In light of Pope Francis’ call to young people at World Youth Day to be missionaries, Irish Archbishop Eamon Martin, coadjutor of the Archdiocese of Armagh, asked, according to Zenit, “to what extent do we, in our Catholic schools, facilitate young people in grasping the truths of faith, growing in love of God and neighbor, and in becoming witnesses for Christ?”
Archbishop Martin said that Catholic schools have faced great changes in the past few decades. “The past twenty years have seen a steep decline in weekly practice and prayer amongst Catholics here,” he said. “Ireland shares with other parts of Western Europe a certain loss of the ‘sense of the sacred’, increasing individualism and disengagement from community, and a tendency towards ethical relativism.”
In this culture, young people are exposed to what the archbishop called “the cult of the celebrity, binge drinking and drugs and pornography” leading to rising numbers of depression, despair, and even suicide. With that, he said, there has been a drift away from Mass and the sacraments, and “increasingly we are finding people who live their lives with little or no reference to belief or trust in God.”
Archbishop Martin suggested three ways for Catholic schools to respond to the challenge of the Gospel, including: instilling “confidence in pupils and teachers to be public witnesses for our faith;” reaching out to the poor; and allowing “God’s presence in his Word and the Eucharist [to] transform our schools from within.”
The archbishop continued:
This means finding more opportunities in Catholic schools for pupils to hear or read God’s Word, and then to reflect on what it is asking of them. The Word of God is the ‘wellspring of renewal’ in the life of the Church and in our own personal lives (Verbum Domini). But if this is to happen then we need to make the Bible a more natural part of the daily life of our schools.
St Jerome once said: Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ, so let us seek new opportunities in our Catholic schools for teachers and pupils to meet together to read and study the Bible, to reflect upon it prayerfully, to get to know who Jesus is, his life and ministry and relate it to their lives. e.g. in Assemblies, Bible Study Groups and Lectio Divina groups. Pope Francis describes the Word of God as a 'sublime treasure'. He says 'the study of the sacred Scriptures must be a door opened to every believer’; evangelisation demands familiarity with the Word of God. You may be aware of the website, 'Sacred Space’ which is hosted here in Ireland. In a few clicks it offers opportunities for a few moments of prayer and meditation for each day, drawing from God’s Word, offering thoughts on how that Word relates to daily life. Something like this would be the ideal beginning to every day for pupils, teachers and school chaplains.
God’s powerful presence in the Eucharist is another source of nourishment for our Catholic schools. Most of our schools already make a big effort to ensure that school, class and Year Group Masses are celebrated regularly with joy and reverence. Pope John Paul II, who invented the term ‘New Evangelisation’ was always clear that there is no authentic celebration of the Eucharist that does not lead to mission. The Eucharist is the summit and source of the Church’s life and mission. Regular celebration of the Eucharist, as well as opportunities for young people to meet God in adoration and prayer before the Eucharist can bring new hope, enthusiasm and renewal into the life of a school.
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