NEW CHALLENGES OF CATECHESIS
Staff shortages, resigning from religion education by students, limiting hours of to one hour a week in some schools….We asked an expert Ewa Oset about the reasons for these problems and attempts of solving them
Is catechizing at school endangered? This question is often asked by people concerned about the situation of catechesis at Polish schools. Beside them there are also those who are trying to discuss its legitimacy and suggest the return of religion education to parish rooms. One is certain: new times are bringing new challenges, also to catechesis at school.
A place of catechesis at school
– Since teaching religion at school was brought back in 1990, there has been signals from various sides and environments which are trying to question the legitimacy of catechesis at school. Today speaking about any attempt of attack is a kind of abuse - says bishop Marek Mendyk, the chairperson of the Commission of Catholic Education of the Polish Episcopal Conference, the auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Legnica. – We are looking at catechesis from the perspective of nearly 30 years of its presence at schools in the categories of God’s blessing and action of Divine Providence. Catechesis got inscribed into the school system, sometimes only during catechesis the young can hear about God, can ask difficult questions, can also look for answers to various existential problems, which touch them – he emphasizes. Whereas Fr. Dr. hab. Andrzej Kiciński, professor and pro-rector of the Catholic University of Lublin adds that one can say that teaching religion at Polish school is well-organized, enriched with newer and newer textbooks and program, and catechists are well educated. It does not mean, however, as both priests emphasize, that there do not appear any problems.
Resigning from catechesis by students
– During a meeting in June with directors of catechesis departments, we were discussing this issue and were looking for reasons – says bishop Mendyk. Why is it happening so? – It often happens so, that badly organized classes at school make young people resign from catechesis. Here I mean too frequent cases when teaching religion is organized at the first and the last lesson at school. It concerns especially the youth who come from village environments – they have to commute to school long distances, and later return home from it, which is very tiring – says the bishop. The young are not still aware of what catechesis is and how it results in the future. – It is also true that a bigger and bigger group of the youth are simply losing faith. It is seen in big cities. A problem is also an alternative which is given by school, that is, a choice of the so-called nothing. This is an issue to solve at the ministerial level. It is a few years since we have been trying to convince the National Education Ministry that it is high time we solved this issue. We have to return to the beginnings like it used to be according to organizers of bringing back RE teaching schools: either religion or ethics. Also head-teachers of schools are claiming for this right, as introducing ‘nothing’ makes school de-organized – says bishop Mendyk. A lot of head-teachers emphasize that they do not have a bad will, but for organizational reasons they place catechesis in the first and the last lessons. There is also a danger that ‘nothing’ can be used differently, for example, through introducing the so-called classes of sexual education.
There are opinions that the reason for resigning from catechesis by the youth is a person of catechist, and, in fact, his demands towards a student. Catechists note that they often must match two things: realization of program guidelines and meeting expectations of the youth. And the last ones are various. In one of secondary schools in Częstochowa, catechists carried out a survey among students on their vision of teaching religion. A lot of them wrote that catechesis should be a non-stress lesson, a kind of a relax among overloading lessons, a lesson during which there is friendly atmosphere encouraging students for a discussion. Students expect from a catechist that they will be able to find an answer together to questions concerning the current events in the world, confront news read on social portals with the teaching of the Church. They want a lesson which will help them to understand their problems and problems of their mates. They want to see a good valuable film together. They appreciate that they can express their opinion, talk with an adult. They do not want any tests, much homework or bad marks.
However, even if a catechist is trying to meet these expectations, there are also those who want to resign from catechizing because they have private lessons. Catechists are often burdened with responsibility for students who do not practice their faith despite their presence at catechesis. Why don’t they practice it? – It often results from pragmatic attitude of parents to religion lessons: they enroll their children to catechesis at the primary school, because they want them to be allowed for the First Communion and Confirmation. For, according to guidelines of the Catholic Education Commission of the Polish Episcopal Conference only those children who attend religion classes, can be allowed for these sacraments. Attendance of children and the youth in the church is the reflection of religiousness in their family. If parents do not attend the Holy Mass, they do not send their children to it, either. This is a big part of the Polish society, as nearly 64 percent – says Fr. Dr. hab. Roman Ceglarek, a bishop’s vicar for teaching faith and Catholic education of the Częstochowa Curia.
Catechists are trying to reach to their mentees with God’s word in various ways, mainly through a prayer. In Częstochowa, for example, catechists and students of the Theology University have been praying since July for students of the schools in the arch-diocese, both those who are religious and those who are misbehaving and are doubting during lessons. The initiator of this venture is dr. Beata Stypułkowska who runs classes in catechetics.
There is shortage of catechists
There also appeared troubles with the staff. What are its consequences? Fr. Ceglarek explains: - Problems connected with the staff result from the fact that there are less and less vocations for priesthood and religious order life. We also notice that less and less laymen want to study theology. It results in a lower number of people who want to undertake catechetics work. Shortages in the staff cause a situation in which it is more and more difficult to fulfill all catechetics’ regular posts. In some cases we must be aware of possible reduction of number of religion lessons to one lesson a week – he emphasizes.
The fact is that there are no teachers, including catechists, at all. What to do about it? – We are aware that in a few years it may be really a big problem for Poland – bishop Mendyk notes. Those who entered school in 1990, will get retired soon. We are trying to prevent it, among the others, in June this year we signed an agreement with the National Education Ministry about a possibility of teaching religion by people having pedagogical skills, and who graduated from post-graduate catchetics and theology studies. We are also appealing to bishops to set up faculties at Catholic universities at which the to-be catechists would gain qualifications to teach religion. There are not many candidates for catechists. There is also shortage of them in, for example, Warsaw, Wrocław, Łódź. But, luckily, there are also such places in Poland where there are too many of them, for example, in the southern regions. A solution in the case of the shortage of teachers cannot be reduction of lessons to one lesson a week. Therefore, we encourage teachers of other subjects – good, wise, sensible – to express their readiness to undertake suitable studies so that they could teach religion in the future. In Poland we really have a lot of good teachers, real masters – bishop Mendyk emphasizes.
History as a teacher
When we see appearing problems, it is better to be safe than sorry. History teaches us to foresee various phenomena ad prevent them. A paradox is that today some people are discussing the presence of catechesis at school, although the Catholic Church has unquestionable merits in spreading education. It is noted by Fr. Dr. Paweł Kostrzewski, a lecturer of Church history at the Theology University in Częstochowa. – For many ages the system of education has been based on parish, monastery and cathedral schools run by priests, out of which the first universities appeared – he emphasizes. It is also worth reminding methods of removing catechesis from schools during the Second World War by the Germans and also during the communist system in Poland. The priest historian explains: - In the 20th century, within repression towards Church, a fight with school catechesis was begun. Before schools doors were closed to it, its role was diminished through placing it in the first and the last lesson at school, making it an obligatory subject, removing it from certificates, etc. Unfortunately, also today, when exaggerated attention is paid to exam results, and upbringing of the young generation is pushed aside to the background, we are dealing with analogical practices, devaluating not only catechesis but also all humanistic subjects which, beside giving a particular amount of knowledge, create particular attitudes. Do we really want to follow the path leading to specialized education, although morally and spiritually lost society for whom the only purpose will be material goods and fun? – the PhD priest warns.
In 2018 the Polish Episcopal Conference acknowledged a new Curriculum Basis of catechesis of the Catholic Church in Poland. It refers to the general curriculum basis prepared by the National Education Ministry in relation to the changes of the education system in Poland.- In the opinion of psychologists and sociologists, every five years a new generation of young people comes to schools. So, we wanted to make this attitude real and adjust it to the times at which we live – the auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Legnica emphasizes. The new curriculum basis of catechesis will replace the previous document, created in 2010. On its basis particular programs of teaching religion are elaborated, as well as new textbooks. They will be used by students from September 2020. Priest Ceglarek also sees a need of continuous searching for ways to make content proclaimed during catechesis have an influence on the lifestyle of students. – Being an authentic witness, a credible advocate of the Gospel, who lives with what he teaches and who attracts others with his example, is a task of a catechist – he says. Such witnesses of God’s love, ready to undertake a new challenge of Christ, are invited by Catholic universities, among the others, the Theology University in Częstochowa localized at the feet of Jasna Góra. – Today in the world suffering from the deficit of love, advocates of God’s love are needed and also the tools of His love to people. Such witnesses of faith are just educated by our university within the MA, post graduate studies – Fr. Dr. Mikołaj Węgrzyn , a director of the Theology University in Częstochowa says.
The role of catechesis at school, as experts for catholic education say, is valuable, as for protection of children and the youth from depravation. – Due to it we might be so disliked, mocked at and neglected in some by some groups, for discussing topics, inconvenient for many people, with children and the youth. What is going through Europe today and, also Poland, and in Europe it has already happened – an attack on Europe, on the holiest values – is aimed at distracting the young man from Church, not giving him a tool which would motivate him to live, to act, to serve others. We are looking at it in the categories of acting of Divine Providence and we think that as the Church in Poland catechists, teachers of faith at school, we have a mission to do – bishop Mendyk says. – The fact that we were born at that time – not in 50 years, nor 100 years ago –means that God puts suitable people in a suitable place at a suitable time. We must do everything to protect faith and Christian model of family – he emphasizes.
On 15 September in Poland the 9th Week of Upbringing begins. – This week was planned for us to pray for the Christian spirit of upbringing at Polish homes, at Polish schools, environments of faith. Every year various topics are undertaken. This year we want to pay attention to relations teacher – student, and, in fact, a master-student. We are going to point to the person of Jesus Christ as this first Teacher. We encourage everybody to open up to this initiative and undertake such a well-understood cooperation of educational environments in order to renew the alliance about which the document of the Congregation for Catholic Education entitled: He created them as a man and a woman. Thinking about the way of a dialogue on the gender issue in education’ says, and which was announced on 10 June 2019. We can do a lot together, not saying about our personal and community prayer accompanying us, especially if we remember that there is nothing impossible for God.