Pope Francis has confirmed that Catholic education is evangelisation, and has compared not speaking the truth about God in education to burning books, during a private reception in the Vatican on 22 April for educators including from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. He also told a gathering of Christian Brothers to evangelise by educating, and educate by evangelising.
This confirms again what Atheist Ireland has been saying for years: that our publicly funded school system is part of the evangelising mission of the Catholic Church. As is often the case, the Catholic Church and Atheist Ireland are the only groups open about this fact, while the Department of Education and other state bodies pretend that this is not the case.
Catholic education is evangelisation — Pope Francis
At the April meeting referred to above, Pope Francis said that:
“Catholic education is also evangelisation: bearing witness to the joy of the Gospel and its power to renew our communities and provide hope and strength in facing wisely the challenges of the present time. I trust that this study visit will inspire each of you to rededicate himself or herself with generous zeal to your vocation as educators, to your efforts to solidify the foundations of a more humane and solidary society, and thus the advancement Christ’s kingdom of truth, holiness, justice and peace.”
“Not to speak the truth about God out of respect for those who do not believe would be, in the field of education, like burning books out of respect for those who are not intellectuals, destroying works of art out of respect for those who do not see, or silencing music out of respect for those who do not hear.”
When Mary Immaculate College reported on the reception on their website, they highlighted the section of the Pope’s speech in which he said Catholic education is evangelisation, then quoted project leader Daniel O’Connell from MIC as saying that: “Meeting with Pope Francis and other speakers was such a gift, a source of encouragement and inspiration for us all.”
Evangelise by educating, educate by evangelising — Pope Francis
In May Pope Francis addressed participants in the 46th General Chapter of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He concluded:
“It is your way of realizing what Saint Paul wrote: “Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19). To educate in this way is your apostolate, your specific contribution to evangelization: to make the person grow according to Christ. In this sense, your schools are “Christian”: not because of an external label, but because they take this path… Thank you for what you are and what you do! Go forth with the joy of evangelizing by educating and of educating by evangelizing. I bless you and all your communities.”
Vital centres for evangelisation — Archbishop Eamon Martin
In a speech in 2017 to a conference on Catholic education, Archbishop Eamon Martin said that Catholic schools remain ‘vital centres for evangelisation and catechesis’. He said:
“Despite a changed context, Catholic schools remain as vital centres for evangelisation and catechesis, closely linked to parishes and local communities. It is reasonable, then, for boards of management of Catholic schools, in establishing their admissions criteria, to be concerned about ensuring that pupils from the local parish or group of parishes, are able to access their Catholic school.”
The 2018 Admissions to Schools Act has prevented Catholic Bishops from discriminating in this particular way, but the Bishops lobbied the government last year to be able to do this again in return for divesting some schools to multi-denominational patrons.
In the speech above, Archbishop Martin went on to say:
“In cooperation with diocesan advisers, it is important that there is a strong catechetical component to Religious Education so that all pupils can systematically learn the truths of the Catholic faith, be instructed in all aspects of the moral life and grasp the essentials of Catholic social teaching.”
“Everything that happens in the school community is rooted in the Gospel values of Respect for Life, Love, Solidarity, Truth and Justice; the Catholic school seeks to harmonise faith and culture.”
Catholic schools vital to new evangelisation — Archbishop Eamon Martin
In an article in Catholic Culture in 2014, Archbishop Eamon Martin wrote:
“A few weeks ago we celebrated Catholic Schools Week, acknowledging that our schools are distinctive – they are not only centres of excellence and learning, but they are also places of faith. So, if the Holy Father is calling on our young people to be agents of the new evangelisation, it is important to ask ourselves: to what extent do we, in our Catholic schools, facilitate young people in grasping the truths of faith, growing in love of God and neighbour, and in becoming witnesses for Christ?”
“Pope Francis has no doubt that Catholic schools are vital to the New Evangelisation. Just before Christmas he published the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, (The Gospel of Joy) in response to the XIII Synod of Bishops on The New Evangelisation. In ‘The Gospel of Joy’ he says: ‘Catholic schools, which always strive to join their work of education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, are a most valuable resource for the evangelization of culture’.”
“Obviously this means finding more opportunities in Catholic schools for pupils to hear or read God’s Word, and then to reflect on what it is asking of them. The Word of God is the ‘wellspring of renewal’ in the life of the Church and in our own personal lives (Verbum Domini). But if this is to happen then we need to make the Bible a more natural part of the daily life of our schools.”
“Our Catholic schools remain a valuable resource in helping our young people, parents and teachers to understand and bear witness to our faith in public and to bring the Gospel of Joy to the world. In reflecting with you on the New Context, a New Mission and New Partnerships this evening, I am inviting our superb Catholic schools to join us in the New Evangelisation and help us to sing a new song to The Lord!”
The relevance of religion — Irish State religion course
The Irish State continues to help the Catholic Church to evangelise schoolchildren. Children are taught to respect religious beliefs and their codes of conduct. This is not just in the religion courses developed by the Patron bodies, but also courses developed by the State. The Main Aim of the State Religious Education course at second level is:
“Religious Education aims to develop knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values to enable young people to come to an understanding of religion and its relevance to life, relationships, society and the wider world.”
If the main aim of any course was to develop values to enable all students to see the relevance of atheism to their lives, it would be seen as indoctrination. But the people who control and influence our education system cannot see the problem with doing this for religion.
These are just some examples of how the Catholic Church evangelises culture in Ireland, and how it specifically uses our publicly funded schools to evangelise Catholicism. This church-state coalition of evangelisation has to stop. Atheist Ireland continues to lobby for full separation of church and state, and a secular state that respects equally everybody’s right to freedom of religion or belief without taking sides in favour of either religion or atheism.