Unites States – Evangelize by educating and educate by evangelizing

24 September 2019

(ANS – New Rochelle) – It is said Catholic and Salesian schools ought to be “places of evangelization.” That’s a daunting task considering the large number of students of other faiths in our schools and the growing challenges to the faith education of present-day young Catholics.

It is our Catholic conviction that faith is a gift of God – he freely gives it to whomever he chooses. Simultaneously, it is a free response of the human person – God has given men and women intelligence and free will, and so it is up to them to accept freely or refuse God’s gift; herein lies the basis of human freedom vis-à-vis religion. Every person – and every government and culture – has the fundamental duty to respect and safeguard each person’s religious freedom.

Whether or not people choose to follow Jesus and become Christians is a different issue; that depends on whether God gives them – and they freely accept – the grace of believing in Jesus and choosing to enter the Church through Baptism. The reason for evangelizing is similar to the reason a man who has fallen in love with a woman and intends to marry her shares this good news with others: he yearns to tell others about her because that woman means so much to him, and he is bursting with joy!

An important part of our living as God’s children is to love all human beings – in a particular way, the poor and downtrodden – to let them know that God loves them and cares for them. Hence, from its beginning till now, love for mankind, especially for the poor and downtrodden, has been the hallmark of Christianity. This is why we establish schools, hospitals, homes for the poor, and other charitable works: to help alleviate poverty and suffering, and to let people know that God loves and cares for them.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that while we engage in charitable works out of love for God and for his people, we seek to make this loving God known. It would make little sense for us to share everything with the poor – our time, our energy, our money, our houses, our very lives – but refuse to share our faith, which is our most precious possession!

The first and fundamental way of sharing faith is by creating a Christian climate in our schools. In pedagogical circles nowadays, much importance is attached to the climate of a school – persons, relationships, space, time, teaching, study, and other activities – which together create favorable conditions for a formative process. It is our firm conviction that from the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic Salesian school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith. If such a unique environment isn’t present, then there’s little left which can make the school Catholic. Hence, surprising as it may seem, the challenge we face today is to make our schools not less, but more, Catholic!

A question we need to ask ourselves and our collaborators is: How do we evangelize in our school? Invariably, the answer would be: “We have Mass, talks, catechism classes, confessions, retreats, the celebration of feasts, religious pictures on the wall, etc.” We know the rest of the day is occupied in educational activities: classes, reading in the library, co-curricular activities, exercise, games, examinations, etc. “We educate and we evangelize!”

It sounds so perfect, yet we need to be careful! We run the risk of setting up education and evangelization as two parallel realities. Perhaps we never stop to think that ALL our work of education ought to be evangelization!

Don Bosco synthesized the meaning of education in three Italian words that begin with the letter ‘s’: salute-scienza-santità (health-knowledge-sanctity). We could paraphrase these words to mean “pursuits that cater to the human, cultural, and spiritual improvement” that become harmoniously integrated in the personality of the youngster. The pedagogy of Don Bosco is centered on the well-being of the young person. Don Bosco said, “Love the things that the young love … to get them to love what you hold dear.” For one youth, he offered the opportunity to study; for another, an apprenticeship in some trade that would enable him to make a living as an honest citizen. And there was something more: Don Bosco had at heart the youngster’s salvation; he would educate him in the true way of Christian existence by offering him a religious education: this would bring him the fullness of joy. “I’ll wait for you in heaven” … the final destiny of all education.

One educates in the measure that one loves. Pedagogists know this. Don Bosco said, “Education is a matter of the heart,” and added that the Preventive System was based completely on the words of St. Paul: “Love is patient, love is kind; it suffers all things, hopes for all things, and bears all things.” Don Bosco was convinced that only God can teach us how to love as he does, and how to educate in the way he educates. Hence the importance of religion in the Preventive System.

A much-quoted saying from Don Bosco’s 1884 letter from Rome is this: “One who knows he is loved loves in return, and one who loves can obtain anything, especially from the young.” In fact, at the age of nine, little Johnny Bosco had already been told, “Not with blows and roughness, but with meekness and goodness, win over the hearts of your companions.”

It is this love that bespeaks the consecration of the educator as “one totally dedicated to the welfare of his pupils.” This attitude makes the educator give all in his or her power for the young.

by Fr. Franco Pinto, SDB


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