Thursday, May 16, 2019

Greetings for the Christian Brothers

At 12:10pm this morning in Rome (6:10am EDT), in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father, Pope Francis received in audience the Community of Christian Brothers, who are celebrating three hundred years since the death of their founder, Saint John Baptist de La Salle.

Greetings of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
offered to members of the
Community of Christian Brothers and Sisters

Dear brothers and sisters!

I welcome all of you who represent the entire spiritual family founded by Saint John Baptist de La Salle, on the occasion of the third centenary of his death. I greet and thank Brother Robert Schieler, your Superior General; I affectionately address my greeting to each one of you and I would like you to extend this greeting to all the Brothers of the Christian Schools who work in the Church with generosity, competence and faithful adherence to the Gospel. This important anniversary of your Founder is a favourable occasion for your Institute to highlight the figure of a pioneer in the field of education, who conceived an innovative educational system in his time. His example and testimony confirm the original timeliness of his message for today's Christian community, illuminating the way forward. He was a brilliant and creative innovator in the vision of schools, in the conception of the teacher and in his teaching methods.

His vision of the school led him to develop ever more clearly the persuasion that education is a right for everyone, including the poor. For this he did not hesitate to give up the canonry and his rich family legacy, to devote himself entirely to the education of the lower social class. He gave life to a community composed of laity in order to carry out his ideal, convinced that the Church cannot remain alien to the social contradictions of the times which it is called to confront. It was this conviction that led him to establish an original experience of consecrated life: the presence of religious educators who, without being priests, interpreted in a new way the role of lay monks, totally immersing themselves in the reality of their time and thus contributing to the progress of civil society.

Daily contact with the school environment helped to mature within him the awareness of identifying a new conception of the teacher. In fact, he was convinced that school is a serious reality, for which people need to be adequately prepared; but he had before his eyes all the structural and functional deficiencies of a precarious institution that needed order and form. He then realized that teaching cannot be just a job, but must be understood as a mission. He therefore surrounded himself with people suited to the popular school, inspired by Christianity, with attitudes and natural qualities focused on education. He devoted all his energy to their formation, becoming himself an example and model for them of one who had to exercise a service which was at the same time ecclesial and social, and working hard to promote what he called the dignity of the master.

In order to give concrete answers to the demands on his time in the scholastic field, Giovanni Battista de La Salle undertook bold reforms of teaching methods. In this he was moved by an extraordinary pedagogical realism. He replaced the French language, which was normally used in teaching, with Latin; divided pupils into homogeneous learning groups for more effective work; set up Seminars for country masters, that is, for young people who wanted to become teachers without becoming part of any religious institution; he founded Sunday Schools for adults and two Pensioners (a form of boarding school), one for young delinquents and the other for the recovery of prisoners. He dreamed of a school that is open to all, so he did not hesitate to face extreme educational needs, introducing a method of rehabilitation through school and work. In these formative realities he started a corrective pedagogy which, in contrast to the use of the times, brought study and work among the young as punishment, with craft activities, rather than a punishment cell or lashes.

Dear spiritual children of Giovanni Battista de La Salle, I urge you to deepen and imitate his passion for the poor and the rejected. In the wake of his apostolic witness, you are the protagonists of a culture of resurrection, especially in those existential contexts where the culture of death prevails. Do not grow tired of looking for those who are in the modern tombs of loss, degradation, discomfort and poverty, to offer the hope of new life. The impetus for the educational mission, which made your Founder a teacher and witness for so many of his contemporaries, and his teaching, can still today feed your plans and your actions.

His example, always so timely, constitutes a gift for the Church and a precious stimulus for your Congregation, called to a renewed and enthusiastic adherence to Christ. Looking to the Divine Master, you can more generously work in the service of the new evangelization in which the whole Church is engaged today. Various forms of the proclamation of the Gospel need to be adapted to the concrete situations of the different contexts, but this also entails an effort of fidelity to your roots, so that the apostolic style that is proper to your religious Family can continue to respond to people's expectations. I know this is the commitment that drives you and I urge you to walk courageously in this direction.

May you carry out your mission among the younger generations with renewed vigour, with that reforming boldness that characterized John Baptist de La Salle: he proclaimed the gospel of hope and charity to all people. May the Holy Virgin always support you and obtain abundant apostolic fruit for you.

Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for all that you do in the field of education.  I accompany you with my prayer and my blessing.  And I ask you please to pray for me.  Thank you!
Original text in Italian

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