New school year – old problems
Fr. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ
Today I would like to join the heated discussion that has recently been conducted by politicians and which concerns religious instruction in schools. It turns out that this is not only a Polish issue but also a European one. Various symposia on this problem have been organised, outstanding authorities have presented their opinions, the media have arranged things for themselves and sometimes the disorientated society does not know which party of the conflict to support. In Poland – by the way, this is not for the first time – we are dealing with the problem whether high school pupils can take religious instruction at their exit (the so-called Matura) examination and whether they should be given marks for religious instruction. One can clearly see that this subject is underestimated and exposed to the danger of manipulation, including the manipulation of those who decide about the contents of school programmes. Since religion is often thought to be a private matter of each individual.
I think that the issue of religious instruction should be treated in a normal and natural way, without any superstitions and phobias, especially that today there are so many discussions about democracy and human rights. However, if our society is decisively Catholic we cannot omit this fact. We are not living in the times of communism when there were attempts to limit Church to the so-called vestibule, attempts to force the priests to keep their mouths shut so that the communists could bring up people without any obstacles, without any reference to God and the Gospel. Consequently, our culture, devoid of its most important element – reference to God – suffered heavy losses; our history was distorted, clergymen and those who had the courage to confess their faith in spite of the repressions were persecuted, but most of all, people’s morality was destroyed. Among the former Soviet block Poland might have taken the smallest losses but the communist system imprinted its indelible mark on us. It can be clearly seen in various statistics concerning our life, especially our social life. Nevertheless, only a small percentage of Poles ignores religion and religiosity. The majority refers to religion in their lives. Parents want to bring up their children in this spirit since religion with its teaching about morality forms the maturity of society and teaches responsibility for one’s behaviour. During the symposium on this subject, held in Rome in November 2007, Rev. Mgr Aldo Giordano, General Secretary of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), said that in spite of the unfavourable cultural climate religious instruction in European schools was needed. I do not only mean religious instruction as a scientific discipline but also its role in pluralistic and multi-religions society. He stressed that religious instruction was indispensable to understand the identity, history and culture of a given nation. We remember similar statements of John Paul II. Moreover, religion gives answers about the sense of life; it defines man’s mission on the earth and motivates to actions. The subject was also discussed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education. He stressed that educational activities must always focus on the person in his/her complexity. ‘Education with God will not only serve to build the person but will also contribute to create a civilisation of love’, he said for ‘L’Osservatore Romano.’ In his opinion religious instruction should be connected with pastoral ministry. Since a teacher of religious instruction is an exceptional teacher who does not only teach the subject but introduces young people into religious life in a practical way. That’s why, such a teacher is required to present certain testimony to follow this way. Therefore, teachers of religious instruction should feel themselves to be pastoral ministers as well. Of course, if religious instruction is such an important subject, both for individuals and society, we should treat it seriously and responsibly. We should care for good professional education of teachers of religious instruction and work out ever better catechetical programmes. We must work on these matters in a systematic way, showing patience and good will, and then future success will be guaranteed.