By making religion an invitation, schools will allow room for students take ownership of their faith, writes Youth Speak News' Patrick Peori. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic

Speaking Out: Bring out the ‘Catholic’ in Catholic education

By  Patrick Peori, Youth Speak News
  • April 28, 2017

I am a product of the Catholic education system and if you were to ask me what I learned in high school I would tell you I didn’t learn enough about my faith.

This week is Catholic Education Week. It’s a time when Catholic schools across Ontario celebrate the successes of their students and their teachers. But as we celebrate these accomplishments, I want Catholic education to strive for more.

Many students are leaving the Church after high school. I believe this is because faith is too often presented as a procedure, rather than an encounter with the risen Lord. Many students see the religion course as an opportunity to obtain a grade that boosts their average, not as an opportunity to invite Jesus into their lives.

There is no point of memorizing the Nicene Creed, the Beatitudes or the Ten Commandments if you don’t understand that you can have a personal relationship with Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a failure of our teachers. They already do so much for their students and are only left teaching a curriculum that must be executed.

Nor is it a failure of our chaplains. They pour their hearts into organizing liturgies, retreats, other acts of service and meeting with students who need encouragement.

In my view, the current failure is with the education system, which presents religion in a book as a set of guidelines that rarely focuses on Church history and the lives of saints or, better yet, invites students into a personal relationship with Christ.

Many years ago, the high school I graduated from, St. Pius X Catholic High School in Ottawa, Ont., centred its religion course around this invitation. Fr. Bob Bedard was a teacher, then principal at St. Pius X in the 1960s and ’70s. He made this invitation his mission. Instead of presenting the faith as a set of guidelines, he challenged his students to meet Christ.

He encouraged students to say, “Lord, if you’re real, show me.” This was too big a challenge for some, but for others it prompted a conversion experience and desire to pray together.

Imagine if students were challenged today in their religion course to ask God to reveal Himself to them. This shift would no doubt change things dramatically. It’s a shift our system should take.

Remaining a mandatory course, religion should be graded strictly on a pass-fail basis. It should be presented as an invitation for students to get to know God. Passing or failing won’t depend on how successful they are, but on their openness to participate. If successful, students will take ownership of the course and truly encounter God.

Making religion an invitation will allow room for students to give God permission and it will emphasize the Catholic in Catholic school and the world.

(Peori, 19, is a second-year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ont.)

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