May 16, 2008

Go and Make Disciples / John Valenti

Catholic schools and the Church’s primary mission of evangelization

John ValentiIn Pope Benedict XVI’s address to Catholic educators in Washington, D.C., in April, the Holy Father shared some thoughts regarding the nature and identity of Catholic education today.

There were two points in the pope’s remarks where the audience broke out in spontaneous applause.

The first was when he thanked those present for their dedication, generosity and selfless contributions, and the dedication of those working in inner-city schools, which serve both our country and the Church. For this, the pope expressed his profound gratitude.

The second came when the pope called for religious brothers, sisters and priests to not abandon the school apostolate.

In fact, he asked them to renew their commitment to schools, especially those in poorer areas. In places where there are many hollow promises which lure young people away from the path of truth and genuine freedom, the consecrated person’s witness to the evangelical counsels is an irreplaceable gift, he said.

The pope referred to what he called the “diakonia of truth.”

“Diakonia,” a Greek word meaning “service,” is a shared ministry to serve God in suffering people, in the poorest, in those most in need.

The task is never easy. It involves the entire Christian community and motivates each generation of Christian educators to ensure that the power of God’s truth permeates every dimension of the institutions they serve.

The Holy Father noted the work of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Katharine Drexel, who devoted their lives to educating those whom others had neglected—in their cases, African-Americans and American Indians.

Catholic schools have helped generations of immigrants rise from poverty and take their place in mainstream society. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, “which in turn, nurtures the soul of a nation,” the Holy Father said.

The Church’s primary mission of evangelization, in which educational institutions play a crucial role, is consonant with a nation’s fundamental aspiration to develop a society truly worthy of the human person’s dignity.

Pope Benedict concluded by focusing the educators’ attention on the importance of their own professionalism and witness within our Catholic universities and schools.

“We have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice,” he told them.

This requires a public witness to the way of Christ, which shapes all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom.

In his concluding remarks, the pope said, “To all of you I say: Bear witness to hope. Nourish your witness with prayer. Account for the hope that characterizes your lives [cf. 1 Pt 3:15] by living the truth which you propose to your students. Help them to know and love the One you have encountered, whose truth and goodness you have experienced with joy.”

He continued, citing St. Augustine, let us say: “We who speak and you who listen acknowledge ourselves as fellow disciples of a single teacher” (Sermons, 23:2).

(John Valenti is the associate director of Evangelization and Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. E-mail him at†

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