Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Pope Benedict XVI's "state of the world" address

Each year, Pope Benedict meets with diplomatic representatives accredited to the Holy See. This meeting takes place early in the new year, and takes the form of an exchange of greetings for the new year. The Holy Father addresses the diplomats in an address that can be described as a "state of the world" address.

The address that Pope Benedict gave on 9th January is impressively wide ranging. It shows an outstanding awareness of world events and of their implications for the human person. It is necessary to read the whole address to gain a real understanding of its breadth and depth. Some reactions to the address can be found here: Dignity of the human being is key (Canadian ambassador to the Holy See),  Looking long term, not short term (UK ambassador to the Holy See, though his observation about being reminded of the global role of the Holy See is of interest), A sober speech for a sobering world (Australian ambassador to the Holy See, who picks up on the theme of education in the Pope's address).

A number of Pope Benedict's remarks touch on matters of education:
In addition to a clear goal, that of leading young people to a full knowledge of reality and thus of truth, education needs settings. Among these, pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman. .... The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and States; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue....

[An] essential role in the development of the person is played by educational institutions: these are the first instances which cooperate with the family and they can hardly function properly unless they share the same goals as the family. There is a need to implement educational policies which ensure that schooling is available to everyone and which, in addition to promoting the cognitive development of the individual, show concern for a balanced personal growth, including openness to the Transcendent....

In this perspective. it is clear that an effective educational programme also calls for respect for religious freedom. This freedom has individual, collective and institutional dimensions.
Others have commented on how the sections of these paragraph that I have omitted relate the question of the family to that of the promotion of a culture of life. But for an education professional, these paragraphs contain another significant implication. The Coalition Government is promoting a diversification in the governance structures of state funded schools, encouraging (and coercing) the conversion of schools to Academy status and encouraging the founding of Free Schools. The opposition to these policies is articulated in terms of the "privatisation of state education", in terms of the removal of local democratic accountability that exists with local authority schools, and in highlighting the dangers of minority groups being able to found schools without any particular educational expertise. So the pointing out of the first place to be given to families, and then that educational institutions are "the first instances which cooperate with the family", provides a completely new context from which to approach these debates about the governance structure of schools. Whatever governance structure accompanies the state funding, the educational enterprise itself first belongs to parents and families and not to either central or local government. The observation that religious freedom has collective and institutional dimensions also has a clear implication for the part that religious faith might play in the founding of Academies and Free Schools.

This paragraph appears towards the end of Pope Benedict's address:
Finally I would stress that education, correctly understood, cannot fail to foster respect for creation. We cannot disregard the grave natural calamities which in 2011 affected various regions of South-East Asia, or ecological disasters like that of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. Environmental protection and the connection between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas for the promotion of integral human development.
This is, of course, reminiscent of the stance taken by CAFOD with regard to climate change and development. It is not the first time that Pope Benedict has spoken in terms such as these about questions of ecology.

But do read the whole address in order to appreciate its wide range and the way in which it brings religious principles to bear upon the situation of the community of nations of the world. To end with, a paragraph of the Australian Ambassador's comment on Pope Benedict's speech, referred to above:
“What I picked up most from the Pope’s speech was his return to the theme of education. Education for young people, education as part of religious freedom and cultural progress in the Middle East and around the world. Having just returned from Bethlehem University where 1 thousand Christian, 2 thousand Muslim students all work together on the same campus I thought the theme was very commendable."

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