Archbishop John Dew
‘At the heart of the Catholic Character of a school are the Catholic hearts of those who work in the school – the principal, teachers, chaplains and other staff. They are witnesses to the students of a mature faith, and an integration of faith with life.’
(NZ Catholic Bishops)
Since February I have spoken to many teachers, parents and trustees about the document of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops on The Catholic Education of School-Age Children.
The very heart of the matter is the hearts of those who work in Catholic education: not only those in Catholic schools and colleges, but also the many volunteers who prepare children in parish-based sacramental programmes, RCIA, and adult faith-formation courses.
The Catholic Institute of Aotearoa New Zealand (www.tci.ac.nz) is providing excellent professional courses in the areas of scripture, theology and catechetics for teachers, pastoral leaders and people preparing for specialised chaplaincies with youth, or in hospitals and prisons.
The Walk by Faith programme is especially designed for adults seeking to deepen their adult faith. A formation of the heart is an essential component of all these programmes.
All teachers and catechists are invited to allow their hearts to be filled with the love and knowledge of Jesus Christ as we know him in the scriptures and in the Church community, so they can nurture that in those they teach.
The purpose of all Catholic education is ‘to lead students to an intimate encounter with God which is the beginning of an adult commitment to Jesus Christ and his Church’. (NZCBC #50)
When our hearts are in tune with God, we are able to nurture and encourage the steps to that encounter, through discipleship to a growing commitment to Jesus and his Church.
While much of the document is focussed on the Catholic education system of schools and colleges, the Bishops are deeply concerned for Catholic children attending state schools.
It is estimated that about 30 per censst of young Catholics do not attend Catholic schools.
How can we respond to this challenge in ensuring they receive education in the faith?
This is the primary responsibility of the bishop as a teacher; and together, as bishops in New Zealand, we are looking at ways of addressing this pressing pastoral question at a national level.
With new technology and developments in distance learning we are looking towards new means of delivery that reflect these changes.
When I spoke about this document in the Wairarapa, I drove up there on a stunningly clear afternoon.
In the distance, I could see layer upon layer of the Tararuas on the skyline.
It reminded me of one of the concluding paragraphs of the Bishops’ document: The history of Catholic education in Aotearoa New Zealand is underpinned by the great dedication and commitment of generations of Catholics, which continues today.
‘I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill one only finds that there are many more hills to climb…’
These words of Nelson Mandela speak to the challenge ahead of us as we build Catholic education on the foundations set by those who have given so generously of their time and talents so that others may come to know Jesus Christ and be fully involved in the Church.