Earlier today, Pope Benedict spoke to some visiting US Bishops about the importance of Catholic education. Here are a few excerpts:
Important efforts are…being made to preserve the great patrimony of America’s Catholic elementary and high schools, which have been deeply affected by changing demographics and increased costs, while at the same time ensuring that the education they provide remains within the reach of all families, whatever their financial status. As has often been mentioned in our meetings, these schools remain an essential resource for the new evangelization, and the significant contribution that they make to American society as a whole ought to be better appreciated and more generously supported.
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It is no exaggeration to say that providing young people with a sound education in the faith represents the most urgent internal challenge facing the Catholic community in your country. The deposit of faith is a priceless treasure which each generation must pass on to the next by winning hearts to Jesus Christ and shaping minds in the knowledge, understanding and love of his Church. It is gratifying to realize that, in our day too, the Christian vision, presented in its breadth and integrity, proves immensely appealing to the imagination, idealism and aspirations of the young, who have a right to encounter the faith in all its beauty, its intellectual richness and its radical demands.
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First, as we know, the essential task of authentic education at every level is not simply that of passing on knowledge, essential as this is, but also of shaping hearts. There is a constant need to balance intellectual rigor in communicating effectively, attractively and integrally, the richness of the Church’s faith with forming the young in the love of God, the praxis of the Christian moral and sacramental life and, not least, the cultivation of personal and liturgical prayer.
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The Christian commitment to learning, which gave birth to the medieval universities, was based upon this conviction that the one God, as the source of all truth and goodness, is likewise the source of the intellect’s passionate desire to know and the will’s yearning for fulfilment in love.
Only in this light can we appreciate the distinctive contribution of Catholic education, which engages in a “diakonia of truth” inspired by an intellectual charity which knows that leading others to the truth is ultimately an act of love (cf. Address to Catholic Educators, Washington, 17 April 2008). Faith’s recognition of the essential unity of all knowledge provides a bulwark against the alienation and fragmentation which occurs when the use of reason is detached from the pursuit of truth and virtue; in this sense, Catholic institutions have a specific role to play in helping to overcome the crisis of universities today. Firmly grounded in this vision of the intrinsic interplay of faith, reason and the pursuit of human excellence, every Christian intellectual and all the Church’s educational institutions must be convinced, and desirous of convincing others, that no aspect of reality remains alien to, or untouched by, the mystery of the redemption and the Risen Lord’s dominion over all creation.
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In concluding these brief reflections, I wish to express once more my gratitude, and that of the whole Church, for the generous commitment, often accompanied by personal sacrifice, shown by so many teachers and administrators who work in the vast network of Catholic schools in your country.
Read the full text of the speech at Vatican Radio.