The Holy See
back up



10-12 November 2003


Mr Chairman,

First of all, on behalf of the Delegation of the Holy See, and on my own behalf, I should like to thank the Greek Authorities, who are hosting this Ministerial Conference. We have sincerely appreciated all they have done to prepare for this meeting, and we are grateful for the courtesy with which they have welcomed us to this city of Athens. This is a highly symbolic location: one that reminds us of the deepest roots of the European civilisation, born of the meeting between the Greco-Roman world and the Judeo-Christian message, and enriched by the contribution of other traditions and cultures.

1) The Holy See has followed with interest the preparations far this 21st Session of the Conference of European Ministers of Education. It has also noted, in a special way, the programmes promoted by the Standing Committee for Education of the Council of Europe. The Holy See recognises how these programmes express the common effort to contribute, by means of education and schooling, to the construction of a Europe that is ever more grounded in solidarity and democracy, and which is respectful of diversity yet aware of its own identity. A valuable instrument in this regard is the European Cultural Convention, the 50th anniversary of which we shall soon celebrate.

2) The theme of the present Session of the Conference of Ministers of Education - "1ntercultural Education: managing diversity, strengthening democracy" - has never been more relevant. The beginning of this new millennium is characterised by the colossal occurrence of human mobility and emigration, which makes our European societies, too, ever more multiethnic and multicultural. Europe is asked to make a huge effort to welcome and integrate these people, in a way that will reinforce and safeguard social cohesion, and involve all of civil society, including families and religious Communities. There are many current experiences of successful co-operation in this area, and there are present-day efforts to foster inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue that allow us to anticipate a vision of unity in diversity. This gives us great hope for the future.

3) Culture is, without doubt, man's highest expression; it is a specific way of his being and existing. Each culture is an attempt to reflect on the mystery of the world and, in particular, on the mystery of man; it is a way of expressing the transcendent dimension of life. The acceptance of one's own culture, as a structural element of one's own personality, is an element of universal experience. Without this foundation, a serene and balanced development of the human person would be difficult. Therefore, it is important to know how to appreciate the values of one's own culture; but it is also necessary to avoid transforming one's sense of cultural belonging into a barricade against others. An necessary antidote to this danger is the serene knowledge of other cultures, which is not conditioned by negative prejudices. It can also be said that when subjected to careful and rigorous analysis, the various cultures often show that, beneath their more external variations, they have common elements of meaning. Therefore, cultural diversities must be understood from the basic viewpoint of the unity of the human race, in the light of which we can grasp the deep meaning of those same cultural diversities.

4) In the area of culture, education has a responsibility to teach an awareness of one's own roots, and to furnish points of reference that allow the individual to place him or herself in the world. At the same rime, education must teach respect for other cultures, and encourage people to discover the richness of the history and values of others. In this perspective, education and the school are called to provide young people with those elements that are indispensable for developing an inter-cultural vision. This means following a formative and educational itinerary that leads from simple tolerance, through acceptance of our multicultural reality, to the search for reciprocal understanding. The inter-cultural perspective brings with it a real paradigmatic shift on the pedagogical level, passing from more or less successful models of integration and respect for diversity, to the search for a living in a harmony of differences. That means learning to live as one and, above all, to construct a common destiny. Our end-point is to arrive at attitudes of co-operation, harmonious living and kindness, and to create a path of civilisation that people can walk together. Doubtless, this is not a simple not easily attainable ideal. It demands, on the one hand, a search for ethical foundations that characterise cultural experience, and, on the other hand, an avoidance of losing one's own identity and taking on generic ideals, which could lead to fragmentation and become factors of instability. Here, dialogue takes on a fundamental role. As the Pope has reminded us, "dialogue between cultures [...] emerges as an intrinsic demand of human nature itself, as well as of culture. It is dialogue which protects the distinctiveness of cultures as historical and creative expressions of the underlying unity of the human family, and which sustains understanding and communion between them. The notion of communion […] never implies a dull uniformity or enforced homogenization or assimilation; rather, it expresses the convergence of a multiform variety, and is therefore a sign of richness and a promise of growth." (Pope John Paul II, "Dialogue Between Cultures for a Civilization of Love and Peace": Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2001, n. 10.)

5) Man is at the centre of every culture; and it is human beings who, in their dealings with each other in a way that is open to dialogue, construct a vital synthesis of the various cultures. Here we see ever more clearly the importance of the role of education, which has among its most important objectives that of making man ever more human: man who can be more, not just have more. To achieve this aim, man must learn not only to live with others, but also to live for others.

6) We can easily see that inter-cultural education is something in which many people are involved and which takes place in various educational situations. Among the latter, the school maintains a central rate, since it offers such a number of educational services that other locations find difficult to match. These manifold educational services, which are regulated by the principle of subsidiarity, give life to various synergies among the family (which is primarily responsible for education); teachers and educators; young people themselves; Non-Governmental Organisations; Churches and religious Communities; and various persons who, on different levels, contribute to the formative process. The Holy See expresses here its satisfaction in seeing, in the preparatory documentation of the Conference, references to the family and its educational role.

7) The promotion of inter-cultural education requires educational policies that are both courageous yet respectful, which promote an atmosphere of dialogue and calm, and which do not forget the central objective of education - the comprehensive development of the human personality, in all its dimensions including the religious dimension, both on the level of knowledge and that of values.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

*L'Osservatore Romano. Weekly Edition in English 2004 n.3 p.10.