Something unique happened at this year’s Annual Catholic School Executive Leadership Dinner held on May 28. Participants incorporated a tweet into a prayer. That the tweet came from @pontifex, Pope Francis’s Twitter account, certainly helped add gravitas to the digital segue.
“Let us thank all those who teach in Catholic schools. Educating is an act of love. It is like giving life,” read the seemingly staid crowd of bishops, priests, nuns, school superintendents, and other Catholic leaders from the New York region.
And yet, the prayer seemed wholly appropriate in light of the message that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Papal Nuncio to the United States, brought to the event.
The Archbishop told the crowd that the “profound changes that have led to the ever-wider diffusion of multicultural societies” require those who work in the school or university sector to act with “a courageous and innovative fidelity.” Quoting Pope Francis he added education in our times “is guided by a changing generation, and that, therefore, every educator—and the Church as a whole is an education mother—is required to change, in the sense of knowing how to communicate with the young.”
Several times the Archbishop reiterated opportunities to be discovered in new technology. He called for a “New Evangelization” to respond to cultural challenges found “in our educational institutions, the traditional media, the new media, or even the public square.”
“Let us investigate the resources that are available, share those resources with each other, help one another to implement them, and use our collective creativity to make them interesting so that our young people can be transformed into the men and women Christ called them to be,” he said.
The Archbishop quoted a recent study that showed an alarming increase in the rate of unbelief among young people, having moved from 25 percent to 35 percent in last ten years alone. He blamed secularism, materialism, and relativism as undermining faith. Though he allowed that today’s generation of young people are very service oriented, the increasing influence of materialism “can cause us to underestimate the dignity of every human being.”
“When our transcendent dignity disappears, we are no longer mysteries, but mere problems—mere units of production or consumption, or behavior instead of uniquely good and loveable beings made in the image and likeness of God.”
He noted that efforts to foster faith among young people is often exacerbated by the a growing misperception of the Catholic Church’s relationship with science, which he labeled a “false dichotomy between faith and science.” He reminded the audience that the church was often at the forefront of discovery: Gregor Mendel, the founder of genetics, was an Augustinian monk; Nicholas Steno, the father of contemporary stratigraphy and geology, was a Catholic Bishop; and Georges Lemaitre, who formulated the Big Bang theory, was a Belgian priest.
“The church has always provided a remarkable synthesis between faith, reason, and the natural sciences,” he said.
On thanking the Archbishop, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, provided his own list of great Church thinkers and reiterated the Archbishop’s theme of Church support of research and science.
“People say to me, ‘You’re religious therefore your against evolution.’ That’s not our issue. Our issue is how do we deal with sin in the world,” he said. “Other faiths may have trouble with science, but for us Catholics, science is a glimpse into the glory of God and what God has done.”
Highlighting another theme from the Archbishop’s speech, that of the cultural crossroads of Galilee resembling our own “diffusion of multicultural societies,” Father McShane told the crowd of educators that they too should go forth to teach the good news in Galilee.
“Where do we go forth to teach? We go forth to Galilee, which we call Brooklyn, and Lynbrook, and Schenectady, and Ossining, and the South Bronx,” he said. “Because that’s really where Galilee is.”
The 20th Annual Catholic School Executive Leadership Dinner was sponsored by the Center for Catholic School Leadership and Faith-Based Education. Read Archbishop Vigno’s full remarks or listen below.