Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Synod: Message of the Synod and the Propositions

Now that the Synod of Bishops dedicated to the subject of the New Evangelisation has come to an end, we can consider the message of the Synod and the propositions of the Synod fathers submitted to the Holy Father.

A summary of the Message can be found at the Holy See Press Office: FINAL MESSAGE OF THE SYNOD ON NEW EVANGELISATION. An (unofficial, kind of) English translation of the propositions submitted to Pope Benedict XVI can be found in the Bulletin of the Synod at the Vatican website:  FINAL LIST OF PROPOSITIONS.

Both the Message and the propositions cover a wide range of ideas, so it is difficult to pick out any one or two ideas without giving the misleading impression that they have a "priority" over other ideas in the mind of the Synod fathers. I pick out the following more because it touches on my own situation in the Church and the world than for any other reason.

Proposition 27 refers to the part to be played by Catholic educational institutions in the new evangelisation. Part of the proposition reads:
Education is a constitutive dimension of evangelization. To proclaim the Risen Jesus Christ is to accompany all human beings in their personal story, in their development and in their spiritual vocation.  
Education needs, at the same time, to promote everything that is true, good and beautiful that is a part of the human person, that is to say, to educate the mind and the emotions to appreciate reality.  
Children, teenagers and young people have a right to be evangelized and educated. The schools and Catholic universities respond in this way to this need. Public institutions should recognize and support this right. 
Schools should assist families in introducing children into the beauty of the faith. Schools offer a great opportunity to transmit the faith or at least to make it known. 
The core of this proposition seems to me to lie in the statement that "children, teenagers and young people have a right to be evangelised and educated". This represents the double polarity expressed in the preceding two paragraphs of the proposition. But if each word of the polarity - "evangelised" and "educated" - has its own significance in this statement, so does the connective word "and". On the one hand, in so far as a school educates it also evangelises. On the other, if a school does not in some way offer an explicit introduction to, or at least an offer of, the Christian message, the evangelisation that is education remains incomplete. This should not, of course, be read as approving proselytism (ie an unjust effort to convert) towards those of non-Christian beliefs. I find interesting the implication that might be drawn from this proposition that children, teenagers and young people have this right to be evangelised and educated in their own right, and that it is not a right mediated through rights with regard to education that belong to parents/guardians.

It is interesting to read this in the light of article 19 and  article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and against the background of a notion of secularisation which wishes to remove the presence of religion from schools and to deny parents/guardians rights to educate their children in their own beliefs:
Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 26:
1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
There is an implicit cross-reference to Proposition 16 of the Synod fathers, which refers to the importance of the right to religious liberty for the new evangelisation:
In light of the recognition of the Second Vatican Council as an instrument for the New Evangelization and the growing need to protect the religious liberty of Christians throughout the world, the Synod Fathers propose a renewed commitment to and wider diffusion of the teachings of Dignitatis Humanae. This renewal seeks to affirm and promote freedom in religious matters for individuals, families and institutions to protect the common good of all. Such a freedom includes the right to teach the Christian faith without compromise of its tenets to children in the family and/or school. 
The Synod Fathers propose that the Holy Father consider the opportuneness of establishing a commission of Church leaders representing various parts of the Church throughout the world or entrusting this task to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to address attacks on religious liberty, and to obtain accurate information for public witness to the fundamental right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

This cross-reference does not just consist in the opposition to coercion in matters of education and religious belief on the part of society or the organs of the state. It requires a genuine access to information about matters of religion. It is interesting to see the way in which Pope John Paul II, in his book Sources of Renewal on the implementation of Vatican II, cites Dignitatis Humanae in his discussion of the nature of faith. This is a discussion which could usefully be read alongside the propositions of the Synod fathers.

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