Todos, todos, todos
Departing from his prepared remarks during World Youth Day, Pope Francis urged the half a million young people gathered to join him in declaring that the Church is for everyone. The Spanish and Portuguese translation of everyone was echoing through Eduardo VII Park in Lisbon: "todos, todos, todos."
Preceding these remarks, the pope said this about the Church: "There is space for everyone, and when there isn't, please, let's work so that there is -- also for who makes mistakes, for who falls, for who it is difficult." These comments are reassuring for those of us who continually make mistakes and sometimes feel a disconnect with the Church. It is a clear instruction to be welcoming and forgiving, to be less judgmental and more empathetic.
To the Catholic and secular press, the pope's declaration that the Church is for everyone seemed to be headline news. However, to anyone in Catholic education, this was not a revelation but an affirmation!
The pope's instruction is lived out every day in Catholic schools. Teachers meet students where they are at, as they are and see them as made in the image and likeness of God. Teachers help students find their own place in this world. Showing students that they are loved and have a responsibility to others is a core part of Catholic schools.
In many Catholic schools there is a sign that reads: "Let it be known to all who enter here that Jesus Christ is the reason for this school, the unseen but ever-present teacher in all its classes, the model of its faculty, and the inspiration for its students." This passage may seem counter to the Gospel last week (Mt 15:21-28), where Jesus is initially unwelcoming to the Canaanite woman. In this Gospel story, Jesus initially ignores her, telling his disciples, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Jesus has a change of heart as the story progresses and it is in his humanity that we can see ourselves. It is easy to focus on something we see as bigger or more important and risk missing the people around us. Like Jesus, we must pause and reflect on how we welcome people. We will not always get it right, but that is our challenge and that is what Pope Francis challenged at World Youth Day and what our Catholic schools work to do each day.
In a 2013 interview with Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, for the various Jesuit press outlets, Pope Francis said "The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds . . . And you have to start from the ground up."
At the Catholic Schools Foundation, we believe Catholic schools start from the ground up, healing wounds and warming hearts, and most of all, giving students the sense that they are loved and have value. With this as a base, these students will go on to change the world.
It is a privilege to share in the work of Catholic education and invite others to join us because Catholic schools change lives and are for everyone: todos, todos, todos!
- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.