VATICAN – His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew recently delivered a speech at the Vatican on the role of religion in education in the presence of Pope Francis of Rome and many prominent theologians, academics, educators and clergymen.
The Patriarch declared that “the education of the young generation is one of the most difficult challenges that societies are called to solve. In our time, in addition to the essentially complex task of education, there are new difficulties linked to the signs of the times. The explosive development of science and technology, the irruption of information and the Internet, globalization and the omnipotence of economic criteria, secularization, socio-political changes, multiculturalism and pluralism, struggles for cultural identity, religious fundamentalism, and much more, create powerful shackles for this otherwise fundamental dimension of society and civilization. Valuable traditions are shattered, human freedom is misinterpreted as “the art of avoiding limitations”, individualism and the libertarian conception of the human rights system are spreading everywhere. Thus, preserving the humanist orientation of education and the pedagogical character of schools is made more and more difficult.
He also said:
“The Greek classics perceive the vision of education as ‘the convergence of the soul’ towards the good (Plato, Republic 518d). Greek wisdom also determines that true education does not just prepare us to achieve everything we desire, but to desire what we should – namely, what serves virtue and truth. Indeed, education is linked to what humanity should be rather than what it is.
“Today, we are rediscovering the vital importance of education as a transmission of values, which guides the human being towards the essentials of life. To the extent that this process passes through the channel of the appropriate relationship between teacher and student, the pedagogical role of the teacher and the critical responsibility of discipleship are again emphasized.
“Only authentic teachers can contribute to a positive confrontation of the great contemporary problems in the field of education. They will, for example, play an important role in overcoming the educational problems created and continued by the coronavirus pandemic. They will raise awareness of the importance of religious education in schools for the spiritual and social education of young people. And they will teach the young generation the function of dialogue, the spirit of intercultural exchange and the value of peaceful coexistence with the other, the different.
“We would like to emphasize the contribution of religious education to the coexistence between different cultures in contemporary societies. In this context, children and young people will understand that the interest in developing their personal religious identity does not constitute an obstacle to communication with others, while also constituting the basis and the prerequisite for openness to others. Only those who have and appreciate a particular identity are able to demonstrate a genuine interest in the identity of others as well, and are thus able to communicate and collaborate with others.
The presence and proper organization of religious identity in the field of education is of crucial importance for the future of humanity. Young people must be educated on a religion:
• which emphasizes the spiritual identity and eternal destiny of all;
• which offers answers to the great existential questions and to the search for meaning in life;
• which determines the identity of peoples and cultures; who has preserved invaluable spiritual traditions, as well as respect for creation;
• which resists tendencies leading to a decrease in the sanctity of the human person;
• and which can contribute decisively to peace and reconciliation, as well as to the culture of a civilization of solidarity and fraternity.
“In light of the fact that religion is today frequently used by fundamentalist circles as a vehicle of division and conflict, appropriate religious education – as education for peace – acquires special relevance. It prepares children and young men and women to participate in the creation of a world of peace, where human beings can see in the faces of their fellow human beings a brother and a sister, rather than a threat or – worse – a enemy.
“The quality of a society’s vision is judged by the way it assesses and organizes the education of the young generation, as well as by the way it perceives the school and the goals of education, including role of teacher and student. We congratulate the organizers of this assembly devoted to the inexhaustible question of education in relation to religion. And we appreciate the opportunity to speak to you.