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Education is too selective and elitist, says Pope Francis

People take pictures with mobile phones and tablets as Pope Francis arrives (CNS)

Education has become “too selective and elitist”, Pope Francis has said.

The Pope made the comment during an impromptu question-and-answer session on Saturday 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.

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.

“Behind this, there is always the ghost of money — always. 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,” says Pope.

Roberto Zappala, headmaster of Milan’s Gonzaga Institute, asked the Pope what makes a school “truly Christian.” Christian education, the Pope responded, is not just about providing catechesis, but requires educating children and young people “in human values,” particularly the value of transcendence.

Educating that is too focused on the tangible and ignores the spiritual dimension of existence is “the biggest crisis” facing Christian education, he added.

“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.”

Spanish Lasallian Christian Brother Juan Antonio Ojeda, a professor at the University of Malaga, asked the Pope 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” among families, schools and society, 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.”

Educators, he continued, “are among the worst-paid workers: what does this mean? It means that the state simply has no interest. If it did, things wouldn’t go that way. The educational alliance is broken. And this is our job, to find new paths.”

The Pope called on both families and educators to take “reasonable risks” in educating children and youth, helping them to grow.

When asked how Catholic schools could contribute to building peace in the world, the Pope called on them to educate the poor and the marginalised even if that meant cutting the 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. 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,” he said.

Pope Francis also gave the participants a homework assignment: to think about how to fulfil 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.