Reconciliation and respect for difference: intrinsic values in Catholic education;Friday, September 21st, 2007
Full text of the Address by Archbishop Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland on the launch of a website for the Consultative Group on Catholic Education.
St Mary’s University College, Belfast - 21 September 2007
Minister, honoured guests, and of course our very special guests here today - the girls and boys representing our Catholic schools.
It is difficult to imagine a more appropriate day on which to launch a website promoting Catholic Education. Today is the Feast of St Matthew – Apostle and Evangelist. There are several churches called after him in this city.
An Apostle is someone sent. By Baptism we are sent by Jesus to bring good news to the world. That good news is that every human person is special, loved by God, unique!
Matthew is also an Evangelist, one who announces good news. I suppose today we would say a ‘communicator’ - ‘one who communicates good news’. Today, almost 2000 years later, the Good News according to Matthew continues to be read and heard and reflected upon around the world. He was clearly a successful communicator. An effective teacher!
What made him such an effective teacher was his passion for his subject. He may not have had a laptop. He may not have used a power point presentation. Can you believe it? He did not even have an ipod or a mobile phone!! But he was an effective communicator because he was passionate about Jesus and the hope his message offers to the world.
Catholic education as a true community of persons
Catholic education continues to bring that message of hope to the world. In an age of moral confusion it offers a clear and unapologetic set of values based on the Gospel. In an age of celebrity it celebrates the dignity of every person. In an age of social breakdown it seeks the common good of all people and the building up of community.
Through the essential link between the community of faith in the home, the community of faith in the Parish and the community of faith in the school, Catholic education brings together the three most important and formative influences in the life of any child.
It unites the whole Catholic community in the privileged task of formation of the human person. It prioritises and helps children to value the virtues of respect, integrity, community, harmony, the dignity of every person and our eternal destiny. It places particular importance on the values of justice, peace, tolerance, respect for diversity, reconciliation. These values are not distinct from Catholic education - they exist at the very heart of it.
This is why I find it disappointing to hear people sometimes speak of a parent’s choice to send a child to a Catholic school as if it were a choice in favour of division in our society rather than reconciliation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Reconciliation, love of neighbour, respect for difference: these values are intrinsic to Catholic education because they are intrinsic to the message of Jesus.
No one approach to education has a monopoly on forming children in the virtues of tolerance, understanding and reconciliation. All sectors have their part to play.
As the Catholic sector we are fully committed to playing our part with others in healing the divisions of our society. The Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John commit us to doing so. They also tell us how: by being faithful and unapologetic in our commitment to the message of Jesus – a message of love for all people, a message of hope for a divided world.
These values of the Gospel challenge the secular values of today. A pride in possessions, consumerism, ruthless exploitation of the world’s resources, violence and aggression are all signs of contemporary culture. We have witnessed their tragic consequences for young and old on the streets of West Belfast in recent days.
A story was told to me once about a young man on death row who sent a last message to his parents. It contained, among other things, this question: “Why did nobody think it worth their while to tell me the difference between right and wrong?”
In Catholic education we do not shy away from this question. We are not afraid to say there is a God and a moral law to which we are all accountable. We do not abandon children to the ‘whatever you think yourself’ approach to morality so often associated with a purely secular or state based education often found in other countries.
Our vision of education warns us against creating ‘carbon copy people’ formed in the values of the contemporary world. We hope to have our pupils grow into a different culture, one of peace, justice, respect, forgiveness, reconciliation, service and non-violence. For this reason we believe the curriculum can, and should, offer technical and professional training for future employment but we believe it cannot, and should not, be shaped solely by the needs of the consumer economy of the West. It should serve society by forming human individuals who, in turn, will change society for the better.
To do so, the Catholic School must be itself a true community of persons. Of course it borrows good business models and practices from secular society but it is not itself just a business which delivers an educational product. Like every society the school exists for its members and for the common good. It is a place of formation, not just for the students, but for parents and even teachers.
Of course it will be necessary to move from statements of vision and principles to strategies for action and implementation. The web site, which we launch today, will offer an invaluable support to Parents, Teachers, Boards of Governors and all those involved in Catholic education in sharing that vision. It will assist all of those engaged in Catholic education in agreeing the principles which animate it and in working together to implement them in a way that benefits every pupil and the good of society as a whole.
Such web sites are but one example of the many wonderful developments in the technology of communication which teachers now have at their disposal. It would be interesting to consider what St Matthew would have made of them. But the fact the message of St Matthew continues to be heard to this day is a timely reminder that, although the blackboard may have been replaced by the interactive whiteboard, it is ultimately the teacher who communicates. It is ultimately the teacher who writes on the hearts and minds, on the memory and the spirit of the children placed in his or her care.
That is why it is a privilege to teach. That is why I appeal today to all parents to ensure that their children are taught to respect the role of the teachers in their school. When parents fail to teach their children respect for those who have a legitimate authority in society, the cohesion of society is undermined and tragic consequences emerge.
It is time to recover a balance of respect in our society between those who exercise legitimate authority for the common good and the important freedoms of the individual. Teachers for their part, and others in authority, including parents themselves, have to ensure that their lives and conduct are totally deserving of the respect of children. The teacher must ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’. If not, the pupils will be the first to notice.
In conclusion let me say that this is a time of huge change in Northern Ireland - political, economic, social and educational. In that rapidly changing environment, the 547 Catholic schools here teach about 45 per cent of all pupils and we take very seriously our role in both maintaining high standards, and contributing to a new society. I thank all those who dedicate so much of their energy and love to providing a high quality education for all young people, whatever their talents and needs.
Our schools have always been active in developing cross community and international links. They welcome people from all national backgrounds and people from various faith traditions and none. Catholic schools are not an obstacle on the road to reconciliation. They make a vital contribution to it while maintaining the right of schools to have their own distinctive character. That right is consistent with the principle of a diverse society. In fact, it is essential to it.
Jesus commanded his disciples to go out and to teach all nations. As a Church, our involvement in schools is an intrinsic part of our response to that call. Catholic schools cannot be seen as an optional extra or as detached from the mission of the Church. In a society which respects the freedom of religion and the rights of parents, Church involvement in the management of schools is a right which is respected and supported.
I hope that this website will help visitors to be aware of the exciting enterprise that is Catholic education in the 21st century.