While stressing the importance of being inclusive of all learners, the introductory section of This Is Our Faith explains the distinctive purpose of religious education in the Catholic school. It emphasises the centrality of Jesus Christ in the Catholic school and invites schools to provide for children and young people “structured opportunities of encounter with Jesus”. It stresses the importance of Catholic religious education discovering the correct relationship between the definitive fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, handed on by the Apostles and by the teaching of the Church, and the importance of the human experience. It provides guidance on the place of learning about other Christian denominations and other world religions in the religious education offered by Catholic schools.
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[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ][xa_slide title=”nature of the Catholic school” openclose=”” icon=”arrow-circle-right”]Catholic schools are communities of faith and learning whose educational vision is based upon the teachings and values of the Catholic Church. This vision proclaims the world to be God’s creation and humans to be made in the image and likeness of God: God the Father who draws all to fulfilment, each with a particular role to play; God the Son who became human both to save and to guide us as we journey through life; and God the Holy Spirit gracing and inspiring all towards full life within God.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Catholic schools aim to help all students to develop their fullest potential, preparing them for life, informing their minds and forming their characters so that they can contribute with others, and above all with God, to the transformation of their world. This entails looking towards a fullness of life with God, fulfilled in eternal life which is not “an imaginary hereafter . . . [but] . . . is present wherever God is loved and wherever his life reaches us.” (Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI, N.31)
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Catholic schools are communities which are open, welcoming and inclusive. The Church expects that Catholic schools, working with parents and families, will seek to prepare pupils to find happiness and to lead lives of goodness, built upon Christian values, personal integrity and moral courage: “Every educator in the school ought to be striving to form strong and responsible individuals who are capable of making free and correct choices, thus preparing young people to open themselves more and more to reality, and to form in themselves a clear idea of the meaning of life.” (Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith, (LCS) Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982, No. 17)
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]The faith mission of the Catholic school is explicit not only in its religious education programmes but in all aspects of the school’s life. A vision of education, inspired by Jesus Christ, who came into our world so that we might “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10), is concerned with the development of the whole person and is the foundation of the Catholic school’s learning and the hallmark of its ethos: “The Catholic school . . . with its educational service that is enlivened by the truth of the Gospel . . . faithful to its vocation . . . appears as a place of integral education of the human person through a clear educational project of which Christ is the centre. ” (The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, Congregation for Catholic Education, 1997, No. 4)
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Pope Benedict XVI has made explicit the Church’s understanding of the centrality of Christ in the Catholic school: “First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth.” (Address to Catholic Educators, Pope Benedict XVI, Washington DC, 17th April 2008)
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]The challenge for the Catholic school is to provide structured opportunities of encounter with Jesus, opportunities to learn about His life, to understand His teaching, to develop the virtues and values which He promotes and to follow His witness in service to others. Such opportunities, provided across the life of the school, will promote genuine human growth not only for Catholic pupils but for those of other Christian denominations, other faiths or stances for living which may be independent of religious belief.[/xa_slide][xa_slide title=”inclusion of all children in the Catholic school” openclose=”” icon=”arrow-circle-right”][xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Catholic schools welcome all their students as members of the school community. This is evident in the way that all are valued, treated with respect and encouraged to participate fully in the life of the school. This includes appropriate participation in both religious observance and religious education as well as in other activities which stem from the faith mission of the school, e.g. fund-raising, service to the community and other charitable activities. Teachers are expected to bear witness to this attitude of respect for, and appreciation of, all people including those of other Christian denominations, other faiths and stances for living which may be independent of religious belief: [xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]“Catholic educators . . . must have the greatest respect for those students who are not Catholic. They should be open at all times to authentic dialogue, convinced that in these circumstances the best testimony that they can give of their own faith is a warm and sincere appreciation for anyone who is honestly seeking God according to his or her conscience.” (LCS, Para 42)
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ][xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]At all times, however, Catholic teachers should be aware of their vocation to promote the distinctive beliefs, values and practices of the Catholic community. In this regard, it is important that parents of prospective pupils of other denominations, faiths and stances for living are adequately informed of this expectation prior to enrolment: Catholic schools must not renounce their own characteristics and Christian-oriented educational programmes when children of another religion are enrolled. Parents wishing to enrol their children should be clearly informed of this expectation prior to enrolment:
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]”Catholic schools must not renounce their own characteristics and Christian-oriented educational programmes when children of another religion are enrolled. Parents wishing to enrol their children should be clearly informed of this.” (The Love of Christ Towards Migrants, Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, 2004, No. 62)
[/xa_slide][xa_slide title=”purpose of religious education in a Catholic school” openclose=”” icon=”arrow-circle-right”][xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]The central purpose of religious education in the Catholic school is to assist learners to make an informed, mature response to God’s call to relationship. Religious education is designed to engage learners in an educational process which, showing fidelity to God and to the person, will:
- assist them to develop their knowledge and understanding of significant aspects of Catholic Christian faith (including an awareness of other Christian traditions and other world religions)
- develop the skills of reflection, discernment, critical thinking and deciding how to act in accordance with an informed conscience in relation to matters of morality
- exemplify and foster the beliefs, values and practices which are compatible with a positive response to Christ’s invitation to faith: “Follow me . . .”
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Together with all other curricular areas and school activities, religious education operates within the context that is the nature of the Catholic school, as described above. The knowledge and understanding nurtured within religious education is based firmly on the sources of Catholic Christian belief and practice. These sources are: Scripture, especially the four Gospels, the rest of the New Testament and the ongoing Tradition of which Scripture is a part, found in the official documents of the Church. Wherever the Church’s teaching about beliefs and morals is part of the content of religious education, this must be based on Sacred Scripture and Tradition, of which the Catechism of the Catholic Church is an authoritative, faithful and sure presentation.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]The factors which will determine the choice of specific content for particular stages relate to:
- the importance of religious education being ‘Good News’, relevant to the age, stage and experience of the learner in whose life the Holy Spirit is already at work
- the importance of the overall programme of study constituting a systematic and developing study of the various sources of Catholic Christian faith.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Thus, religious education will involve a process of continual dialogue between the life experience of the learner and the various elements of Catholic Christian faith.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]To ensure that learners are appropriately equipped to develop a mature response to God’s invitation, religious education in Catholic schools aims to develop in them:
- the capacity to interpret their experiences and the teachings of the Church
- the skills of critical thinking and analysis in searching for meaning in life
- the skills to express a coherent understanding of faith and life
- awareness of, and respect for, the views and ways of life of others
- the skills of making moral decisions with an informed conscience
- the capacity to participate effectively in celebrations, rituals and prayer.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Central to Catholic Christian faith is the person of Jesus Christ whose invitation to all people to live life in all its fullness presents the challenge which lies at the heart of religious education. Ways of responding to this challenge are facilitated through regular reflection upon the impact of the message of Catholic Christian faith on learners’ understanding of life and on their personal response to their life circumstances. Such reflective consideration leads to the growth of knowledge and understanding and provides opportunities for the development of beliefs, values and practices which result in the making of religious and moral decisions and commitments in life. Contexts for such opportunities may include:
- appropriate experiences and celebration of prayer, reflection, meditation and liturgy
- consideration of relevant life situations which present moral challenges
- experience of engaging with the community of faith in home, school and parish
- participation in acts of charity and in service for communities, locally and globally.
[/xa_slide][xa_slide title=”nature of religious education in the Catholic school” openclose=”” icon=”arrow-circle-right”]Religious education in the Catholic school is distinctive because of its focus on the faith development of children and young people within the context of a faith community.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]The Catholic Church, founded on the faith of the Apostles, responds under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to the revelation of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus gave the Church a missionary mandate to evangelise: “proclaim” (Mark 16: 15), “make disciples and teach” (Matthew 28: 19-20), “be my witnesses” (Acts 1: 8), “baptize” (Matthew 28: 19), “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22: 19), “love one another” (John 15:12).
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]The Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, proclaims and spreads the Gospel through ‘proclamation, witness, teaching, sacraments, love of neighbour’ . However, as part of the overall process of evangelisation, the Church is also involved in catechesis – the handing-on of faith within the community of believers.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Those working within Catholic school communities today continue the Church’s work of responding to the revelation of God and so participate in its twofold mission of evangelisation and catechesis. Because of its focus on faith development, religious education in the Catholic school endeavours to promote the relevance of the Catholic faith to everyday human life and experience. In this regard, it is understood that God’s grace is at work in all people’s lives and that theological concepts addressed in religious education make explicit what has, at a deeply human level, already been experienced to varying degrees.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Teachers in Catholic schools need to be aware of the spectrum of faith commitment among learners, so as to be able to assist them in their personal search for meaning, value and purpose in their lives and in their personal response to the revelation of God. For all learners, religious education contributes to this personal search and, as such, should be central to their educational development. Students will surely have many different levels of faith response; the Christian vision of existence must be presented in such a way that it meets all of these levels, ranging from the most elementary evangelisation all the way to communion in the same faith.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Faith is the response to the Father’s invitation to communion with God which, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, people make to the revelation of the Word embodied in the Sacred Scriptures and in the Church’s teaching and practice. It involves a free and conscious assent of both intellect and will to the persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and to the truths contained in Scripture and Tradition. As such, faith is not only a personal act, but also a community (or ecclesial) act since “the Church’s faith precedes, engenders, supports and nourishes” individual faith.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Catholic Christian faith can be understood in its two aspects: – as fides qua – the faith by which one believes, an adherence to God who reveals himself; – as fides quae – the faith which one believes, the content of Revelation and of the Gospel message. In all endeavours to promote faith development, the Church takes appropriate cognisance of these two aspects: namely, the subjective process of coming to, growing and living in faith, and the objective content of the faith, expressed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as “a single sacred deposit of the Word of God” whose authentic interpretation lies with the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]The communication of the faith through religious education in a Catholic school is understood to be an event of grace, realised in the encounter of the Word of God with the experience of the person. It receives from Jesus Christ, who is the living and perfect relationship of God with man and of man with God, “the law of fidelity to God and of fidelity to the person in a single, loving attitude”.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]In showing fidelity to God, religious education places stress on the following aspects of Catholic Christian faith:
- the mystery of the Trinity – God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit
- the person of Jesus, the Son of God and the true human being whom Christians aim to follow
- the revelation of God as expressed in Sacred Scripture and Tradition
- the mystery of the risen Christ’s dynamic presence in the Church as the pilgrim people of God
- the Church’s liturgy and sacraments celebrating the continuing activity of Christ in our world
- the necessity of prayer in sustaining a growing personal relationship with God
- the moral life as the expression and consequence of our relationship with God
- the witness to Christian values given by the saints and by holy members of the people of God
- the universality of God’s loving presence in creation and in all people “who seek him with a pure heart”.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]In showing fidelity to the person, religious education of young people takes cognisance of:
- their religious and spiritual situations
- their stage of development in searching for meaning in their lives
- the pace, development and direction possible for them in their spiritual and religious journey
- the respect due to their own developing consciences and convictions
- their individual characters and personalities
- their own language, symbols, experiences and subcultures
- the questions and issues that arise in their everyday lives.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]The way in which a person increasingly matures in faith is not a simple progression towards intellectual consent, but is a much more holistic and complex process. It is a journey of unfolding encounter with God which takes place within the context of a person’s total experience of life. This process of gradual appreciation can be seen to be well exemplified in St Luke’s description of the two disciples’ journey to Emmaus in the company of the Risen Jesus whom they initially fail to recognise (Lk 24: 13-55).
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]One of the functions of religious education in the Catholic school is to provide learners with structured opportunities to experience this kind of encounter so that they become increasingly able to make an informed mature response to God in faith. These opportunities for interpreted experiences should be constructed around the key facets of Catholic faith which are expressed in the Strands of Faith outlined in section 2 of this document.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Fidelity to God will always mean being faithful to the fullness of Divine Revelation in Jesus Christ, handed on by the Apostles and safeguarded by the Magisterium of the Church. At the same time, fidelity to the person will require that religious education be presented in ways which enable young people to recognise Divine Revelation as Good News precisely because, by resonating with their own deepest yearnings and desires, it offers authentic meaning to the experiences of their lives. Since we are, in fact, proclaiming the Person of Jesus Christ, Our Way and Truth and Life, these essentially existential and relational dimensions of religious education must never be overlooked. [/xa_slide][xa_slide title=”other Christian denominations and other world religions” openclose=”” icon=”arrow-circle-right”]In the context of today’s multi-cultural and multi-faith society the Church is mindful of the need to develop in young people both a deep respect for people of faith and a recognition of the religious freedom of all. Thus it sees the value of learning about other Christian denominations and other faiths within religious education programmes in Catholic primary and secondary schools where “all must be educated to respect persons of different religious convictions”.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]While it is appropriate to include learning about other denominations and other faiths, the aim in Catholic religious education classes will always be to form young people who follow Jesus and to assist them to know, love and serve God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Hence, Catholic religious education is ‘confessional’ in nature. In particular, teachers should avoid taking a phenomenological approach, thus presenting all denominations or faiths as equally true. While respecting pupils’ opinions and faith backgrounds, teachers must propose Roman Catholic beliefs and values as objectively true and eminently relevant. In this way, in the teaching of religious education, Roman Catholic beliefs, traditions and practices must be seen as central: “. . . relativism must be avoided”.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Awareness has grown over the past decades of the importance of ensuring that young people develop knowledge and understanding of other Christian denominations. Pope John Paul II drew attention to the fact that Catholic children should be prepared so as to live alongside others of different denominations, and that such learning will actually be of benefit to them in understanding their own faith: “a correct and fair presentation of other Churches and ecclesial communities … will help Catholics to have both a deeper understanding of their own faith and a better acquaintance with and esteem for their other Christian brethren. . . Catechesis will have an ecumenical dimension if it tries to prepare Catholic children and young people, as well as adults, for living in contact with non-Catholics, affirming their Catholic identity while respecting the faith of others.” (Catechesi Tradendae, Apostolic Exhortation, Pope John Paul II, 1979, No. 32)
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Encouragement to learn ‘about’ other denominations should be accompanied with a similar encouragement to learn ‘from’ them. These two aspects should underpin learning and teaching in relation to other Christian denominations and other world religions. Teachers should include appropriate reference to the beliefs, values and practices of members of other Christian denominations when addressing relevant Catholic beliefs, values and practices. In particular, at Second level, learning about aspects of the Church of Scotland or the Scottish Episcopal Church would be relevant. At the Third and Fourth levels, further opportunities for pupils to progress in their understanding of these two denominations could be offered, along with an introduction to other Christian Churches, such as the Orthodox Church. It may be appropriate, at these later levels, for representatives of such other denominations to be invited to give personal witness to their own faith. Similar educational experiences would, of course, also be appropriate and beneficial when pupils are learning about other world religions. teaching about other world religions.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Teachers should recognise that “the Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions . . . yet she proclaims, and is duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way the truth and the life (John 16)”. (Decree on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religious, Vatican II, 1965, No 2)
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Other world religions express both universal human searching for meaning in life and common expressions of individual and communal responses. Other responses to the human yearning for meaning, found in sacred writings, in ritual and worship and in moral teaching may be parallel, in some instances, to those of Catholic Christians. When teaching about other world religions from the standpoint of human experience, teachers can make clear that the teachings, values and practices of the Catholic Church are both an answer to, and a transcendence of, humanity’s deepest needs and hopes. This anthropological approach conforms to the dual fidelity to God and to the person, and treats other world religions with due respect and understanding.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]As the focus of learning and teaching will be, above all, on Catholic Christianity, the proportion of time allocated to learning about other world religions will be limited. Hence, the progressive acquisition of knowledge and understanding and the development of skills should be planned as an unfolding process which will take place over the course of a pupil’s learning across different levels and stages, rather than over the course, for instance, of one term.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Since the Church holds in particular regard the other so-called ‘Abrahamic’ faiths, namely Islam and above all Judaism, pupils in Catholic primary schools will normally learn about these two other world religions from Primary 3 onwards. This will not exclude reference to the beliefs of pupils from other faith traditions represented in the school, but indicates that such references should be exceptional (e.g. on the occasion of religious festivals). Secondary schools should build on prior learning about Judaism and Islam in primary school so that pupils deepen their understanding as they progress through levels in S1 and S2. Learning about one other of the six major world religions (Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism) may be relevant and appropriately challenging from S3 onwards. For all stages of learning about other world religions there will be a need for careful curriculum planning across the primary and secondary sectors to ensure progression.
[xa_acc style=”xa-green” ]Inevitably, when using an anthropological approach to teaching by drawing upon the general experiences of the students, there will be some consideration of the non-religious symbols, rituals, important texts and beliefs that feature in society today. However, explicit phenomenological study of stances for living which may be independent of religious belief will not form part of the content of religious education in Catholic schools.[/xa_slide][/xa_acc]