Catholic schools can embrace their identity through familiarity with Christ, devotion to the Virgin Mary and a commitment to Christian life and teaching, the apostolic nuncio to the United States told the nation’s bishops.
“Educational leaders should regain firm command of the helm of their institutions through the storms of the present times,” said Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.
“The course must always be set by Christ and his Church, never allowing influence or wealth to dictate what might be an improper orientation for a Catholic school or a university.”
The nuncio spoke to the U.S. bishops’ fall general assembly in Baltimore Nov. 16.
“While each college or university has its own particular mission, together they ultimately have the solemn obligation to teach the same doctrine of the universal Church and to define the moral obligation that marks us all as Catholic Christians,” he said.
The archbishop has served as apostolic nuncio – or papal representative – to the U.S. since 2011.
In his address to the bishops, he stressed that “(o)ur students should be taught how to pray, how to become familiar with Christ.”
“They should experience how enriching is the encounter with the poor, with the sick, with the elderly, and the immigrant, a reality often excluded from our privileged society. They should also experience, along with a great quality education, the inspiring devotion to Our Lady and a love for the missions.”
Archbishop Vigano noted the bishops’ duties to pass down “the authentic teaching of Christ.”
“Like St. Paul, we are compelled to proclaim the gospel message, in season and out of season.”
Despite the “many challenges,” he said, bishops have “a tremendous obligation to watch over and protect families and parishes and schools for the good of the people.”
“If we have to preserve a moral order in our society, we cannot fall prey to the enticement and allurement of a secularized and increasingly pagan civilization.”
Archbishop Vigano cited Pope St. Gregory the Great’s pastoral rule: “Imprudent silence may leave in error those who could have been taught. Pastors who lack foresight hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of men.”
The nuncio also cited Pope Francis’ words to U.S. university leaders in January 2014. The Pope voiced his hope that Catholic universities will “continue to offer unambiguous testimony of their foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts to dilute that indispensable witness.” The Pope stressed the need for these institutions to defend, preserve and advance their Catholic identity.
The nuncio emphasized the need to care for Catholic educational institutions “so that they would regain the luster of their true identity.” Catholic colleges and universities “should be encouraged to be faithful to the title of ‘Catholic’ that they bear.”
“In this way, their students can be inspired to take their rightful place in the world, teaching others what has been the true Catholic family that God intends them to be.”
Since Baltimore was created the first Catholic diocese over 225 years ago, the American bishops have worked in education to help spread the Gospel and to shape the growth of the Catholic Church, the nuncio recounted. The bishops built parish schools with the “dedicated support” of women religious whose exemplars included St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. These schools helped families find “identity, meaning and nourishment in a new world.”
“These schools became fortresses of solid Catholic formation for all those young people who would take their place in America’s future,” Archbishop Vigano said. The early American bishops saw education “as an essential means for the Gospel mission to be woven into the very fabric of our people’s existence.”
He noted that at about the same time as the founding of the Baltimore diocese, Georgetown University was founded in Washington under the direction of the Society of Jesus.
“While the Church in France was undergoing great suppression by a revolution that would remove God from public life, it was this order in this university that was meant to build up and preserve genuine Catholic teaching to be infused into the culture of America’s young society.”
Archbishop Vigano recounted with gratitude his education at a Jesuit secondary school in Milan and the Gregorian University in Rome, saying this education greatly helped his vocation to the priesthood. He chose the Feast of the North American Martyrs, Jesuit saints, to publicize his appointment as nuncio. He said that the Jesuits have been “the leader of evangelization in America.”
“The Society of Jesus has had a long and proud tradition of imparting a rich Catholic faith and a deep love for Christ which in great part is carried on through their mission of education. It is my hope that, with respect to their great tradition, after the example of our Holy Father, they would like again to lead and to reaffirm the Catholic identity of their educational institutions.”
The nuncio said challenges to family life in the Western world are now at “a critical point,” as seen in the recent Synod of Bishops.
“We know that a solid Catholic family is the very first school for learning,” he said. “Good and faithful parents are always the best of teachers.”
The family forms a “domestic church” that prepares children for Catholic education at every level, he said. The nuncio encouraged the U.S. bishops to look to this path to find renewed strength for evangelization, a strength that “must be solid and unwavering in its commitment to truth.”
Archbishop Vigano voiced gratitude to the bishops and others who helped plan and take part in Pope Francis’ U.S. visit in September. He praised the Pope’s “powerful” catechesis, especially as it related to the family, its openness to life, and its “beauty and potential to form a vibrant and living Church.”
“What we have done as one Church, united and guided in the presence of Peter, and the people coming together as one in the Eucharist, we can continue to do and accomplish,” he said.
Archbishop Vigano had a special prayer for bishops: “May God give us, as teachers, and models in the faith, the grace we need to always be faithful to our own mission, to renew the spirit of evangelization in our midst.”
With his 75th birthday on the horizon, he acknowledged that the end of his term as nuncio may be approaching and he assured the bishops that they will always be in his thoughts and prayers.
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