Luca La Monica (Teacher of R.E., Trinity High School, Renfrew)
The latest Papal visit to Iraq has been a historical one for all sorts of reasons, which relate to the political situation as well as to the religious significance of the Successor of Peter visiting the land of Abraham, Patriarch of the three most important Monotheistic faiths. This visit has been a striking example of the outgoing and all-encompassing love that Christianity should always embody, and that Pope Francis has especially adopted during his pontificate. The phrase ‘You are all brothers’ resounded various times during the Pope’s encounters with various representatives of different faiths. More specifically, during his visit to Erbil, Pope Francis invited all Iraqi people to ‘work together in unity for a future of peace and prosperity that leaves no one behind and discriminates against no one’.
The latest encyclical written by the Pontiff, ‘Fratelli Tutti’, distinctively exemplifies this approach to the message of the Gospel. A stunningly beautiful exhortation to all Christians and Catholics to welcome all human beings no matter their cultural, social, or religious background and an invitation to appreciate these differences that make us all unique and special. As Pope Francis himself describes it: (we should) ‘work together in unity for a future of peace and prosperity that leaves no one behind and discriminates against no one’ (Fratelli Tutti, 118). This message clearly originated from the distinctive Catholic perspective that conceives every person as a creature of God, made in His image and likeness and therefore always worthy of respect.
As precious as this message is for all Catholics and Christians, I do believe that this aspect of Pope Francis’ preaching speaks very effectively to all Religious Education (R.E.) teachers who work in Scottish Catholic schools. In fact, the vast majority of our Catholic schools present us a very culturally and religiously diverse mix of pupils. There are certainly a good percentage of Catholic students, together with a significant number of Muslims, Jewish or even Sikh believers, to name a few. The words of Pope Francis are therefore especially meaningful to R.E. teachers in this specific context. Here are a few points that can be extrapolated from Pope Francis pontificate that are extremely useful to any R.E. teacher:
– The open-armed approach covers a pivotal role in helping every pupil to feel part of the school community. In this sense, as Catholics, we are called to communicate in a distinctive manner the message of Christ by welcoming all students in a loving way, allowing them to perceive our R.E. classrooms as a safe space, in which pupils feel accepted for who they are and allowed to respectfully voice their opinion.
– The rediscovery of our common roots that came as a powerful exhortation from the Papal visit in Iraq is strikingly valuable to any R.E. teacher, as it constitutes a clear reminder of the commonalities in between the three Abrahamic Monotheism (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). We could therefore interpret the papal message as an invitation to rediscover the importance of teaching Islam and Judaism alongside Christianity in our Catholic schools. This would offer a unique opportunity to demonstrate how our Catholics schools are open to the study and to the understanding of different religious beliefs, without undermining of our Catholic values. This renewed focus on Islam and Judaism could result in an increased appreciation by our pupils of how interlinked these faiths are with the Catholic belief. This would also allow them to further develop their critical thinking skills by understanding and comparing differences and similarities among the three monotheisms, which they could also apply to the study of Other World Religions.
– Another positive feature of a rediscovery of the other two Abrahamitic religions is the opportunity to highlight the peculiar approach that distinguishes Christianity from other beliefs, and more specifically Catholicism from other Christian denominations. This is indeed a fruitful opportunity to remark the main beliefs of Catholicism from a refreshed and more conscious perspective. As a result of the adoption of this approach, our pupils would be able to develop a renewed appreciation for our Catholic values and ethos.
Once again, the millenary religious tradition that saw its birth in modern day Iraq under the inspired faith of the patriarch Abraham is source of great inspiration for all of us as Christians. More particularly, Pope Francis has rediscovered this ancient message and by doing this, he has inspired all of us as Catholic educators. We have now received a mandate to rediscover the value of our common roots with our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters and to share with our classes this unique story, which allows us to mature a clearer understanding of our Catholic faith as it is today.