose good will and desire to participate has been extraordinary. The panelists, likewise, have committed themselves in an admirable way, not only with their own contributions, but also by making very fruitful experiences of communion, sharing resources and time.
On the other hand, in spite of being only a window to entire educational worlds, we have been able to perceive a wealth of presence and commitment often unknown to ourselves. It is very important to be aware of the immense educational task that the Church has been carrying out, often for a long time, with the admirable personal dedication of so many.
We also see, in an initial way, the richness of our varied pedagogical experience, strengths, but also weaknesses; we perceive challenges. And, at the same time, we are happy to meet, to be able to share with our brothers the mission that is being carried out, and also to be able to make a voice resound in society that makes present educational and personal riches of which we are not always aware.
We perceive, finally, that we are taking steps on a road that is still long, but that it is very good to be able to undertake together. The panels are the beginning of a work: they are still awaiting the contributions of many, coming from every field; and they will come together in the work of the Conference on February 24.
But the Congress itself is, in reality, also a step in a broad horizon. May its celebration help us to walk together, from all spheres, protagonists and institutions, in the fulfillment of the educational mission of the Church, knowing how to be present and to respond to the changes and challenges of our time.
To grow in awareness of our identity, to manifest it in deeds and words, to live it in communion, will always be an intimately joyful experience, a good for others and a joy for those called to live this mission also in our times.