Dossier on the Congregation for Catholic Education
                                                             by Luca de Mata


The history of a Congregation dedicated to education

A few figures

The delicate task of the Pontifical Society for Priestly Vocations

Education in the Magisterium of John Paul II

Education according to Benedict XVI

Interview with Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski,
Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education


The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, during his Pontificate, has frequently spoken of an educational emergency which affects our epoch. In a world ruled increasingly by the absence of values so that what counts is what suits the individual, and in a world increasingly impregnated with moral relativism and where therefore what prevails is subjectivism, the Pope emphasises the necessity to rediscover a set of common values to which to cling, to which to refer, so that society may once again be founded on something solid, objective, shared.

In the Letter which the Holy Father addressed on 21 January to the diocese and city of Rome, it was precisely of this "urgent task of education" that he wished to speak, because on education depends the future not only — in this specific case — of the city of Rome, but indeed of the entire world. As the Pope so wisely wrote, referring to his encyclical Letter Spe salvi on Christian hope, "the soul of education, as of the whole of life, can only be a dependable hope". It is impossible to educate unless we have hope in God. "What may be the deepest difficulty for a true educational endeavour consists precisely in this — Benedict XVI wrote in the Letter dated 21 January —: the fact that at the root of the crisis of education lies a crisis of trust in life."

One of the Holy See offices involved in this difficult task is certainly the Congregation for Catholic Education. On its work depends in fact the educational activity of Catholic ecclesiastical faculties, religious institutes and schools all over the world. It is also through its work that the Holy Father's educative proposals can reach the whole world where men and women of goodwill are called to the difficult task of education.

As Fides learned from Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Catholic missionaries especially have the task of educating the people in their care. In order to do this — he explained — "missionaries must be familiar with the culture of the country to which they go as well as with the customs and traditions of the nation to which they are sent". And again: "Material support is necessary. But the most important requisite for missionaries is faith and love for Christ and for the people to whom they are sent".

"The few times I had the chance to see for myself the work of our missionaries — the Cardinal prefect added —, I have always admired their total dedication to serving those in need, their personal abnegation, their disinterested and generous love. They are not among those who talk continually about how much aid is needed, or shout or make a noise, they really help, paying with their life, giving themselves with simplicity, giving a hand to people in need, ardently serving for love of Christ".

The history of a congregation dedicated to education

The Congregation for Catholic Education is one of the nine Congregations in the Roman Curia. It is responsible for seminaries, religious and secular institutes of formation (except those for the formation of missionary clergy and clergy of the Eastern Catholic Churches, respectively under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches), for pontifical universities, institutes and higher schools of study, either ecclesial or civil dependent on ecclesial persons; over all schools and educational institutes depending on ecclesiastical authorities.

In the past seminaries were the responsibility of the Concistorial Congregation: this was flanked by the Congregatio pro Universitate Studii Romani, instituted by Pope Leo X to preside the University of Rome (La Sapienza).

With the Apostolic Constitution Immensa aeterni Dei of 22 January 1588, Pope Sixtus V extended its competence to every university in the Catholic world, especially those of ecclesiastic foundation (Bologna, Paris, Salamanca), however that Congregation gradually disappeared.

In 1824, Pope Leo XII instituted the Congregatio Studiorum, at first to supervise schools in the Papal States, and later, from 1870 (when the State of the Church ceased to exist), to pontifical universities. Pope Benedict XV, in 1915, detached the section for seminaries from the Concistorial Congregation to merge it with the Congregation of Studies forming the Congregation for Seminaries and Universities of Studies.

With the Apostolic Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae, dated 15 August 1967, Pope Paul VI changed the name to the Congregation for Catholic Instruction.

Under the pontificate of John Paul II, with the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus dated 28 June 1988, it assumed its present name, the Congregation for Catholic Education.

The Congregation has 31 cardinal, archbishop and bishop members. The Prefect appointed on 15 November 1999 by John Paul II is Polish Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski. The secretary is French Dominican Archbishop Jean Louis Brugues, appointed by Benedict XVI on 10 November 2007. The under-secretary is Bishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani.

A few figures

We have seen that the Congregation for Catholic Education is responsible for the seminaries of the world (except those which depend on the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples), the Pontifical Society for Priestly Vocations, and Catholic ecclesiastic faculties, Catholic universities and schools.

With regard to the last three fields mentioned, it is possible to provide a few indicative figures to show the vast scale of the activity to which the Congregation is called.

In the world there are about 240,000 Catholic schools which depend on the Congregation for Catholic Education, for a total di 45 million registered pupils.

Again, in the world there are 170 ecclesiastic faculties dependent on the Congregation. It is here that candidates to the priesthood spend years of formation before initiating their apostolate.

Thirdly about 1,300 universities depend on the Congregation. In these universities, obviously, there are many different faculties: ranging from law to economics and business studies, from languages to medicine, from classical studies to humanities or politics.

The delicate work of the Pontifical Society for Priestly Vocations

Within the Congregation for Catholic Education the Pontifical Society for Priestly Vocations plays an important role. Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski told Fides that the Congregation has a person totally dedicated to the Pontifical Society: “He is fully occupied collecting information and statistics throughout the world, keeping contact with the relative international bodies and the Bishops' Conference, helping to organise various vocational meetings, and in many other ways under the guidance of the president and vice-president, fostering the promotion of priestly vocations at the level of the whole Church”.

Vocations to the priesthood, we know, are fundamental for the life of the Church. Even the Church's missionary activity, although increasingly and rightly entrusted to hosts of hardworking lay people, finds in the priest examples to be noted. It is for this reason that within the Congregation for Catholic Education, there exists the Pontifical Society for Priestly Vocations, a section entirely dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood.

As the Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, explained in an intervention on Vocations and Vocations Pastoral given a few years ago at a National Congress held in Czestochowa, Poland, “the decisive moment for the promotion of vocations” is “the encounter with Jesus”. Christ in fact is the "author of our faith and he perfects it". Therefore the priestly vocation is simple discipleship, following Christ.

The vocation to the priesthood is born of an encounter with Jesus. And therefore — said Cardinal Grocholewski on that occasion – “the promotion of vocations is primarily indicating Jesus and his fascinating mystery, stirring a desire to meet Him, to be with Him, to experience His presence, to be called by Him. This is indispensable and lies at the root of the vocational problem”.

From this perspective then, “it is not rash to say that the problem of promoting vocations is first of all ‘Christological’: it depends, that is, on what image of Jesus is proposed to our young men. We must be able to propose the real image of Christ, as it is revealed in Sacred Scriptures, the image which fascinates and makes a person ready to make a decision to follow Christ. If Christ's identity is not made clear to the young people of today, He may appear almost superfluous for their life”. And again: “In this regard we may wonder if certain partial Christological visions should not be considered con-causes of a weakening of vocational impulse. And consequently the problem of vocations promotion cannot be restricted to the use of pedagogic methods, or concern for creating organisational structures. The root of the problem of a scarcity of vocations is the ability to present to young people of today the person of Jesus in a manner which is real, persuasive, independent of historical cultural or social conditioning, which at times has affected, although indirectly, the presentation of certain vocational models. Think for example of the spiritual sterility of the presentation of the figure of Christ in certain currents of liberation or political theology, or a weakening of the figure of Christ due to Christologies which are incomplete or even erroneous, or because of confusion sown by certain esoteric currents or sects which are easily accepted by young people”.

Education according to John Paul II

Sapientia christiana is the second Apostolic Constitution of John Paul Paolo II. Dedicated to ecclesiastic universities and faculties, it was signed on 15 April 1979.

John Paul II, in this important document, insists on the necessity for the Gospel to permeate the cultural life of the world. In this activity of the Church with regard to culture, of particular importance, in the past and still today, are Catholic universities, which, by their nature — the Holy Father explains —, "aim to secure that the Christian outlook should acquire a public, stable and universal influence in the whole process of the promotion of higher culture".

The Second Vatican Council, for this reason, did not hesitate to affirm that "the Church devotes considerable care to schools of higher learning," and strongly recommended that Catholic universities should "be established in suitable locations throughout the world" and that "the students of these institutions should be truly outstanding in learning, ready to shoulder duties of major responsibility in society and to witness to the faith before the world". As the Church well knows, "the future of society and of the Church herself is closely bound up with the development of young people engaged in higher studies."

John Paul II recalls that besides the commitment of Catholic universities, there is also that of ecclesiastical universities and faculties, concerned particularly with Christian revelation and questions connected therewith and which are therefore more closely connected with the Church's mission of evangelisation.

It is in fact precisely to ecclesiastical faculties that the Sapientia christiana is dedicated. Their task is to form future priests. An important task and of this importance the whole Church must be aware.

Having said this the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia christiana explains a whole series of norms concerning the practical activity of teachers, students, officials and staff assistants within these faculties. The norms concern the study programme, academic degrees, matters related to teaching, economic matters. Other norms concern individual faculties: theology, canon law, philosophy and others.

The Catholic Universities are the subject of another apostolic constitution signed by John Paul II on 15 August 1990: Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Here the Holy Father offers a much broader panorama of the tasks facing especially Catholic schools, than that exposed in the Sapientia christiana for ecclesiastical faculties. To be brief, before the general norms, Wojtyla dedicates no less than 49 paragraphs to the subject.

John Paul II explains immediately his point of view with regard to Catholic schools: in the world today, characterised by such rapid developments in science and technology, the tasks of a Catholic University assume an ever greater importance and urgency. Scientific and technological discoveries create an enormous economic and industrial growth, but they also inescapably require the correspondingly necessary search for meaning in order to guarantee that the new discoveries be used for the authentic good of individuals and of human society as a whole. If it is the responsibility of every University to search for such meaning, a Catholic University is called in a particular way to respond to this need: "its Christian inspiration — the Holy Father writes — enables it to include the moral, spiritual and religious dimension in its research, and to evaluate the attainments of science and technology in the perspective of the totality of the human person."

Catholic universities cannot fail to promote the diffusion of Catholic culture. According to John Paul II the latter has four characteristics: 1) a Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such; 2) a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research; 3) fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church; 4) an institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life".

In the light of these characteristics, it is evident that in a Catholic university, therefore, "Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles penetrate and inform university activities in accordance with the proper nature and autonomy of these activities. In a word, — the Holy Father explains — being both a University and Catholic, it must be both a community of scholars representing various branches of human knowledge, and an academic institution in which Catholicism is vitally present and operative".

John Paul II, obviously, besides documents dedicated ecclesiastical faculties and Catholic universities, spoke frequently of education during his long pontificate. Indeed we can say that education was a central theme of the Polish Pope's Magisterium. Memorable, on the subject of education, was his address to UNESCO in 1982. John Paul II affirmed "man lives an authentically human existence thanks to culture", and since "it is through culture that man becomes and reaches more intensely "his proper being”, and he goes on to say that his concern is born not of an idea, but of the fact that “the value of the person is in direct and essential relation with being, rather than having”.

For the Holy Father "culture is that which enables man, as man, to become more fully man, and what is more, to reach more "being”.

In this powerful acceptation culture is therefore to be understood as the critical conscience of what man achieves as a being, or as a full experience of what is human in all its many dimensions.

This is why culture is the source of education. Again, in his discourse to UNESCO John Paul II said "the first and most essential task of culture in general and of every culture, is education" and "education consists, in substance, in the fact than man becomes ever more human, that he may "be" more and not only "have" more, and that, as a consequence, through all that he "has" all that he "possesses" he is able "to be man" ever more fully”.

Education according to Benedict XVI

The most recent words pronounced by Benedict XVI on the subject of education are contained in the Letter the Pope addressed in January to the diocese and the city of Rome on the difficult task of education. During his Pontificate Benedict XVI has frequently recalled the necessity for adequate education, and he has explained the significance of Catholic education as such. But it was probably in the recent January Letter that his thought is most completely exposed.

The Pope acknowledges that education "has never been an easy task and today seems to be becoming ever more difficult." Hence, there is talk of a major "educational emergency", "confirmed by the failures we encounter all too often in our efforts to form sound people who can cooperate with others and give their own lives meaning."

In this situation, "it is natural to think of laying the blame on the new generations, as though children born today were different from those born in the past". "There is also talk of a "generation gap" which certainly exists and is making itself felt, but is the effect rather than the cause of the failure to transmit certainties and values."

In the face of the difficult task of education, the Pontiff observed, "there is certainly a strong temptation among both parents and teachers as well as educators in general to give up, since they run the risk of not even understanding what their role or rather the mission entrusted to them is". "Do not be afraid!", the Pope told the Roman people.

"In fact, none of these difficulties is insurmountable. — the Pope said — They are, as it were, the other side of the coin of that great and precious gift which is our freedom, with the responsibility that rightly goes with it."

"As opposed to what happens in the technical or financial fields, where today's advances can be added to those of the past, no similar accumulation is possible in the area of people's formation and moral growth, because the person's freedom is ever new. As a result, each person and each generation must make his own decision anew, alone".

"Not even the greatest values of the past can be simply inherited; they must be claimed by us and renewed through an often anguishing personal option."

Those who believe in Christ, he added "have a further and stronger reason for not being afraid: they know in fact that God does not abandon us, that his love reaches us wherever we are and just as we are, in our wretchedness and weakness, in order to offer us a new possibility of good."

The "soul of education, as of the whole of life" for the Pope "can only be a dependable hope".

Today, said the Bishop of Rome, "our hope is threatened on many sides", and this gives rise to what is perhaps the "deepest difficulty for a true educational endeavour consists precisely in this: the fact that at the root of the crisis of education lies a crisis of trust in life".

In this situation the Pope launches a call to "place our hope in God". "He alone is the hope that withstands every disappointment; his love alone cannot be destroyed by death; his justice and mercy alone can heal injustices and recompense the suffering experienced".

"Hope that is addressed to God is never hope for oneself alone, it is always also hope for others; it does not isolate us but renders us supportive in goodness and encourages us to educate one another in truth and in love". Authentic education, the Pope said, "needs first of all that closeness and trust which are born from love". Every genuine educator, he explained, "knows that if he is to educate he must give a part of himself, and that it is only in this way that he can help his pupils overcome selfishness and become in their turn capable of authentic love."

The point "perhaps most delicate" in education, according to Benedict XVI, is "finding the right balance between freedom and discipline".

"If no standard of behaviour and rule of life is applied even in small daily matters, the character is not formed and the person will not be ready to face the trials that will come in the future." The educational relationship is however "first of all the encounter of two kinds of freedom, and successful education means teaching the correct use of freedom". "The educator is thus a witness of truth and goodness — he concluded —: He too, of course, is fragile and can be mistaken, but he will constantly endeavour to be in tune with his mission."

Interview with His Eminence Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski
Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education

Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) — Your Eminence, you are in charge of the Congregation for Catholic Education, one of the Holy See's most important "ministries". Can you tell us about its principal duties?

Our Congregation, like the other Congregations of the Roman Curia, is an organ of government which acts on behalf of the Holy Father and with his authority. The purpose of the Congregation for Catholic Education is to express and put into practice the Holy See's concern for those who are called to Holy Orders, and for the promotion and ordering of Catholic education at all levels: from schools to universities.

Our Congregation has three sector. The first sector — which for us is the most important — deals with seminaries, that is the formation of the clergy of the Latin Church. We are responsible for the formation of the clergy in every seminary in the world, except for those in missionary territories and those belonging to Institutes of Consecrated Life. For these two categories of seminaries, our competence concerns only the intellectual formation of those about to receive Holy Orders; everything else is the responsibility of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life respectively. It is easy to see than that our work in this field is both vast and demanding, since we deal with seminaries spread all over the world, in many different cultures and traditions.

The second sector of our activity concerns ecclesiastical universities and Catholic universities which are our responsibility, at the level of the Holy See, even in mission territories as well as academic institutions of consecrated life, and institutes of higher studies dependent on the Congregation for Oriental Churches.

The two types of colleges are distinct. Ecclesiastical universities and faculties base their research and teaching on Revelation and, therefore, they teach disciplines which are linked with the mission of the Church (such as theology, canon law, Christian philosophy, Church History, sacred music, etc). These universities and faculties can be established only by our Congregation. Unless they are established and approved by the Congregation they cannot confer degrees which are valid in the Church, that is which have canonical effect in the Church. These universities and faculties are regulated by the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia christiana issued in 1979, one of the first normative documents issued by John Paul II. The Pope worked on the Apostolic Constitution when he was a Cardinal member of the Commission charged with preparing this important document. Following the norms of the Sapientia christiana, our Congregation is deeply committed: it is our duty to establish or approve faculties, examine and approve the statutes, issue the nulla osta for the employment of resident professors etc. In fact our ecclesiastical universities confer academic qualifications on behalf of the Holy See.

Quite different are Catholic universities, which have all kinds of faculties: economy, philosophy, law, politics, medicine, etc. These universities follow the norms of John Paul II's Apostolic Constitution Ex corde Ecclesiae (meaning that these universities are born “from the heart of the Church”) issued in 1990. These universities can be established by Congregation or by Bishops' Conferences, individual bishops, religious orders, lay persons…although obviously in order to be recognised as Catholic universities they must be approved by the respective Church authorities. These universities are numerous: over 1300. Prestigious Catholic universities exist even in mission territories, and even in countries where Catholics are a mere minority. For example Taiwan, whose Catholics are only 1.3% of the population, has three Catholic universities. I received an invitation to visit them from the Taiwan government although none of its members are Catholics. In recent years Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei has grown at a rate of one thousand students every year. At present it has 25,000 students. Taiwan's minister of education, a non Christian, during an academic act at Fu Jen University expressed profound admiration for Catholic University's ideals and asked for its activity to be expanded even further. Or Thailand, for example which I recently visited. Here Catholics are 0.5% of the population. Assumption University in Bangkok, which has 20,000 students is one of the finest universities I have ever seen. Catholic students are only 1% or at the most 2%, and yet the university is held in high esteem. Another prestigious Catholic campus in Bangkok is Saint John’s University.

And the third sector of activity?

The third sector of our Congregation's activity is Catholic schools. In the world there are about 200,000 Catholics schools with a total 45 million pupils. Many of these schools are in mission territories, where, even if Catholics are a minority, our schools are frequented by large numbers of children. For example in Thailand, where there are only 300,000 Catholics, Catholic schools educate 465,000 children. I have visited two Catholic schools in Thailand. One has 2500 pupils, of whom only 300 are Catholics, and the rest are Buddhist. The other has 6,000 pupils nearly all Buddhist.

So a good number of the world's children attend Catholic schools. In many countries these schools receive state subsidies. Even in former communist countries where it used to be impossible to have Catholic schools — Poland, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia, Rumania etc. — today Catholic schools, and schools of any religious confession are funded by the government, thus enabling parents to choose the type of education they wish for their children. Even in very liberal countries such as Belgium or Holland the state pays. Sad to say this is not the case in Italy or Greece. This is simply a question of enacting the principles of democracy and healthy secularism, in which all citizens are equally respected. Various international declarations proclaim the right of parents to educate children according to their own religious convictions. The state, which has no competence in matters of religion, simply respects this right. It respects the will of the parents, and will of its citizens. If instead there is a rule that Catholic schools are private and must be paid for, this right is no longer fully recognised. It is sad to see that in these cases the most affected persons are always the poorest. By the way I have never heard it said that Catholic schools produce bad citizens, indeed I have heard quite the opposite from many non Christians who praise Catholic schools for the high quality of education provided.

It is worth noting that our educative institutions — seminaries, universities and other forms of higher studies, as well as Catholic schools — operate all over the world and have therefore to do with all kinds of social, cultural, political, kinds of social, cultural, political, legislative, ethnic, linguistic, religious situations. This renders our work very interesting, but also very demanding.

Does the Congregation deal with priestly vocations?

Yes, the Congregation works closely with the Pontifical Society for Priestly Vocations. The Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education is in fact the Society's president; and the secretary is its vice president. We have a director of the Society. fully occupied collecting information and statistics throughout the world, keeping contact with the relative international bodies and the Bishops' Conference, helping to organise various vocational meetings, and in many other ways under the guidance of the president and vice-president, fostering the promotion of priestly vocations at the level of the whole Church.

Besides these four fields of work — seminaries, ecclesiastical faculties and Catholic universities, Catholic schools and the Pontifical Society for Vocations — do you have any other areas of activity?

We are creating a new organism foreseen by the well known Process of Bologna which aims to unify studies at university level in Europe, or rather promote recognition of equivalency of degrees obtained in the different countries. The process of European character proposes to create, by 2010, a European Space of Higher Education in which many other countries in the world appear to be interested. In substance this is a major effort of convergence of university systems of the participating countries and it directly involves every European institution and components. We, as the Holy See, joined this Process in 2003 with all our centres for ecclesiastical studies. As part of the commitment in 2006 we organised an international meeting held in the Vatican's Synod Hall, which drew considerable interest. The acts of that academic event were published by us and by UNESCO. The new organism being created by the Holy See is, in practice, an agency charged with checking the quality of our studies. We have already been promised purpose assigned offices. The intent is to verify that our ecclesiastical faculties are meeting the demands in the field with regard to academic level and other requites necessary for any serious centre of studies. For some time now our study system has in actual fact met with the requisites of the Bologna Process. But this ulterior effort will ensure effective verification. If the new organism were to find that certain requisites are not met, we would intervene, establishing a date within which to adjust to meet the demands, or deciding to withdraw permission to confer degrees. I consider the Process of Bologna important for the Church: in fact the Church has truly at heart the level of studies and teaching in her academic centres.

Benedict XVI has said more than once that in society today there is an emergency with regard to education. Ours is a society in which it is ever more difficult to educate. In your opinion why is this? What are principal points for offering adequate education?

One of the problems about the education which is offered to young people today is that very often what is imparted is exclusively knowledge and technical skills, in other words education is oriented in view of a future exercise of a profession. Very often there is no education of the person, integral education of the person, that is, which is necessary. Partial education, that is only intellectual and technical, is not enough to form builders of a better world. Knowledge can also be used for evil. In fact as we know certain achievements of science and technology have been used for the most terrible wars, terrorism, injustices against the weakest and most innocent of persons. It is therefore necessary to help man be responsible for what he does, to form people committed to promoting good, to guaranteeing integral education.

Integral education today encounters various difficulties. The first lies in the family environment. Many families are divided, or in a crisis and this renders authentic education all the more difficult. Often both parents go out to work and therefore, having little time, they are tempted to leave the task of education exclusively to the school. They forget that the school must work with parents, it must be at their service. Alone the school finds if difficult to fulfil this task of education.

Another difficulty comes from the media. Very often television, the Internet, newspapers, fail to give due space to reflection, creation of an adequate opinion of facts, bombarding young minds with news and images which are counter-productive with regard to education, especially if there is no educator to accompany the reception of this information.

Then there exists in society today a powerful relativist drift with regard to moral principles. But how can we educate without principles? On what basis? On what foundation? This relativism is not only moral, often it is more general and deep-lying: it denies the capacity to recognise the existence of any objective truth about the meaning of life. This causes the collapse of the foundations for a constructive integral formation of the person, and constructive motivation for teachers.

Our Catholic schools reject this relativism and are appreciated precisely for their integral educative project. Many ambassadors accredited to the Holy See have expressed to me their esteem for our model of education because it promotes the formation of the whole person. In a word, education must have four dimensions: it must be human (it must form people who are serious, responsible, reliable, self-controlled), spiritual (this certainly enhances and crowns human education), intellectual (in the sense of critical capacity, mature judgement) and lastly, professional. The last dimension will be all the more constructive for the good of society, when supported by the three preceding dimensions. These four instances, however, must go together, they cannot be separated.

Education and therefore formation for those preparing for the priesthood is fundamental. In your opinion do the ecclesiastical faculties and seminaries in general in the world succeed in responding to these needs? Where do they excel and where do they need improvement?

In mission territories we take care of intellectual formation only. In any case, for us the education of priests is the most important because on them will depend the future of the Church and the effectiveness of their beneficial mission in the world. On priests depends also the apostolate of the laity, as well as the realisation of consecrated life. Certainly, priestly formation today is not easy because the world has a great impact on the lives of the people and even candidates to the priesthood may be unaccustomed to prayer and silence.

However the education of priests is at the top of our concerns. When Bishops come to Rome for the ad limina visit, the first concern we wish to communicate to them is always the education of the clergy: this subject occupies most of the time in these conversations.

I think that, following the documents on this matter issued by the Church, and principally the Optatam totius on priestly formation (1965) issued by Vatican II, the above mentioned Apostolic Constitution Sapientia christiana (1979), the Code of Canon Law (1983), the Ratiofundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis issued by our Congregation (1985), the post-synodal Apostolic exhortation Pastores dabo vobis (1992) and numerous other documents published by the Congregation for Catholic Education on this matter, priestly formation has every chance of being fruitful and suited to the needs of the world today.

However, in the present day circumstances marked by many distractions, activism and fatigue in the priestly ministry, among the priorities I would give first place to sound spiritual formation, which is of extreme importance and, anyway, constitutes the heart of all priestly formation. Without union with Christ the fatigue of the priest will never be fruitful. Jesus was clear about this: “ Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. […]Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15, 4-5). From the intellectual point of view, the candidate must be given a good theological basis. Today it is the fashion everywhere to fill seminary studies, or the first cycle of theology, with numerous interesting monographic courses, but unfortunately at the expense of sound basic theological formation, which is necessary both to respond to the challenges of pastoral care and for further studies. The faithful rightfully expect the priest to be an expert in matters of faith and the spiritual life.

With regard to education to the faith of the younger generations, Benedict XVI a few months after his election, had a most significant meeting with children who had just made their First Holy Communion. He invited them to come to St Peter's Square and with them spent half an hour in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Do you think that the liturgy and prayer in general can be an effective means of educating young people to the faith?

Prayer is a fundamental aspect of the education of youngsters. Children especially need to be introduced to prayer early in life. It is not true that children do not know how to pray. Quite the contrary. God is for everyone and He becomes "incarnate" in and enriches the life of every human person of any age and any condition of life.

The most powerful means of increasing faith and understanding the truths of faith' is precisely prayer. John Paul II in his Novo millennio ineunte (n. 20) speaks of the episode of Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asks, “who do people that say I am?”, Peter replies: “You are the Son of the living God”. Jesus replies that this had been revealed to Peter “not by flesh or blood but by my Father who is in heaven”. John Paul II explains that the expression “flesh and blood ” evokes the common way of understanding things. But in the case of Jesus this common way is not enough. There must be revelation. Therefore, says John Paul II, “Only the experience of silence and prayeroffers the proper setting for the growth and development of a true, faithful and consistent knowledge” of the truths of the faith. This reality is abundantly document with facts. It suffices for example to think of Saint Catherine of Sienna: although she could neither read nor write, she dictated the most wonderful things. She showed extraordinary knowledge of the things of God and great wisdom acquired precisely through contemplation, through continual, deep and intimate contact with the Lord. Experience of contact with God is fundamental for really understanding the truths of the faith: this is an observation fully accepted by sound theology. I could cite in this regard many other examples. It has been pointed out several times by Benedict XVI. For example in his message on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of Hans von Balthasar (6 October 2005) he wrote among other things: “ Spirituality does not attenuate the scientific charge, but impresses upon theological study the right method for achieving a coherent interpretation.” In a word: there can be no Christianity without dialogue with Christ; there can be no deep understanding of the truths of the faith without contemplation; prayer is a powerful means to support education and self-education.

All over the world numerous missionaries are called to the important task of "inculturating" the faith as well as a task of fundamental catechesis for many people. What tools are necessary for missionaries to fulfil these tasks?

Missionaries must be familiar with the culture of the country to which they go as well as with the customs and traditions of the nation to which they are sent. Material assistance is necessary. However the most important requisite for missionaries is faith and love for Christ and for the people to whom they are sent. History shows that the greatest and most fruitful missionaries are saints. For example Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Benedict XVI in his Message for Lent this year (2008) speaks about almsgiving. There are various forms of almsgiving: one can give money, material goods; but one can give even more, oneself, that is one's love and care, one's time, listening etc.; however “the greatest gift we can offer others” is “to proclaim and bear witness to Christ”, to bear witness “to his love” (n. 6). There is no greater gift for missionaries to offer to the people in their care.

The few times I have had the chance to see for myself the work of our missionaries, I have always admired their total dedication to serving those in need, their personal abnegation, their disinterested and generous love. They are not among those who talk continually about how much aid is needed, or shout or make a noise, they really help, paying with their life, giving themselves with simplicity, giving a hand to people in need, ardently serving for love of Christ.

With regard to inculturation, certainly this does not mean crushing the customs of the people to whom we are sent. Instead it means incarnating faith in Christ into the different cultures while fully respecting these cultures. Only that which contradicts the truth of Christ must be eliminated, but there are many things in the different cultures which help in concrete places, to interiorise these truths and live authentically. Perversion of the inculturation of the faith happens when one tries to bend the Christian faith to meet elements which are incompatible to it.

Dossier by P.L.R. - Agenzia Fides 27/2/2008; Editor Luca de Mata