The Pope made his remarks recently during an audience with more than 2,000 participants in a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education and the 25th anniversary of “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” St. John Paul II’s apostolic constitution on Catholic universities.
The Pope said education that is too focused on tangible results while ignoring the spiritual dimension is “the biggest crisis” facing Christian education.
“We must prepare hearts so the Lord can manifest Himself,” which requires an education that strives to reflect “the fullness of humanity that has this dimension of transcendence,” he said.
The Pope expressed concern that the educational alliance among families, schools and states is broken, causing a serious situation that leads to universities selecting only “supermen” chosen solely based on intelligence or wealth.
“Behind this, there is always the ghost of money — always,” he said. Education has become “too selective and elitist. It seems that only those people or persons who are at a certain level or have a certain capacity have the right to an education.”
Taking questions from administrators and faculty members, the Pope spoke about Catholic identity in education and warned about the dangers of exclusion and educating within “the walls” of a selective and safe culture.
Asked how educators can foster a culture of encounter and restore the broken bonds among schools, families and society, the Pope said Catholic educators must overcome a tendency of being selective and must work to restore the broken “educational alliance” which tends to place profit over people.
“This is a shameful global reality,” the Pope said. “It is a reality that leads us toward a human selectivity that, instead of bringing people together, it distances them. It distances the rich from the poor. It distances one culture from another.”
When asked how Catholic educational institutions could contribute to building peace in the world, the Pope called on them to educate the poor and the marginalized even if that meant cutting staff at some of their schools in wealthier neighbourhoods.
“They have something that youth from rich neighbourhoods do not through no fault of their own, but it is a sociological reality: they have the experience of survival, of cruelty, of hunger, of injustice,” he said. “They have a wounded humanity. And I think about the fact that our salvation comes from the wounds of a man injured on the cross.”
Pope Francis also gave the participants a homework assignment: to think about how to fulfill the corporal and spiritual works of mercy through education.
“Think about it in this Year of Mercy. Is mercy just about giving alms or how can I do the works of mercy in education?” he said.