Education in Faith, Discipleship and Witness

On Monday afternoon in the Roman basilica of St. John Lateran, Benedict XVI inaugurated the ecclesial congress of his own diocese of Rome. The congress will be held from June 11-14 on the theme: "Jesus is Lord, educating in the faith, in discipleship and in witness."

In his address the Pope pointed out that the opening affirmation of "Jesus is Lord," provides "the tone and meaning for our congress. … In Him, in fact, we discover the true face of God, that which we truly need in order to live."

"Educating in the faith, in discipleship and in witness means helping our fellow man, or rather it means helping one another, to enter into a living relationship with Christ and with the Father."

After highlighting that "educating in the faith is by no means easy," the Holy Father noted how today "there is talk of an 'educational emergency,' of the great difficulty encountered in transmitting the basic values of existence and correct behavior to new generations, a difficulty that involves both the school and the family and, it could be said, all other organizations with educational aims.

"We could also say," he added, "that such an emergency is inevitable. In a society and a culture that too often make relativism their creed, the light of truth slowly disappears and people end up doubting the goodness of life and the validity of the relationships and responsibilities that constitute it."

"Hence," Benedict XVI went on, "education tends to be reduced to the transmission of certain abilities or know how, while seeking to fulfill the new generations' desire for happiness by cramming them with consumer products [that provide only] ephemeral gratification. Thus both parents and teachers are easily tempted to abdicate their educational duties and no longer even understand what their own role, or rather the mission entrusted to them, is."

In this context, "the Church's commitment to educate in the faith, in discipleship and in witness to the Lord Jesus Christ takes on, as never before, the additional value of being a contribution to helping the society in which we live escape from the educational crisis afflicting it."

"A decisive contribution to Christian education and formation comes … from prayer and our personal friendship with Jesus. Only those who know and love Jesus Christ can introduce their brothers and sisters to a living relationship with Him. … Our communities will be able to work fruitfully towards education in the faith and discipleship of Christ," if they themselves are "authentic schools of prayer."

The Holy Father emphasized the fact that a vital part of Christian education is "individual accompaniment which gives growing children the certainty of being loved, understood and accepted. … Thus children and young people can be helped to free themselves from common prejudices and become aware that the Christian way of life is achievable and reasonable, indeed by far the most reasonable."

"Nonetheless, it is clear that in education and formation in the faith the family has a unique and fundamental mission as well as a primary responsibility," said the Pope. In this context he added, "the Christian family – a little 'domestic church' – and the larger family of the Church must develop the closest collaboration, above all as regards the education of children."

Benedict XVI indicated the need for Christian families, as well as parishes, oratories and youth communities, to help and support those families who appear uninterested in the Christian education of their children.

"As children grow up their desire for individual autonomy naturally grows," said the Pope. "This can easily take the form, above all during adolescence, of adopting a critical distance from their own family." Nonetheless, "when they feel they are respected and taken seriously in their freedom as adolescents and young people, despite their inconstancy and fragility, they are by no means ill-disposed to accepting even demanding proposals, indeed they are attracted and often even fascinated by them."

"This congress of ours, very rightly, speaks not only of education in the faith, …. but also of witness to Jesus Christ. Active witness to Christ does not involve … only the people who have the role of educators in our communities, but the children and young people themselves, and everyone who is being educated in the faith."

"It is important therefore that the will and desire to be participants in the missionary vocation of the Church, in all situations and circumstances of life, takes root in believers' hearts. Indeed, we cannot keep the joy of the faith to ourselves, we must spread and transmit it. … It is here, to a large degree, that we find the new evangelization to which the beloved John Paul II called us."

The Pope then went on to consider the importance of education in the faith in Catholic schools which, he said, "undertake their mission on the basis of an educational plan that has the Gospel as its focus, and maintains it as the decisive point of reference in forming individuals and in all cultural proposals, … seeking to promote that unity between faith, culture and life that is the fundamental objective of Christian education.

"State schools too," he added, "can be supported in their educational task by the presence of Christian teachers, primarily, but not exclusively, teachers of Catholic religion, … as well as by the collaboration of families. … Indeed, a healthy laicism of schools, as of the other institutions of the State, does not imply a closure to the transcendent or a false neutrality towards those moral values that are at the basis of the real formation of the individual."

"Today more than in the past," Pope Benedict observed, "the education and formation of the individual are influenced by the messages … of the mass communications media," often "inspired by a mentality and a culture characterized by relativism, consumerism and a false and destructive exaltation, or rather profanation, of the body and sexuality. Yet precisely for the 'yes' that, as believers in Christ, we say to man whom God loves, we cannot be indifferent to the general orientation of the society to which we belong, … to the positive and negative influences it exercises on the formation of the new generations."

The Holy Father ended his address by considering the question of vocations to the priesthood, recalling that over recent decades the diocese of Rome "has been blessed with the gift of many priestly ordinations. … However, the most recent signs seem less favorable and stimulate our entire diocesan community to renew to the Lord, with humility and faith, the request for workers for His vineyard."

"We must launch a special call to be disciples of Jesus," he concluded, "to those young people who appear particularly attracted and fascinated by friendship with Him."

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