Editorial: Spiritual parents

In a recent address to Italian Catholic teachers, Pope Francis remarked that teaching is a “beautiful profession” that “allows us to see the people who are entrusted to our care grow day after day.” “It is a little like being parents, at least spiritually,” he added. “It is a great responsibility.”

We are grateful to the Holy Father for these words, as we believe not nearly enough attention is paid to these everyday educators who embrace the responsibility of holistically and faithfully forming our children. The task is not easy.

The challenge for Catholic school teachers, Pope Francis said, is that they must communicate not only “content” to their students, but also must foster relationships, teach “which values and customs create harmony in society” and, more basically, teach “how to love.”

“In a society that struggles to find points of reference, young people need a positive reference point in their school,” he said. “The school can be this ... only if it has teachers capable of giving meaning to the school, to study and culture, without reducing everything to the mere transmission of technical knowledge. Instead they must aim to build an educational relationship with each student, who must feel welcomed and loved for what he or she is, with all of their limitations and potential.”

The Holy Father called on teachers to love their “difficult” students more, and to “engage in the peripheries of the school, which cannot be abandoned to marginalization, exclusion, ignorance (or) crime.”

Teachers are called to walk several fine lines in the classroom, including between truth and open dialogue and debate, and justice and mercy. Each classroom is called to be a small haven of holiness — a place where Jesus’ love is both taught and lived out. In order for these havens to become reality, teachers must be able to balance a strong Catholic identity with a relational approach. Beyond the everyday challenges of the classroom, Catholic teachers play a greater role: as front-line warriors striving to keep a love for Christ alive in our society. These heroic men and women, often at great personal sacrifice, have answered the call to educate the next generation of Catholics in the truth of the Faith. These environments must be both protected and cherished, a task that is proving increasingly challenging.

Catholic school teachers must be able to balance a strong Catholic identity with a relational approach.

In response to this challenge, the National Catholic Educational Association, which will meet April 7-9 for its annual gathering, has refocused its attention and its resources on strengthening Catholic schools and Catholic identity. The association’s new goals are to develop current and future leaders, provide educational resources and expanding professional development opportunities for those committed to the mission of Catholic education, and to serve as the national voice for Catholic schools.

The association stands as proof that, as Pope Francis said, teachers “share their work with other colleagues and the entire educational community to which they belong.” To this end, it is important to acknowledge that this entire educational community includes the catechists and directors of religious education, who also play a critical role in educating our children. And we acknowledge, too, the utmost significant role of the primary teachers of the Faith: the parents.

As Pope Francis said, teaching is “not just a job,” but a “relationship in which each teacher must feel fully involved as a person, to give meaning to the educational task toward their students.”

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor