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Pope: Catholic Education Most Urgent Challenge Facing US Church

While addressing a group of U.S. Bishops on Saturday during their ad limina visit to Rome, Pope Benedict XVI said "providing young people with a sound education in the faith represents the most urgent internal challenge facing the Catholic community in your country."

According to Vatican Radio, the Pope made these comments just as Georgetown University, one of the most prominent Catholic universities in the country, defied the U.S. bishops by inviting Kathleen Sebelius, the pro-abortion "Catholic" secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to speak at one of their commencement services next week. Sebelius is the author of the birth control mandate that will compel religious institutions to provide insurance for health care services that violate the tenets of their faith. It is also the school where Sandra Fluke, a "reproductive rights" activist who started the "war on women" crusade, is attending law school.

“All too often, it seems, Catholic schools and colleges have failed to challenge students to reappropriate their faith as part of the exciting intellectual discoveries which mark the experience of higher education,” the Pope said. “The fact that so many new students find themselves dissociated from the family, school and community support systems that previously facilitated the transmission of the faith should continually spur Catholic institutions of learning to create new and effective networks of support.”

For a school to have an authentic Catholic identity, it must do more than provide a chaplain on campus, he said. Colleges and universities “need to reaffirm their distinctive identity in fidelity to their founding ideals and the Church’s mission in service of the Gospel.” This includes the obligation for theological faculty to receive the mandate from the local bishop laid down in the Code of Canon Law.

He also suggested that to meet this challenge, schools need to do more than just pass on knowledge; they must also shape hearts.

"There is a constant need to balance intellectual rigor in communicating effectively, attractively and integrally, the richness of the Church’s faith with forming the young in the love of God, the praxis of the Christian moral and sacramental life and, not least, the cultivation of personal and liturgical prayer."

Teachers play an essential rose in this process and must "inspire others by their evident love of Christ, their witness of sound devotion and their commitment to that sapientia Christiana which integrates faith and life, intellectual passion and reverence for the splendor of truth both human and divine."

He continued: " . . . (I)n this sense, Catholic institutions have a specific role to play in helping to overcome the crisis of universities today. Firmly grounded in this vision of the intrinsic interplay of faith, reason and the pursuit of human excellence, every Christian intellectual and all the Church's educational institutions must be convinced, and desirous of convincing others, that no aspect of reality remains alien to, or untouched by, the mystery of the redemption and the Risen Lord’s dominion over all creation."

Taking up this task involves a renewal of apologetics and an emphasis on Catholic distinctiveness, he said.

"Ultimately however it must be aimed at proclaiming the liberating truth of Christ and stimulating greater dialogue and cooperation in building a society ever more solidly grounded in an authentic humanism inspired by the Gospel and faithful to the highest values of America's civic and cultural heritage. At the present moment of your nation’s history, this is the challenge and opportunity awaiting the entire Catholic community, and it is one which the Church’s educational institutions should be the first to acknowledge and embrace."

It is no exaggeration to say that providing young people with a sound education in the faith represents the most urgent internal challenge facing the Catholic community in the U.S., he said.

"The deposit of faith is a priceless treasure which each generation must pass on to the next by winning hearts to Jesus Christ and shaping minds in the knowledge, understanding and love of his Church."

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