The Holy See
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Congregation for Catholic Education
(for Institutes of Study)

to Intercultural Dialogue
in Catholic Schools
Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love

Vatican City 2013





Culture and Plurality of Cultures
Culture and Religion
The Catholic Religion and Other Religions

Approaches to Pluralism

Different Interpretations
The Relativistic Approach
The Assimilation Approach
The Intercultural Approach

Some Foundations for an Intercultural Approach

The Teaching of the Church
Theological Foundations
Anthropological Foundations
Pedagogical Foundations

Catholic Education in View of Intercultural Dialogue

The Contribution of Catholic Education
Presence in Schools
Where Freedom of Education is Denied

The Contribution of Catholic Schools

Responsibility of Catholic Schools
The Educational Community as an Experience of Intercultural Relationships
Educational Programme for Education to Intercultural Dialogue
The Curriculum as the Expression of the School’s Identity
Teaching the Catholic Religion
The Formation of Teachers and Administrators
Being Teachers, Being Administrators


* * *


It is a fact that today’s society has a multicultural make-up, accentuated by globalization. The overlapping presence of different cultures is a great resource, as long as the encounter between those different cultures is seen as a source of mutual enrichment. However, significant problems can arise if multicultural society is seen as a threat to social cohesion, or as a threat to the protection and exercise of rights pertaining to individuals or groups. It is not easy to balance and harmonize previously established cultures and new cultures, as the two often demonstrate usages and customs that are mutually opposed. For some time now, multicultural society has been an object of concern for both governments and international organizations. In the Church, too, institutions and organizations of education and study, on both the international level and on national and local levels, have started to study the phenomenon and undertake specific projects in the field.

Education contains a central challenge for the future: to allow various cultural expressions[1] to co-exist and to promote dialogue so as to foster a peaceful society. These aims are achieved in various stages: (1) discovering the multicultural nature of one’s own situation; (2) overcoming prejudices by living and working in harmony; and (3) educating oneself “by means of the other” to a global vision and a sense of citizenship. Fostering encounters between different people helps to create mutual understanding, although it ought not to mean a loss of one’s own identity.

Schools have a great responsibility in this field, called as they are to develop intercultural dialogue in their pedagogical vision. This is a difficult goal, not easy to achieve, and yet it is necessary. Education, by its nature, requires both openness to other cultures, without the loss of one’s own identity, and an acceptance of the other person, to avoid the risk of a limited culture, closed in on itself. Therefore, through their experience of school and study, young people must acquire theoretical and practical tools for amassing greater knowledge both of others and of themselves, as well as greater knowledge of the values both of their own culture and of other cultures. They can achieve this by open-mindedly comparing cultures. In this way, they will be helped to understand differences in a way that does not breed conflict, but allows those differences to become opportunities for mutual enrichment, leading to harmony.

This is the context in which Catholic schools are called to give their contribution, drawing on their pedagogical and cultural traditions, and in light of their sound pedagogical vision. Attention to the intercultural aspect of life is not new to the tradition of Catholic schools, as these are used to accepting students coming from various cultural and religious backgrounds. However, what is required in this field today is courageous and innovative fidelity to one’s own pedagogical vision.[2] This is true wherever Catholic schools are found, both in countries where the Catholic community is a minority and in countries where the tradition of Catholicism is more rooted. In the former, one needs the ability to witness and dialogue, without falling into the trap of that facile relativism which holds that all religions are the same and are merely manifestations of an Absolute that no-one can truly know. In the latter group of countries, what is important is to give answers to the many young people “without a religious home”, the result of an ever more secularized society.

The Congregation for Catholic Education remains faithful to the task entrusted to it after the Second Vatican Council: to deepen the principles of Catholic education. Hence, the Congregation wishes to offer its own contribution to encouraging and guiding education, in schools and Catholic educational institutions, along the path to intercultural dialogue. Therefore, this document is primarily aimed at: (1) parents, who have the first and natural responsibility for the education of their children, as well as organizations that represent families in schools; (2) head teachers, teachers and other personnel in Catholic schools who, together with the students, make up the educational community; and (3) national and diocesan episcopal commissions, as well as religious institutes, bishops, ecclesial movements, associations of the faithful, and other organizations that exercise pastoral care for education. We are also pleased to offer this document as a means of dialogue and reflection to all who are concerned for the education of the whole person, for the building up of a peaceful society marked by solidarity.


Culture and Plurality of Cultures

1. Culture is the particular expression of human beings, their specific way of being and organizing their presence in the world. Using the resources of their cultural heritage, which they possess from the moment of their birth, people can thus develop in a serene and balanced way, in a healthy relationship with their environment and with other human beings. Their ties with their own culture are necessary and vital; yet these ties do not force people into closing in on themselves in a self-referential way. In fact, people’s cultural links are entirely compatible with encountering and knowing other cultures. Indeed, cultural differences are a richness, to be understood as expressions of the human race’s fundamental unity.

2. Globalization is one of the epochal phenomena of our time, and one which particularly touches upon the world of culture. It has shown the plurality of cultures that characterizes human experience, and facilitates communication among various areas of the world, involving all facets of life. This is not just something theoretical or general: in fact, every individual is constantly affected by information and news that arrive, in real time, from every corner of the world. He or she encounters, in everyday life, a variety of cultures, and thus experiences an increasing sense of belonging to what can be called the “global village”.

3. Yet, this great variety of cultures is no proof for pre-existing ancestral divisions. Rather, it is the result of a continuous mixing of populations, denoted as the “mixed-race” factor, or “hybridization” of the human family in the course of its history. This means that there is no such thing as a “pure” culture. Different conditions of environment, history and society have introduced wide diversity within the one human community, in which, however, “each individual man is truly a person. His is a nature that is endowed with intelligence and free will. As such he has rights and duties, which together flow as a direct consequence from his nature. These rights and duties are universal and inviolable, and therefore altogether inalienable.”[3]

4. The current phenomenon of multiculturism, bound up with the advent of globalization, today risks accentuating, in problematic ways, the “diversity in unity” that characterizes people’s cultural outlook. In fact, the ever closer encounter between various cultures, in itself a dynamic process, creates much ambivalence. On the one hand, there is a push towards various forms of greater cultural uniformity. On the other hand, the specific nature of different cultures is exalted. One wonders what will be the fate of the specific identity of each culture, given the pressures of human migration, mass communication, the internet, social networks and, above all, the enormous expansion of customs and products resulting in a “westernization” of the world. However, although this inexorable tendency to cultural uniformity remains strong, there are also many elements, alive and active, of variation and distinction between groups. These often provoke reactions of fundamentalism and self-referential closing in on oneself. Thus, pluralism and the variety of traditions, customs and languages – which of their nature produce mutual enrichment and development – can lead to an exaggeration of individual identity, flaring up in clashes and conflicts.

5. Yet, it would be wrong to hold that ethnic and cultural differences are the cause of all the many conflicts that disturb the world. In truth, these conflicts have political, economic, ethnic, religious and territorial causes; and are certainly not exclusively, or primarily, cultural conflicts. However, cultural, historical and symbolic elements are used to stir people up, to the point of encouraging violence rooted in elements of economic competition, social contrasts and political absolutism.

6. The ever increasingly multicultural nature of society and the risk that, contrary to their true nature, cultures themselves may be used as elements of antagonism and conflict are reasons for encouraging even more the build up of profound intercultural relationships among both individuals and groups. In this light, schools are privileged places for intercultural dialogue.

Culture and Religion

7. Another aspect to be considered is the relationship between culture and religion. “Culture is broader than religion. According to one concept religion can be said to represent the transcendent dimension of culture and in a certain way its soul. Religions have certainly contributed to the progress of culture and the construction of a more humane society.”[4] Religion is incultured, and culture becomes fertile ground for a richer humanity that measures up to its specific and profound vocation to be open to others and to God. Therefore, “it is time … to understand in a more profound way that the generating nucleus of every authentic culture is constituted by its approach to the mystery of God, in whom alone does a social order centred on the dignity and responsibility of the human person find its unshakeable foundation.”[5]

8. In general, religion presents itself as the meaningful answer to the fundamental questions posed by men and women: “Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men.”[6] This characteristic of religions demands that they dialogue not only among themselves, but also with the various forms of atheistic, or non-religious, interpretations of the human person and history, since these latter are also faced with the same questions about meaning. Today, states and civil society, too, see how fundamental is the need for interreligious dialogue – meaning the broadest exchange among both individuals and communities, each with a different viewpoint. To avoid facile reductions and distortions in this sensitive field, it is opportune to highlight the following considerations.

9. Western society, which is ever more marked by multiculturalism, has an accelerating process of secularization, with the danger of an extreme marginalization of religious experience, seen as only being legitimate within the private sphere. More generally, in the dominant mindset, the anthropological question is quietly eliminated, i.e. the question about the full dignity and destiny of human beings. Thus, the aim is pursued of eradicating from culture all religious expression. However, awareness is lacking of how precious the religious dimension is for fruitful, proficient intercultural dialogue. In addition to this general mindset, there are other notable phenomena that also risk undervaluing the importance for culture of the religious experience. One can think of the spread of sects and of New Age, the latter being so much identified with modern culture that it is almost no longer considered a novelty.[7]

10. Religion emphasizes ultimate and definitive truths and, therefore, truths that lie at the basis of meaning, from which the prevalent Western culture seems to be distanced. In any case, religion is a decisive contribution to the building up of social community, in respect for the common good and with the intention of promoting every human being. Therefore, those who wield political power are called to judge carefully the possibilities for emancipation and universal inclusion demonstrated and effected by each culture and each religion. An important criterion for such evaluation is the effective capacity that the religions have for showing the worth of the whole person and of all people. Christianity, the religion of God with a human face,[8] carries a similar criterion within itself.

11. Religion can make its contribution to intercultural dialogue “only if God has a place in the public realm.”[9] “Denying the right to profess one's religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development. The exclusion of religion from the public square — and, at the other extreme, religious fundamentalism — hinders an encounter between persons and their collaboration for the progress of humanity. Public life is sapped of its motivation and politics takes on a domineering and aggressive character. Human rights risk being ignored either because they are robbed of their transcendent foundation or because personal freedom is not acknowledged. Secularism and fundamentalism exclude the possibility of fruitful dialogue and effective cooperation between reason and religious faith. Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent. For its part, religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face. Any breach in this dialogue comes only at an enormous price to human development.”[10] Faith and reason, therefore, must recognize each other and enrich each other.

12. In the dialogue between culture and religions, due weight must be given to the discussion between faith and the various forms of atheism and non-religious humanist viewpoints. At the centre of this discussion must be the search for whatever favours the integral development of the whole person and of all people, without becoming bogged down in a sterile partisan clash. It also needs society to recognize the individual’s right to his or her own identity. The Church, for her part, with the love that draws from the sources of the Gospel, following the pattern of the mystery of the Word’s Incarnation, will continue to “proclaim that man deserves honour and love for himself and must be respected in his dignity. Thus, brothers must learn again to call each other brothers, to respect each other, to understand each other, so that man himself can survive and grow in dignity, in freedom and in honour. The more he suffocates the dialogue of cultures, the more the modern world is caught up in conflicts that risk being lethal for the future of the human civilization. Beyond prejudices, cultural barriers, divisions of race, language, religion and ideology, men must recognize each other as brothers and sisters, accepting each other in their diversity.”[11]

The Catholic Religion and Other Religions

13. It is within this context that the dialogue among the various religions takes on a particular shape. It has its own profile, and particularly emphasizes the expertise of each religion’s authorities. Naturally, interreligious dialogue, situated within the religious dimension of culture, touches upon some aspects of intercultural education – though not all, since the two things are not identical.

Globalization has increased the interdependence of peoples, with their different traditions and religions. In this regard, there are those who affirm that differences are by their nature causes of division and, therefore, at the most to be tolerated. Others even believe that religions should simply be silenced. “Rather, [differences] provide a wonderful opportunity for people of different religions to live together in profound respect, esteem and appreciation, encouraging one another in the ways of God.”[12]

In this regard, the Catholic Church feels that the need for dialogue is ever more important. Such a dialogue, starting from an awareness of one’s own faith identity, can help people to enter into contact with other religions. Dialogue means not just talking, but includes all beneficial and constructive interreligious relationships, with both individuals and communities of other beliefs, thus arriving at mutual understanding.[13]

Dialogue with both individuals and communities of other religions is motivated by the fact that we are all creatures of God. God is at work in every human being who, through reason, has perceived the mystery of God and recognizes universal values. Moreover, dialogue finds its raison d’être in searching for the patrimony of common ethical values found within the different religious traditions. In this way, believers can contribute to affirming the common good, justice and peace. Therefore, “since many are quick to point out the readily apparent differences between religions, as believers or religious persons we are presented with the challenge to proclaim with clarity what we share in common.”[14]

Furthermore, the dialogue cultivated by the Catholic Church with other churches and Christian communities does not stop at what we have in common, but tends towards the highest goal of rediscovering lost unity.[15] Ecumenism has as its goal the visible unity of Christians, for which Jesus prayed for his disciples: Ut omnes unum sint, that they may all be one (Jn 17: 21).

14. There are various ways that believers can dialogue: there is the dialogue of life, with its sharing of joys and sorrows; the dialogue of works, collaborating to promote the development of men and women; theological dialogue, when this is possible, with the study of each other’s religious heritage; and the dialogue of religious experience.

15. However, this dialogue is not a compromise, but rather a framework for reciprocal witnessing among believers who belong to different religions. In this way, one gets to know the other’s religion more deeply and better, as well as the ethical behaviours that derive from it. From direct and objective knowledge of the other person, and of the religious and ethical expectations that derive from his or her religious beliefs and practice, grow respect and reciprocal esteem, mutual understanding, trust and friendship. “In order to be true, this dialogue must be clear, avoiding relativism and syncretism, while at the same time it must be marked by sincere respect for others and by a spirit of reconciliation and fraternity.”[16]

16. Clarity in dialogue means especially faithfulness to one’s own Christian identity. “Christianity proposes Jesus of Nazareth. He, we believe, is the eternal Logos who became flesh in order to reconcile man to God and reveal the underlying reason of all things. It is he whom we bring to the forum of interreligious dialogue. The ardent desire to follow in his footsteps spurs Christians to open their minds and hearts in dialogue (cf. Lk 10:25-37; Jn 4:7-26).”[17] The Catholic Church proclaims that “Jesus Christ has a significance and a value for the human race and its history, which are unique and singular, proper to him alone, exclusive, universal, and absolute. Jesus is, in fact, the Word of God made man for the salvation of all.”[18] Therefore, this being the indispensable condition for interreligious dialogue, it is also the indispensable condition for adequate intercultural education which is not divorced from one’s own religious identity.

17. Catholic schools and institutes of higher education are important places for this education. What marks an educational institution as being “Catholic” is its addressing the Christian concept of reality, “its Catholic quality, namely its reference to a Christian concept of life centred on Jesus Christ.”[19] Therefore, “Catholic schools are at one and the same time places of evangelization, well-rounded education, inculturation and initiation to the dialogue of life among young people of different religions and social backgrounds.”[20] Pope Francis, addressing an Albanian school, which “after the long years of repression of religious institutions, resumed its activity in 1994, accepting and educating Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim children as well as several pupils born into agnostic milieus”, declared that “the school is thus becoming a place for dialogue and serene exchanges to encourage attitudes of respect, listening, friendship and a spirit of collaboration.”[21]

18. In this context, “education must make students aware of their own roots and provide points of reference which allow them to define their own personal place in the world.”[22] All children and young people must have the same possibilities for arriving at the knowledge of their own religion as well as of elements that characterize other religions. The knowledge of other ways of thinking and believing conquers fears and enriches ways of thinking about the other person and his or her spiritual traditions. Therefore, teachers are duty-bound always to respect the human person who seeks the truth of his or her own being, as well as to appreciate and spread the great cultural traditions that are open to the transcendent and that articulate the desire for freedom and truth.

19. This knowledge is not sufficient in itself, but opens up to dialogue. The more abundant the knowledge, the more it can sustain dialogue and co-existence with people who profess other religions. In the context of as open dialogue among cultures, different religions can and must make a decisive contribution to forming an awareness of common values.

20. In turn, dialogue, the fruit of knowledge, must be cultivated for people to co-exist and build up a civilization of love. It is not a matter of playing down the truth, but of realizing the aim of education which “has a particular role to play in building a more united and peaceful world. It can help to affirm that integral humanism, open to life’s ethical and religious dimension, which appreciates the importance of understanding and showing esteem for other cultures and the spiritual values present in them.”[23] Within intercultural education, this dialogue aims “to eliminate tensions and conflicts, and potential confrontations by a better understanding among the various religious cultures of any given region. It may contribute to purifying cultures from any dehumanizing elements, and thus be an agent of transformation. It can also help to uphold certain traditional cultural values which are under threat from modernity and the levelling down which indiscriminate internationalization may bring with it.”[24] “Dialogue is very important for our own maturity, because in confronting another person, confronting other cultures, and also confronting other religions in the right way, we grow; we develop and mature … This dialogue is what creates peace”, affirmed Pope Francis.[25]


Different Interpretations

21. Pluralism is a plain fact in today’s world. The question, then, is to evaluate dialogue’s potential, as well as the potential within the integration of different cultures. The path of dialogue becomes possible and fruitful when based on the awareness of each individual’s dignity and of the unity of all people in a common humanity, with the aim of sharing and building up together a common destiny.[26] Furthermore, the situation of the world today, as well as every culture’s vocation, means choosing intercultural dialogue as a guiding concept, open to the future, when faced with the various interpretations of pluralism advanced and put into effect in society, politics and (with regard to our field of interest) education.

The reality of pluralism has been answered by two principal approaches: relativism and assimilation. Both are incomplete, though each has helpful points.

The Relativistic Approach

22. Being aware of the relative nature of cultures and opting for relativism are two profoundly different things. To recognize that reality is historical and changeable does not necessarily lead to a relativistic approach. Relativism, on the other hand, respects differences, but also separates them out into autonomous spheres, considering them as isolated and impermeable and making dialogue impossible. Relativistic “neutrality”, in fact, endorses the absolute nature of every culture within its own sphere, and impedes the use of metacultural critical judgement, which would otherwise allow for universal interpretations. The relativistic model is founded on the value of tolerance, but limits itself to accepting the other person, excluding the possibility of dialogue and recognition of each other in mutual transformation. Such an idea of tolerance, in fact, leads to a substantially passive meaning of relationship with whoever has a different culture. It does not demand that one take an interest in the needs and sufferings of others, nor that their reasons may be heard; there is no self-comparison with their values, and even less sense of developing love for them.

23. An approach of this kind is at the basis of the political and social model of multiculturalism. This model offers no adequate solutions for co-existence, and fails to encourage true intercultural dialogue. “First, one may observe a cultural eclecticism that is often assumed uncritically: cultures are simply placed alongside one another and viewed as substantially equivalent and interchangeable. This easily yields to a relativism that does not serve true intercultural dialogue; on the social plane, cultural relativism has the effect that cultural groups coexist side by side, but remain separate, with no authentic dialogue and therefore with no true integration.”[27]

The Assimilation Approach

24. What is called the assimilation approach is certainly no more satisfying. Rather than indifference towards the other culture, this approach is characterized by the demand for the other person to adapt. An example would be when, in a country with mass immigration, the presence of the foreigner is accepted only on the condition that he renounce his identity and cultural roots so as to embrace those of the receiving country. In educational models based on assimilation, the other person must abandon his cultural references, to take on those of another group or of the receiving country. Exchange is reduced to the mere insertion of minority cultures in the majority one, with little or no attention to the other person’s culture of origin.

25. More generally, the assimilation approach is advanced by a culture with universal pretensions, which seeks to impose its own cultural values by means of its economic, commercial, military and cultural influence. Here the danger is evident: “that of cultural levelling and indiscriminate acceptance of types of conduct and life-styles.”[28]

The Intercultural Approach

26. Even the international community recognizes that the traditional approaches to dealing with cultural barriers in our society have shown themselves to be ineffective. Yet, how to overcome the barriers raised by positions incapable of giving a good interpretation to the multicultural factor? Opting for the logic of intercultural dialogue means not limiting oneself to strategies for the functional insertion of immigrants into the majority culture, nor to compensatory measures of a special nature. Indeed, it must be considered that the problem is not just one arising from immigration emergencies, but is the consequence of increased human mobility.

27. In fact, in a meaningful educational perspective, “today the possibilities of interaction between cultures have increased significantly, giving rise to new openings for intercultural dialogue: a dialogue that, if it is to be effective, has to set out from a deep-seated knowledge of the specific identity of the various dialogue partners.”[29] From this point of view, diversity ceases to be seen as a problem. Instead, a community characterized by pluralism is seen as a resource, a chance for opening up the whole system to all differences of origin, relationships between men and women, social status and educational history.

28. This approach is based on a dynamic idea of culture, which neither is closed in on itself nor celebrates diversity with stereotypes or folkloristic representations. Intercultural strategies function when they avoid separating individuals into autonomous and impermeable cultural spheres; they rather should promote encounter, dialogue and mutual transformation, so as to allow people to co-exist and deal with possible conflict. In summary, the goal is to construct a new intercultural approach, which aims at realizing an integration of cultures in mutual recognition.


The Teaching of the Church

29. The intercultural aspect is undoubtedly part of the heritage of Christianity, which has a “universal” vocation. In fact, in the history of Christianity there is the thread of dialogue with the world, in the search for greater fraternity among people. In the tradition of the Church, the intercultural perspective is not limited to appreciating differences, but helps to build up mankind’s peaceful co-existence. This is particularly necessary in complex societies, where the risks of relativism and cultural uniformity must be overcome.

30. Numerous Church teachings, especially in the Second Vatican Council and in subsequent Magisterium, have reflected on culture and its importance for the complete development of human potential.

The Second Vatican Council, in considering the importance of culture, asserted that there is no truly human experience without the context of a specific culture. In fact, “man comes to a true and full humanity only through culture.”[30] Every culture is a way of giving expression to the transcendental aspect of life; this includes reflection on the mystery of the world and, in particular, on the mystery of humanity. The essential meaning of culture consists “in the fact that it is a characteristic of human life as such. Man lives a truly human life thanks to culture. Human life is culture in the sense also that man is marked out and differentiated by it from all that exists elsewhere in the visible world: man cannot exist outside of culture. Man always lives in accordance with a culture that belongs to him and which, in turn, creates among men a bond that is also proper to them, determining the inter-human and social character of human existence.”[31]

31. Moreover, the term culture indicates all those means by which “man develops and perfects his many bodily and spiritual qualities; he strives by his knowledge and his labour, to bring the world itself under his control. He renders social life more human both in the family and the civic community, through improvement of customs and institutions. Throughout the course of time he expresses, communicates and conserves in his works, great spiritual experiences and desires, that they might be of advantage to the progress of many, even of the whole human family.”[32] Therefore, this includes both the subjective aspect – behaviours, values and traditions that each person takes on – and the objective aspect, that is, the works of individuals.

32. Consequently, “culture has necessarily a historical and social aspect and … often assumes a sociological and ethnological sense. According to this sense we speak of a plurality of cultures. Different styles of life and multiple scales of values arise from the diverse manner of using things, of labouring, of expressing oneself, of practicing religion, of forming customs, of establishing laws and juridic institutions, of cultivating the sciences, the arts and beauty. Thus the customs handed down to it form the patrimony proper to each human community. It is also in this way that there is formed the definite, historical milieu which enfolds the man of every nation and age and from which he draws the values which permit him to promote civilization.”[33]

Cultures show their nature to be profoundly dynamic and historical; they undergo changes in time. Nevertheless, beneath their more superficial changes, they show significant common elements. “Cultural diversity should therefore be understood within the broader horizon of the unity of the human race”, in the light of which one can grasp the profound meaning of the very differences, instead of “the radicalization of identity which makes cultures resistant to any beneficial influence from outside.”[34]

33. Therefore, intercultural relations are born not out of a static idea of culture, but of its openness. It is above all the potential universality of every culture that establishes dialogue among cultures.[35] Consequently, “dialogue between cultures … emerges as an intrinsic demand of human nature itself, as well as of culture … based upon the recognition that there are values which are common to all cultures because they are rooted in the nature of the person … It is necessary to foster people’s awareness of these shared values, in order to nurture that intrinsically universal cultural ‘soil’ which makes for fruitful and constructive dialogue.”[36] The openness to higher values common to the entire human race – based on truth and, moreover, universal, such as justice, peace, the dignity of the human person, openness to the transcendent, freedom of conscience and of religion – implies an idea of culture as being a contribution to a broader awareness of humanity. This is opposed to the tendency existing in the history of cultures, to build particular little worlds that are closed and introverted.

Theological Foundations

34. Defining human beings through their relationships with other human beings and with nature does not offer a complete answer to the unavoidable, fundamental question: who is man really? Christian anthropology places the basis of men and women and their ability to create culture in their being created in the image and likeness of God, a Trinity of Persons in communion. In fact, the patient pedagogy of God has been revealed to us from the very creation of the world. Throughout salvation history, God educates his people to covenant – that is, to a living relationship – and to open themselves ever more to all peoples. This covenant has its high-point in Jesus, who, by means of his death and resurrection, has made it “new and eternal”. From that moment, the Holy Spirit continues to teach the mission that Christ has entrusted to his Church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).

“Every human being is called to communion because of his nature which is created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27). Therefore, within the sphere of biblical anthropology, man is not an isolated individual, but a person: a being who is essentially relational. The communion to which man is called always involves a double dimension, that is to say vertical (communion with God) and horizontal (communion with people). It is fundamental that communion be acknowledged as a gift of God, as the fruit of the divine initiative fulfilled in the Easter mystery.”[37]

35. The vertical axis of the individual’s communion with God is authentically realized by following the Way that is Jesus Christ. In fact, “only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light … Christ … fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”[38] At the same time, this vertical axis grows in the Church which is “in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race.”[39] “With the richness of the salvation wrought by Christ, the walls separating the different cultures collapsed. God’s promise in Christ now became a universal offer … extended to all as a heritage from which each might freely draw. From their different locations and traditions all are called in Christ to share in the unity of the family of God’s children.”[40]

36. The horizontal axis of communion, to which men and women are called, is realized in interpersonal relationships.[41] Personal identity matures to the extent that people live such relationships in an authentic manner. Relationships with other people and with God are, therefore, fundamental, because through them men and women increase their own worth. Relationships among peoples, too, among cultures and among nations strengthen and enhance those who enter into relationship. In fact, “the human community does not absorb the individual, annihilating his autonomy, as happens in the various forms of totalitarianism, but rather values him all the more because the relation between individual and community is a relation between one totality and another. Just as a family does not submerge the identities of its individual members, just as the Church rejoices in each new creation (Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17) incorporated by Baptism into her living Body, so too the unity of the human family does not submerge the identities of individuals, peoples and cultures, but makes them more transparent to each other and links them more closely in their legitimate diversity.”[42]

37. The experience of intercultural relationships, just like human development, is profoundly understood only in light of the inclusion of individuals and peoples in the one human family, founded on solidarity and on the fundamental values of justice and peace. “This perspective is illuminated in a striking way by the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity within the one divine Substance. The Trinity is absolute unity insofar as the three divine Persons are pure relationality. The reciprocal transparency among the divine Persons is total and the bond between each of them complete, since they constitute a unique and absolute unity. God desires to incorporate us into this reality of communion as well: ‘that they may be one even as we are one’ (Jn 17:22). The Church is a sign and instrument of this unity. Relationships between human beings throughout history cannot but be enriched by reference to this divine model. In particular, in the light of the revealed mystery of the Trinity, we understand that true openness does not mean loss of individual identity but profound interpenetration.”[43] The basis that Christian tradition gives to the unity of the human race is found primarily in a metaphysical and theological interpretation of the “humanum” in which relationality is an essential element.[44]

Anthropological Foundations

38. The authentically intercultural dimension can be pursued due to its anthropological foundation. In fact, the encounter with another always happens between two flesh-and-blood individuals. Cultures take on life and continually redraw themselves starting from the encounter with the other person. To go out from oneself and consider the world from a different point of view is not a denial of oneself, but, on the contrary, is necessary for enhancing one’s own identity. In other words, interdependency and globalization among peoples and cultures must be centred on the human person. The end of last century’s ideologies, just like the spread today of ideologies that are closed to transcendent and religious reality, show how strong is the need to bring back central-stage the question about man and cultures. One cannot deny that men and women of our age, although progressing in many fields, have greater difficulty in defining who they are. The Second Vatican Council very well described this situation: “About himself [man] has expressed, and continues to express, many divergent and even contradictory opinions. In these he often exalts himself as the absolute measure of all things or debases himself to the point of despair. The result is doubt and anxiety.”[45] The most significant indicator of this loss is the loneliness of men and women today. “One of the deepest forms of poverty a person can experience is isolation. If we look closely at other kinds of poverty, including material forms, we see that they are born from isolation, from not being loved or from difficulties in being able to love. Poverty is often produced by a rejection of God’s love, by man’s basic and tragic tendency to close in on himself, thinking himself to be self-sufficient or merely an insignificant and ephemeral fact, a ‘stranger’ in a random universe. Man is alienated when he is alone, when he is detached from reality, when he stops thinking and believing in a foundation. All of humanity is alienated when too much trust is placed in merely human projects, ideologies and false utopias. Today humanity appears much more interactive than in the past: this shared sense of being close to one another must be transformed into true communion. The development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side.”[46]

39. Therefore, in order to establish intercultural relationships correctly, there needs to be a sound anthropological foundation. This latter must take as its starting-point the fact that human beings are, in their most intimate nature, relational beings, who can neither live nor develop their potential without being in relationship with others. Men and women are not just individuals, like self-sufficient monads, but are open and grow towards that which is different from them. Man is a person, a being in relationship, who understands himself in relationship with others. Moreover, his relationships arrive at their most profound level if they are based on love. Every individual aspires to love so as to feel fully realized, both in the love received and the capacity to give love in return. “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it … In this dimension man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity.”[47]

40. The idea of love, in different forms, has accompanied the history of the various cultures. In ancient Greece, the most frequently used term was eros, love as passion, associated in general with sensual desire. Also used were the terms philia, often understood as love as friendship, and agape, to designate a high esteem towards the thing or person loved. The Biblical and Christian tradition underlines the oblative aspect of love. Yet, over and beyond these distinctions, there is a profound unity in diversity within the reality of love, which impels people to “an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God.”[48]

41. Love, when freed from egoism, is the way par excellence to fraternity and reciprocal help towards perfection among people. Love is an irrepressible desire, inscribed into the nature of every man and woman on earth. Not to receive love leads perforce to a lack of meaning and to desperation, and can lead to destructive behaviours. Love is the individual’s true nobility, above and beyond his or her belonging to any culture, ethnic group, social stratum or position. It is the strongest, most authentic and most desired bond, which unites people among each other and makes them able to listen to each other, to pay attention to each other and to give other people the esteem they deserve. One can say that love is the method and goal of life itself. It is the true treasure, sought and witnessed to, in various ways and in various contexts, by thinkers, saints, people of faith and charismatic figures who, throughout the centuries, have been living examples of self-sacrifice as the sublime and necessary path to spiritual and social change and renewal.

Pedagogical Foundations

42. The above-mentioned theological and anthropological foundations lay sound foundations for an authentic intercultural pedagogy, which, by its very nature, cannot be separated from an understanding of man as person. Therefore, it is primarily not cultures but persons who enter into contact with each other – persons who are rooted in their own history and relationships. Hence, understanding interpersonal relationships is the basic pedagogical paradigm, both the means and the end for developing the person’s very identity. This paradigm guides the idea of dialogue, ensuring that it is neither abstract nor ideological, but rather marked by respect, understanding and mutual service. It is then nourished by the idea of culture as situated in history and dynamic, refusing to push the other person into a sort of cultural prison. Finally, it is aware that the relative nature of cultures is not the same as relativism; the latter, while respecting differences, simultaneously separates them into autonomous cosmoses, considering them as isolated and impermeable. Rather, our paradigm seeks, by every means, to foster a culture of dialogue, of understanding and mutual transformation, so as to reach the common good.

43. From this perspective, the understanding of intercultural relationships is neither differentialistic nor relativistic. Rather, it considers cultures as inserted into the moral order, within which the fundamental value is primarily the human person. Recognizing this basic fact allows people of different cultural universes who come into contact with each other to overcome their initial feelings of strangeness. This is not just a matter of mutual respect: the process implies that the subjects question their preconceptions, and that everyone understand and discuss the other’s point of view.

44. From a pedagogical point of view, to develop such a difficult theme requires the courage and effort to become ever more aware of this complex and essentially multicultural reality. In particular, the discussion must be put into different words, so as to seek more intensely and more broadly for a common idea of education. Indeed, one seeks an idea of education to intercultural dialogue, understood as the individual’s journey towards what must be, with a view to dialogue and mutual life-long learning.


The Contribution of Catholic Education

45. The idea of cultures in dialogue is the light guiding the necessarily shared effort to overcome division. Within a framework of mutual learning, one must know how to enter into the practical details of the dialectic that is provoked by some of the basic categories of life and culture (“clash/encounter”, “closure/openness”, “monologue/dialogue”, etc.).

In this educational process, the search for peaceful and enriching co-existence must be anchored in the broadest understanding of the human being. This must be marked by a continual search for self-transcendence, seen not just as a psychological and cultural effort to supersede all forms of egocentricism and ethnocentricism, but also as spiritual and religious fervour, in harmony with an understanding of integral and transcendent development, of both the individual and society.

46. Therefore, communities that draw their inspiration from the values of the Catholic faith (families, schools, groups, youth organizations, etc.) must give voice and reality to an education truly based around the human person, in line with Christian humanist culture and tradition. There must be new commitment to the individual seen as “person in communion” and a new sense of his or her belonging to society. Otherwise, a looked-for society of free and equal individuals undoubtedly hides the risk of limitless, uncontrolled conflict and ambiguity.

Furthermore, the crucial link among individuals that together make up a society or community “requires a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation. This is a task that cannot be undertaken by the social sciences alone, insofar as the contribution of disciplines such as metaphysics and theology is needed if man’s transcendent dignity is to be properly understood.”[49]

In light of the Trinitarian mystery of God, interpersonal relationships must be seen not just in their processes of communication; instead, like Love, they are the fundamental law of Being. This love is not generic, indistinct and merely tied to emotions; nor is it simply bound up with convenience or the rules of give-and-take. Rather, it is “free”, as strong and generous as the love with which Jesus Christ loved. In this sense, love is the will to “promote”; it is trust in the other person and, consequently, is a fundamentally educational act.

47. The concept of “love” in education directly implies those of “gift” and “reciprocity”, which are fundamental aspects of education itself. Schools, both students and teachers, families and the wider community should promote that two-directional, to-and-fro movement which is love. We could thus summarize in outline the two movements: from love received to love given. Here, reciprocity is understood not simply in its final result, as equality of outcome, but primarily as a proactive step taken by the educator, whose vocation is to be the first to love.

These concepts will have to be examined again courageously, so as to further a pedagogy of communion. The goal is an educational ideal that moves educators to be credible witnesses in the eyes of young people. Reflection must follow on the crucial, strategic link binding “love of education” with “education to love”. These two ideas are essential and indivisibly linked to each other. In them, both the educator and the student look towards the good, towards respect and dialogue.

Presence in Schools

48. John Paul II stressed this idea, and saw in the spirituality of communion[50] the most important challenge to be addressed in culture, everyday life, the family, at school and in the Church.

Before all other practical initiatives, there must be a spirit of unity that lives among individuals and groups. This is the perspective in which every value finds its foundation. It is the vital element forming the basis of all others. This is not just a spiritual challenge but also a cultural one, for all men and women of good will. Therefore, Catholic educators, teachers and students who find themselves in any type of school, who are united in the same art of love, must also take up this invitation.

49. Consequently, it is not the law by itself or any juridical form that builds up a community and keeps it alive. Rather, the spirit of the law creates active and responsible citizens, precisely in the measure in which the law is at the service of the common good and puts everyone in a condition of reciprocity. Therefore, a community’s identity is mature to the extent that it takes on and continually and faithfully seeks to renew the values of co-operation and solidarity.

50. Schools are entrusted with great responsibility for intercultural education. During their formation, students find themselves interacting with different cultures, and need necessary tools for understanding them and relating them to their own culture. Schools are to be open to encountering other cultures. They have the task of supporting individuals so that each person develops his or her own identity in an awareness of its richness and cultural tradition.

From the pedagogical and intercultural points of view, the finest gift that Catholic education can make to a school is that of witness. Catholic schools give witness to a constant, personal network of relationships, which are lived out between the poles of personal identity and otherness. This network is marked by dynamic osmosis, in the various dealings between adults (teachers, parents, educators, those in charge of institutions, etc.), between teachers and students, and among students – without prejudices of culture, sex, social class or religion.

Where Freedom of Education is Denied

51. In many areas of the world, for political or cultural reasons, it is not always possible to have Catholic schools. Sometimes, the Catholic presence is very limited and faces hostility. The issue is not merely one about claiming a right, the right to freedom of teaching and of schooling, but needs to be expressed in terms of a cultural offering that makes everyone richer. Therefore, one must ask: what can Catholic education offer in these situations?

Fundamentally, one must start by recognizing in others the same desire that is to be found in many religions and cultures, in the important precept called the golden rule of humanity: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you”. This is a moral law and is absolutely essential for social living. Love must be offered to all. This is the source of a new civilization, of humanity’s true humanization, and is the opposite of all egoistic instincts to violence and war.[51]

52. This is the newness of education that flows also from Christian pedagogy, whose basis is to be found in the words of Jesus: “may they all be one” (Jn 17: 21). In fact, it shows the heart of all Christianity, the bearer of the mystery of God, who is Being in relationship, pure act of love. Here is found the newness of the Gospel, whose full acceptance implies, certainly, the faith, but whose effects transform the meaning of any encounter between individuals, groups, cultures and institutions.

53. Only this spirit of the search for unity can hold together the social order. This is solidarity in its totality, in every sense (religious, political, social, economic and professional). This is the alternative to that state of permanent rivalry which condemns people to be ever more incommunicado, even though they live in a globalized world – which condemns them to a increasing indifference both to the God proclaimed by Christianity and to any form of the Absolute.

Therefore, young people are robbed of culture and faith, of their true meaning and of a suitable goal for which to strive. Thus, they risk dehumanizing life itself, in various ways. In these many “frontier” situations, where faith is daily put to the test, going against the current is often today, more than it has ever been, the Gospel choice. The pinnacle, the greatest gift, is the gift of oneself, giving one’s life for others wherever justice and truth are violated.

54. Hence, in these very different contexts (atheism, fundamentalism, relativism, secularism), the “priority of value” must be placed back at the centre. This is principally a coherent witnessing; the gift of self; the capacity for seeking and granting forgiveness, not out of exhibitionism or false moralising, but “for love”, to assist in the world’s development.

There exists an “important anthropological fact: the desire, which is proper to the human person, to have others share in one’s own goods. The acceptance of the Good News in faith is thus dynamically ordered to such a communication,” especially with those who “are lacking a tremendous benefit in this world: to know the true face of God and the friendship of Jesus Christ, God-with-us. Indeed ‘there is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know him and to speak to others of our friendship with him’.”[52]


Responsibility of Catholic Schools

55. In today’s social context, demands are placed on Catholic schools in relation to the specific contribution that they can offer. Yet, this is not an easy task: indeed, it is facing ever greater obstacles. Catholic schools are seeing an ever growing presence of students with different nationalities and religious beliefs. In many countries of the world, most students profess a non-Catholic religion and the theme of interreligious encounter is now unavoidable. To avoid closing in upon “identity” as a goal in itself, educational pedagogy must take into account the growing multireligious component of society, with the consequent need to know about different beliefs and dialogue both with those beliefs and with non-believers.

56. It is important for Catholic schools to be aware of the risks that arise should they lose sight of the reasons why they exist. That can happen, for example, when they unthinkingly conform to the expectations of a society marked by the values of individualism and competition. It can also happen through bureaucratic formalism, the consumerist demands of families, or the unbridled search for external approval. Catholic schools are called to give dutiful witness, by their pedagogy that is clearly inspired by the Gospel – a fortiori in a culture that demands that schools be neutral and removes all religious references from the field of education.[53] Catholic schools, being Catholic, are not limited to a vague Christian inspiration or one based on human values. They have the responsibility for offering Catholic students, over and above a sound knowledge of religion, the possibility to grow in personal closeness to Christ in the Church. In fact, “one of the fundamental human rights, also with reference to international peace, is the right of individuals and communities to religious freedom … It is becoming increasingly important to promote this right not only from the negative point of view, as freedom from – for example, obligations or limitations involving the freedom to choose one’s religion – but also from the positive point of view, in its various expressions, as freedom for – for example, bearing witness to one’s religion, making its teachings known, engaging in activities in the educational, benevolent and charitable fields which permit the practice of religious precepts, and existing and acting as social bodies structured in accordance with the proper doctrinal principles and institutional ends of each.”[54]

57. Catholic schools’ primary responsibility is one of witness.[55] In the various situations created by different cultures, the Christian presence must be shown and made clear, that is, it must be visible, tangible and conscious. Today, due to the advanced process of secularization, Catholic schools find themselves in a missionary situation, even in countries with an ancient Christian tradition. The contribution that Catholicism can make to education and to intercultural dialogue is in their reference to the centrality of the human person, who has his or her constitutive element in relationships with others. Catholic schools have in Jesus Christ the basis of their anthropological and pedagogical paradigm; they must practise the “grammar of dialogue”, not as a technical expedient, but as a profound way of relating to others. Catholic schools must reflect on their own identity, because that which they can give is primarily that which they are.[56]

The Educational Community as an Experience of Intercultural Relationships

58. The model that school structures must take as their inspiration is the educating community, a place of differences living together in harmony.[57] The school community is a place for encounter and promoting participation. It dialogues with the family, which is the primary community to which the students that attend school belong. The school must respect the family’s culture. It must listen carefully to the needs that it finds and the expectations that are directed towards it. In this way, the school can be considered a true experience of intercultural relationships, lived out rather than just spoken about.

59. Neutral societies and schools, which lack reference values and are uninvolved with any moral formation, do not develop participation. Nor, at the other extreme, does participation develop in societies or schools permeated by fundamentalist viewpoints. Rather, it flourishes in a climate of dialogue and mutual respect, in an educational setting where all are assured of being able to increase their capacities to the full, with the constant aim of pursuing the good of all. In this way, a constant climate of mutual trust, availability, of listening and of fruitful exchange can be developed, which must characterize the whole period of formation. Classes, which aim to give expression both to life and thought, are geared to creating a constant dialogue between teachers and students; enhancing the personal contribution of students in the common search for knowledge; and giving rise to interdisciplinary teaching, with the contribution of teachers of various disciplines.

60. In schools, understood as educational communities, families have a most important place and role. Catholic schools appreciate their value, and promote their participation in the school, where they can assume various forms of co-responsibility. Even given that some families live in difficult circumstances and there are parents who do not follow the school’s recommendations, families are always considered an indispensable reference-point, as bearers of appreciable resources. “Partnership between a Catholic school and the families of the students must continue and be strengthened: not simply to be able to deal with academic problems that may arise, but rather so that the educational goals of the school can be achieved.”[58]

Educational Programme for Education to Intercultural Dialogue

61. The education offered by Catholic schools flows from their witness to the Gospel and their love for all that is free and open. This education is concerned with developing an intercultural approach in all school settings: relationships between individuals, the view taken of human knowledge in its totality and in the various academic disciplines, and everyone’s integration and rights.

An indispensable condition for co-operation is openness to plurality and differences. Experience shows that the Catholic religion knows how to encounter, respect and esteem different cultures. The love for all men and women is necessarily also a love for their culture. Catholic schools are, by their very vocation, intercultural.

62. Catholic schools’ educational programme foresees an harmonious meeting and merging of study and life. This allows students to enjoy a quality formative experience, enriched by intellectual research in the various branches of knowledge and, at the same time, a source of wisdom due to its context: life nourished by the Gospel. In this way, one avoids the risk of an education that fails, in the first place, to foster the individual’s whole formation. In fact, “school is one of the educational environments in which we develop through learning how to live, how to become grown-up, mature men and women who can travel, who can follow the road of life … It helps you not only by developing your intelligence, but also by an integral formation of all the aspects of your personality.”[59]

63. The educational programme’s principal areas of attention are the following:

The criterion of Catholic identity. The goal of Catholic schools, in all their forms, is to live in fidelity to their educational mission, which has Christ as its foundation. “The fact that in their own individual ways all members of the school community share this Christian vision, makes the school ‘Catholic’; principles of the Gospel in this manner become the educational norms since the school then has them as its internal motivation and final goal.”[60] This explicit identity gives meaning to the school’s other responsibilities.

Building up a common vision. Education can help identify within itself whatever is essential and universal, uniting individuals in their differences. The role of education today is precisely to promote dialogue, enabling communication between different people, helping them to “translate” their different ways of thinking and feeling. This is not just a matter of carrying forward dialogue as a process or method. It is a question, rather, of helping people to revisit their own cultures, with the cultures of others as their starting-point: in other words, helping people to reflect on themselves within a perspective of “openness to humanity”.

Reasoned openness to globalization. An educating community like the school should not form people to be parochial. Instead, it should offer students the knowledge necessary to understand man’s current condition, as citizen of the whole planet, a condition characterized by numerous relationships of interdependency.

One seeks to form strong personal identities, which are not in opposition to each other. In fact, an awareness of one’s own tradition and culture is the starting-point from which one can dialogue and recognize the equal dignity of the other person.

Self-awareness is developed by habitually rethinking one’s own experiences; reflecting on one’s own behaviour; and becoming more self-aware, including by means of cognitive strategies and formation away from self-centredness.

The values of other cultures and religions must be respected and understood. Schools must become places of pluralism, where one learns to dialogue about the meanings that people of different religions attribute to their respective signs. This allows one to share universal values, such as solidarity, tolerance and freedom.

One educates to sharing and responsibility. Schools must not be a hiatus in life, purely artificial places dedicated solely to developing the cognitive dimension. While respecting the students’ individual timeframes for reaching maturity as well as their personal freedom, schools must assume responsibility for helping the students to understand life’s social and cultural situations. Schools must also encourage the students to take on responsibility for improving these situations. Moreover, given schools’ attention to the whole person and to all human experience, they do not limit their responsibilities to the merely didactic. Schools also care for many other aspects of the students’ lives, in informal ways (parties, fun moments, etc.), formal ways (presentations from informed guest speakers, discussion times, etc.) and religious experiences (times for liturgy and spirituality, etc.).[61]

The Curriculum as the Expression of the School’s Identity

64. The curriculum is how the school community makes explicit its goals and objectives, the content of its teaching and the means for communicating it effectively. In the curriculum, the school’s cultural and pedagogical identity are made manifest. Developing the curriculum is one of the school’s most demanding tasks, because here one makes explicit what are the school’s reference values, subject priorities and practical choices.

65. For a Catholic school, examining its curriculum leads to strengthening what is specific to its nature. It means strengthening the particular way it serves individuals, using the tools offered by culture. Thus, the school’s programmes can be effectively harmonized with the school’s original mission. One cannot be content merely with an up-to-date didactic offering that simply responds to the demands deriving from the ever-changing economic situation. Catholic schools think out their curricula to place centre-stage both individuals and their search for meaning. This is the reference value, in view of which the various academic disciplines are important resources and take on greater value to the extent that they are tools for educating. From this perspective, what is taught is not neutral, and neither is the way of teaching it.

66. It has been said that we live in a knowledge-based society. However, Catholic schools are encouraged to promote a wisdom-based society, to go beyond knowledge and educate people to think, evaluating facts in the light of values. They educate people to take on responsibility and duties, and exercise active citizenship. Among matters taught specifically in Catholic schools, pride of place must be given to the knowledge of different cultures, with attention given to helping the students encounter and compare the various cultures’ many different viewpoints. The curriculum must help the students reflect on the great problems of our time, including those where one sees more clearly the difficult situation of a large part of humanity’s living conditions. These would include the unequal distribution of resources, poverty, injustice and human rights denied. “Poverty” implies a careful consideration of the phenomenon of globalization, and suggests a broad and developed vision of poverty, in all its various forms and causes.[62]

67. A good curriculum can merge theoretical lessons with presentations from informed speakers, where life-experiences are presented in light of faith’s view of the world. A good curriculum can also contain practical experiences for sharing and assuming responsibilities.

The two poles are directed towards each other: lessons are informed by hearing about the life-experiences; knowledge becomes experience; and experience acquires the force of a cultural offering, of proclamation.

In teaching the various academic disciplines, teachers share and promote a methodological viewpoint in which the various braches of knowledge are dynamically correlated, in a wisdom perspective. The epistemological framework of every branch of knowledge has its own identity, both in content and methodology. However, this framework does not relate merely to “internal” questions, touching upon the correct realization of each discipline. Each discipline is not an island inhabited by a form of knowledge that is distinct and ring-fenced; rather, it is in a dynamic relationship with all other forms of knowledge, each of which expresses something about the human person and touches upon some truth.

68. Schools are challenged by the multicultural make-up of their classes. They must be able to rethink what is taught; the learning methods; their own internal organization, roles and relationships with families; and the social and cultural context where they are to be found. A curriculum that is open to the intercultural perspective presents the students with a study of civilizations that were previously unknown to them, or were remote from them, but which now are brought to their attention, as well as being brought much “closer” thanks to globalization and modern means of communication, crossing barriers of space and ideological defences. Teaching that aims to help students understand the reality in which they live cannot ignore the aspect of encounter. On the contrary, teaching has the duty to favour dialogue, as well as cultural and spiritual exchanges.

69. On the didactic level, schools must present their own intercultural concerns while remembering the two levels of learning: the cognitive and the relational-affective. On the cognitive level, schools develop the contents of the curriculum: areas of knowledge to be taught and skills to be promoted. On the relational-affective level, schools develop attitudes and ways of talking about others, teaching the students to respect diversity and take different viewpoints into account, cultivating empathy and collaboration.

Teaching the Catholic Religion

70. In today’s context, human societies seek to give themselves broader, trans-national structures, moving towards a system of global governance. Moreover, the immense symbolic patrimonies that different peoples have built, defended and handed down for centuries, through their specific cultural and religious traditions, seem to be ignored in their true humanizing capacity; instead, they become reasons for separation, in mutual diffidence. Therefore, the biggest challenge in intercultural education lies ever more in the dialogue between one’s own identity and other visions of life.

71. Today’s cultural shift shows clear signs of oscillation between dialogue and conflict. Especially when faced with this crisis of direction, then, the contribution of Christians is seen to be indispensable. Therefore, it is fundamental that the Catholic religion, for its part, be an inspiring sign of dialogue. In fact, it can be stated absolutely that the Christian message has never been so universal and fundamental as today.

72. Therefore, religion passes on the witness and message of integral humanism. This humanism, enriched by religion’s identity, appreciates religion’s great traditions such as: faith; respect for human life from conception until its natural end; and respect for the family, for community, for education and for work. These are opportunities and tools not of closure but of openness and dialogue with everyone and everything, leading to what is good and true. Dialogue remains the only possible solution, even when faced with the denial of religious sentiment, with atheism and agnosticism.

73. From this perspective, teaching the Catholic religion in schools takes on a meaningful role.[63] Primarily, it is a question of the right to education, based on an anthropological understanding of men and women that is open to the transcendent. Together with moral formation, it also helps to develop personal and social responsibility, as well as the other civic virtues, for the common good of society. The Second Vatican Council recalls that “parents, moreover, have the right to determine, in accordance with their own religious beliefs, the kind of religious education that their children are to receive … The rights of parents are violated, if their children are forced to attend lessons or instructions which are not in agreement with their religious beliefs, or if a single system of education, from which all religious formation is excluded, is imposed upon all.”[64] This statement is echoed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[65] as well as in other declarations and conventions of the international community.[66]

74. Moreover, it must be pointed out that teaching the Catholic religion in schools has its own aims, different from those of catechesis. In fact, while catechesis promotes personal adherence to Christ and maturing of the Christian life, school teaching gives the students knowledge about Christianity’s identity and the Christian life. Thus, one aims “‘to enlarge the area of our rationality, to reopen it to the larger questions of the truth and the good, to link theology, philosophy and science between them in full respect for the methods proper to them and for their reciprocal autonomy, but also in the awareness of the intrinsic unity that holds them together’. The religious dimension is in fact intrinsic to culture. It contributes to the overall formation of the person and makes it possible to transform knowledge into wisdom of life.” Therefore, with the teaching of the Catholic religion, “school and society are enriched with true laboratories of culture and humanity in which, by deciphering the significant contribution of Christianity, the person is equipped to discover goodness and to grow in responsibility, to seek comparisons and to refine his or her critical sense, to draw from the gifts of the past to understand the present better and to be able to plan wisely for the future.”[67]

Finally, it counts that the teaching of religion is a field of study in schools. This gives it status, placing it alongside the other disciplines in the school’s curriculum, in a necessary interdisciplinary dialogue and not as a mere appendix.

75. Consequently, the twin aims of broadening what reason engages and supporting interdisciplinary and intercultural dialogue can be effectively promoted by a confessional teaching of religion. In fact, “if religious education is limited to a presentation of the different religions, in a comparative and ‘neutral’ way, it creates confusion or generates religious relativism or indifferentism.”[68]

The Formation of Teachers and Administrators

76. The formation of teachers and administrators is of crucial importance. In most countries, the state provides the initial formation of school personnel. Good though this may be, it cannot be considered sufficient. In fact, Catholic schools bring something extra, particular to them, that must always be recognized and developed. Therefore, while the obligatory formation needs to consider those disciplinary and professional matters typical of teaching and administrating, it must also consider the cultural and pedagogical fundamentals that make up Catholic schools’ identity.

77. The time spent in formation must be used for reinforcing the idea of Catholic schools as being communities of fraternal relationships and places of research, dedicated to deepening and communicating truth in the various scholarly disciplines. Those who have leadership positions are duty-bound to guarantee that all personnel receive adequate preparation to serve effectively. Moreover, they must serve in coherence with the faith they profess, and be able to interpret society’s demands in the actual situation of its current configuration.[69] This also favours the school’s collaboration with parents in education,[70] respecting their responsibility as first and natural educators.[71]

78. Formation that is particularly dedicated to promoting sensitivity, awareness and competence in the intercultural field can be advanced by paying attention to the following three essential markers:

a) integration: this has to do with the school’s ability to be adequately prepared for receiving students of different cultural backgrounds, responding to their needs regarding scholastic achievement and personal enhancement;

b) interaction: this has to do with knowing how to facilitate good relationships among peers and among adults. There is an awareness that simply being in the same physical environment is not enough. Encouragement must be given to curiosity about other people, openness and friendship, both in class and in places and times outside the school. Thus, situations of distancing between people, discrimination and conflict can be avoided and repaired.

c) recognizing the other person: one must avoid falling into the trap of imposing one’s own views on the other person, asserting one’s own lifestyle and one’s own way of thinking without taking into account the other person’s culture and particular emotional situation.

79. One must pursue the task of promoting unity, on the cultural level, among the various branches of knowledge. This means overcoming compartmentalization and abstraction, searching instead for meaning in its broader sense. It is no less important, indeed it is essential, for the educational community to task itself with overcoming compartmentalization in relationships – of interpersonal, communitarian and collective natures. Where there is no awareness of unity – in the richness of diversity, of both the individual and society – there can be no development of knowledge that is wholly “human”, and not merely functional – knowledge that both preserves tradition and is open to innovation.

80. Catholic schools develop, in a manner wholly particular to them, the basic hypothesis that formation covers the whole arc of professional experience and is not limited to the period of initial formation or formation in the early years. Catholic schools require people not only to know how to teach or direct an organization; they also require them, using the skills of their profession, to know how to bear authentic witness to the school’s values, as well as to their own continuing efforts to live out ever more deeply, in thought and deed, the ideals that are stated publicly in words.

Hence, it is important that schools know how to be communities of formation and of study, where relationships among individuals colour relationships among academic disciplines. Knowledge is enhanced from within by this reclaimed unity, in the light of the Gospel and Christian doctrine, and so can make its own essential contribution to the integral growth of both individuals and the evermore heralded global society.

Being Teachers, Being Administrators

81. Formation is always guided by how one defines the professions involved in education. Therefore, one must answer the questions: what does it mean to be a teacher; what does it mean to be an administrator in a Catholic school? What are the areas of expertise that must characterize these professions?

82. Teachers today are members of a professional community. They contribute to writing the curriculum; and they have responsibility for relationships with various other subjects, especially the students’ families. A good school is where the teachers, as a group, know how to become something more than a mere recognized corps, in which the members are bound together by ties of mere bureaucracy. Instead, they should be a community, living out professional and personal relationships not just on a superficial level, but on a much deeper level, bound together by a shared concern for education.

83. Good teachers know that their responsibilities do not end outside the classroom or school. They know that their responsibilities are also connected with their local area, and are demonstrated by their understanding for today’s social problems. Professional preparation and technical competence are necessary prerequisites for teaching, but they are not enough. An expression of education lies in helping young people to understand their own time and plan their lives around a credible premise. Multiculturalism and pluralism are characteristic traits of our times; thus, teachers must be able to provide their students with the cultural tools necessary for giving direction to their lives. Moreover, teachers must allow their students, in the routine of the classroom, to experience real listening, respect, dialogue and the value of diversity.

84. Being ever more multicultural, schools are tasked with helping people with different experiences to relate to each other. Schools must also act as mediators between such people. People’s different experiences need to be acknowledged and recognized. Teachers and school administrators require new professional skills, aimed at reconciling differences, allowing them to dialogue with each other. Teachers and school administrators need to offer shared perspectives, while respecting the individual nature of different people’s development and world visions.

85. For those who occupy positions of leadership, there can be a strong temptation to consider the school like a company or business. However, schools that aim to be educating communities need those who govern them to be able to invoke the school’s reference values; they must then direct all the school’s professional and human resources in this direction. School leaders are more than just managers of an organization. They are true educational leaders when they are the first to take on this responsibility, which is also an ecclesial and pastoral mission rooted in a relationship with the Church’s pastors. School leaders have the particular duty of providing what support is necessary for spreading the culture of dialogue, encounter and mutual recognition between different cultures. Both inside and outside the school, they promote all possible forms of collaboration that help to realize intercultural harmony.

86. So that schools can develop as professional communities, it is necessary that their members learn to reflect and seek together. Schools are communities of shared practices, of communality of ideas and research.

Moreover, the union of the educating community is fostered by strong ties with the Christian community. In fact, Catholic schools are ecclesial subjects. “This ecclesial dimension is not a mere adjunct, but is a proper and specific attribute, a distinctive characteristic which penetrates and informs every moment of its educational activity, a fundamental part of its very identity and the focus of its mission.”[72] Therefore, “the whole Christian community, and particularly the diocesan Ordinary, bear the responsibility ‘of arranging everything so that all the faithful have a Catholic education’ (c. 794 §2 CIC) and, more precisely, of having ‘schools which offer an education imbued with a Christian spirit’ (c. 802 CIC; cf. c. 635 CCEO).”[73] The ecclesial nature of Catholic schools, which is inscribed in the very heart of their identity as schools, is the reason for “the institutional link they keep with the Church hierarchy, which guarantees that the instruction and education be grounded in the principles of the Catholic faith and imparted by teachers of right doctrine and probity of life (cf. c. 803 CIC; cc. 632 e 639 CCEO).”[74]


The tradition of Catholic schools is familiar with the intercultural aspect. Today, however, faced with the challenges both of globalization and of cultural and religious pluralism, it is essential to develop a greater awareness of its meaning. In this way, Catholic schools will communicate better – in their presence, witness and teaching – their own particular way of being, being Catholic. They are schools that are open to the universality of knowledge and, at the same time, have their own specific nature, which comes from their being rooted in their believing in Christ the Teacher and their belonging to the Church.

Catholic schools avoid both fundamentalism and ideas of relativism where everything is the same. Instead, they are encouraged to progress in harmony with the identity they have received from their Gospel inspiration. They are also invited to follow the pathways that lead to encountering others. They educate themselves, and they educate to dialogue, which consists in speaking with everyone and relating to everyone with respect, esteem and listening in sincerity. They should express themselves with authenticity, without obfuscating or watering down their own vision so as to acquire greater consensus. They should bear witness by means of their own presence, as well as by the coherence between what they say and what they do.

To all educators we want to address the encouraging and guiding words of Pope Francis: “Do not be disheartened in the face of the difficulties that the educational challenge presents! Educating is not a profession but an attitude, a way of being; in order to educate it is necessary to step out of ourselves and be among young people, to accompany them in the stages of their growth and to set ourselves beside them. Give them hope and optimism for their journey in the world. Teach them to see the beauty and goodness of creation and of man who always retains the Creator’s hallmark. But above all with your life be witnesses of what you communicate. Educators … pass on knowledge and values with their words; but their words will have an incisive effect on children and young people if they are accompanied by their witness, their consistent way of life. Without consistency it is impossible to educate! You are all educators, there are no delegates in this field. Thus collaboration in a spirit of unity and community among the various educators is essential and must be fostered and encouraged. School can and must be a catalyst, it must be a place of encounter and convergence of the entire educating community, with the sole objective of training and helping to develop mature people who are simple, competent and honest, who know how to love with fidelity, who can live life as a response to God’s call, and their future profession as a service to society.”[75]

The Holy Father Pope Francis has given his approval for the publication of this document.

Rome, 28 October 2013, 48th anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration Gravissimum Educationis.

Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski

Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani

[1] Cf. UNESCO, Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, Paris (20 October 2005), art. 4.

[2] Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (28 December 1997), n. 3.

[3] John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (11 April 1963), n. 9.

[4] Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Instruction Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflection and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (19 May 1991), n. 45.

[5] John Paul II, Speech to the Italian Church (Palermo, 23 November 1995), n. 4.

[6] Second Vatican Council, Declaration on the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions Nostra Aetate (28 October 1965), n. 1.

[7] Cf. Pontifical Council for Culture; Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the “New Age” (Vatican City 2003).

[8] Cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (29 January 2009), nn. 55-56.

[9] Ibid., n. 56.

[10] Ibid.

[11] John Paul II, Speech to the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Council for Culture (18 January 1983), n. 7.

[12] Benedict XVI, Speech to Religious Leaders in the Notre Dame Centre of Jerusalem (11 May 2009).

[13] Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Dominus Iesus on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church (6 August 2000), n. 7. The International Theological Commission underlined how interreligious dialogue is “connatural to the Christian vocation. It is inscribed in the dynamism of the living tradition of the mystery of salvation, whose universal sacrament is the Church” (Christianity and the World Religions, 30 September 1997, n. 114). As an expression of this tradition, interreligious dialogue is not an individual or private initiative, because “it is not Christians who are sent, but the Church; it is not their ideas that they present but Christ's; it will not be their rhetoric that will touch hearts but the Spirit, the Paraclete. To be faithful to the ‘sense of the Church’, the interreligious dialogue begs for the humility of Christ and the transparency of the Holy Spirit” (Idem, n. 116).

[14] Benedict XVI, Speech to Religious Leaders in the Notre Dame Centre of Jerusalem.

[15] Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio (24 November 1964), n. 4.

[16] Benedict XVI, Speech to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See (7 January 2008).

[17] Benedict XVI, Speech to Representatives of Other Religions (Washington DC, 17 April 2008).

[18] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Dominus Iesus on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, n. 15.

[19] Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (19 March 1977), n. 33.

[20] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa (14 September 1995), n. 102.

[21] Pope Francis, Speech to the Students of the Jesuit Schools of Italy and Albania (7 June 2013).

[22] John Paul II, Dialogue Between Cultures for a Civilization of Love and Peace, Message for the World Day of Peace (2001), n. 20.

[23] John Paul II, Dialogue Between Cultures for a Civilization of Love and Peace, n. 20.

[24] Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Instruction Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflection and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, n. 46.

[25] Pope Francis, Speech to Students and Teachers of the Seibu Gakuen Bunry Junior High School of Saitama, Tokyo (21 August 2013).

[26] Cf. Council of Europe, White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue “Living Together as Equals in Dignity”, Strasburg (May 2008), p. 5: “the intercultural approach offers a forward-looking model for managing cultural diversity. It proposes a conception based on individual human dignity (embracing our common humanity and common destiny).”

[27] Benedict XVI. Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, n. 26.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes (7 December 1965) n. 53.

[31] John Paul II, Speech to UNESCO, Paris (2 June 1980), n. 6.

[32] Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, n. 53.

[33] Ibid.

[34] John Paul II, Dialogue Between Cultures for a Civilization of Love And Peace, nn. 7 and 9.

[35] Cf. International Theological Commission, Faith and Inculturation (8 October 1988), Chap. I – Nature, Culture and Grace, n. 7.

[36] John Paul II, Dialogue Between Cultures for a Civilization of Love And Peace, nn. 10 and 16.

[37] Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (8 September 2007), n. 8.

[38] Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 22.

[39] Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium (21 November 1964), n. 1.

[40] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio (14 September 1998), n. 70.

[41] Cf. Benedict XVI, Speech to the General Assembly of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (27 May 2010): “the essential fact is that the human person becomes himself only with the other. The ‘I’ becomes itself only from the ‘thou’ and from the ‘you’. It is created for dialogue, for synchronic and diachronic communion. It is only the encounter with the ‘you’ and with the ‘we’ that the ‘I’ opens to itself.”

[42] Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, n. 53.

[43] Ibid., n. 54.

[44] Cf. Ibid., n. 55.

[45] Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 12.

[46] Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, n. 53.

[47] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), n. 10.

[48] Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005), n. 6.

[49] Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, n. 53.

[50] Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001), n. 43.

[51] Cf. International Theological Commission, In Search of a Universal Ethic: A New Look at the Natural Law (2009), n. 51: “ ‘Do not do to another that which you would not want done to you’. Here we encounter the golden rule, which today is posited as the very principle of a morality of reciprocity.”

[52] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization (3 December 2007), n. 7.

[53] Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, n. 3.

[54] Benedict XVI, Blessed are the Peacemakers, Message for the World Day of Peace (2013), n. 4.

[55] Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful, n. 38.

[56] Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School, nn. 33-37.

[57] Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (15 October 1982), n. 22; Id., Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful, n. 13.

[58] Congregation for Catholic Education, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (7 April 1988), n. 42.

[59] Pope Francis, Speech to the Students of the Jesuit Schools of Italy and Albania.

[60] Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School, n. 34; cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 803 § 2.

[61] Pope Francis, addressing the Jesuits that run schools, encouraged them “to seek new forms of non-conventional education in accordance with ‘the needs of the times and of people’” (7 June 2013).

[62] Cf. Benedict XVI, Fighting Poverty to Build Peace, Message for the World Day of Peace (2009), n. 2.

[63] Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Circular Letter to the Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences on Religious Education in Schools (5 May 2009).

[64] Second Vatican Council, Declaration Dignitatis Humanae (7 December 1965), n. 5; cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 799; cf. also Holy See, Charter of the Rights of the Family (22 October 1983), art. 5, c-d.

[65] Cf. United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), art. 26.

[66] Cf., e.g., Additional Protocol n. 1 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1952), art. 2; United Nations, Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959), principle 7, 2; UNESCO, Convention Against Discrimination in Education (1960), art. 5, b; United Nations, Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), art. 18, 1.

[67] Benedict XVI, Speech to Catholic Religion Teachers (25 April 2009).

[68] Congregation for Catholic Education, Circular Letter to the Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences on Religious Education in Schools, n. 12.

[69] Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (8 September 2007), nn. 34-37.

[70] Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 796 § 1.

[71] Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, n. 32; cf. also Code of Canon Law, can. 799.

[72] Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, n. 11.

[73] Congregation for Catholic Education, Circular Letter to the Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences on Religious Education in Schools, n. 5.

[74] Ibid., n. 6.

[75] Pope Francis, Speech to the Students of the Jesuit Schools of Italy and Albania.