Pope Francis on 'Bold and Innovative Fidelity'

It hasn't gained much attention, but a couple weeks ago Pope Francis offered some insightful words about Catholic education. Speaking on Feb. 13 to participants in the plenary session of the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Holy Father described Catholic education as "one of the most important challenges for the Church, engaged as she is today in implementing the new evangelization in a historical and cultural context which is in constant flux." The Pope noted:

Jesus began to preach the Good News in the "Galilee of the Gentiles," a crossroads for people of different races, cultures and religions. In some ways this context is similar to today's world. The profound changes that have led to the ever spreading multicultural societies requires those who work in schools and universities to become involved in the educational programmes of exchange and dialogue, with a bold and innovative fidelity able to bring together the Catholic identity to meet the different "souls" existing in a multicultural society.

A "bold and innovative fidelity": that caught my eye. Not just fidelity, but a fidelity with a freshness to it, an originality, something unprecedented. I imagine some might quibble, and say that the term "fidelity" is enough, that it bears within itself the originality that the Pope calls for. But as a teacher in a context very much like the crossroads he describes, I know precisely what he means. It is one thing to be faithful, to be an exemplary witness of the Christian faith. It's quite another to communicate this faith, not only so that the audience knows it, but so that they accept it, that they begin to appropriate those truths for their own lives.


In today's culture, needless to say, that is no minor task. As I've written at America, increasing numbers of students have little or no religious formation, let alone Catholic formation. Often, they are not familiar with the vocabulary and concepts that practicing Christians take for granted. In this context, it's not enough just to present the teachings of the Church, to break them down and explain them lucidly. Today, the Christian educator has to find ways to inspire the search for truth, for only when a student assumes this search as an urgent personal priority does the path of authentic faith become possible. But then you're faced with the ghost of Pilate, for inevitably comes the response, "What is truth?" That, too, for students, is contestable ground. They don't immediately understand its significance, or why it should attract their attention. Thus, the need for innovation.  

But I'm interested in what readers think. What do you understand to be the meaning of the Pope's language, the "bold and innovative fidelity" of which he speaks? Where, today, do you find it in action?



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Marie Rehbein
5 years ago
Given that Pope Francis has also said to put less emphasis on politically divisive teachings of the Church, I take him to mean that he wants the focus to be on the teaching of Jesus, the way of life of Jesus and his disciples, and the challenges that loving one's neighbor entail. For example, the Catholic Church does not teach that there is anything wrong with accumulation of wealth. However, Jesus's example and the emphasis of his teaching makes clear that the accumulation of wealth is at best a pitfall for some people and possibly a substitute god for others.
Bill Mazzella
5 years ago
Marie, The embrace of wealth by the church was a repudiation of its mandate. Jesus always warned how difficult it would be to enter by the rich person. The eye of the needle. Terrible leaders ignored the teaching of Christ. What is worse they took the money designated for the poor to build their castles and enrich their lives. They still do.
Bill Mazzella
5 years ago
It is not a question of catechesis or knowledge so much as the doing of the Gospel. To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, Christians who can cite chapter and verse of their faith are a dime a dozen. But those who live the metanoia and inspire others they are the genuine disciples. So it is not the efficacy of the sacrament so much as taking charge (bold) and being true to the mandate of Jesus (fideltiy). Was always true. Francis is stressing it as against that smug, better than thou, Catholicism.
Mary Sweeney
5 years ago
I too was struck by the wording. It reminded me of a phrase which had emerged years ago out of a General Chapter: "creative fidelity". I wish I could come up with examples of where I see it. I do see new things being tried, but I wonder whether they are being evaluated, or what the criteria for evaluation might be. Some years ago a change was made to "CCD". In ancient times, children going to public school came after school to a Catholic School for religious instruction. That later shifted to "Sunday School" after the children's Mass. More recently I have seen this change to a "once a month family event" after the children's Mass: "Generations of Faith". What I have observed in the two parishes where I have seen this innovation is that the family now typically attends Mass once a month. I guess this is why I turn to the question of evaluation. "By their fruits..." To be clear, I am not focusing on parrotlike recitation of dogma. Francis is emphasizing the following of the Gospel, the commitment to live it, to share it. He speaks often of nourishment, of healing. I do believe that nourishment and healing should be the things that make us better able to assist in the field hospital of the world.
Anne Chapman
5 years ago
We sent our children to different kinds of schools. Initially, we did public schools with after school CCD. Then we changed them to a Catholic independent school up to 8th (not a parochial school) and we were reasonably happy with the way religion was taught and how the teachers modeled christian behavior. The huge disappointment came in high school - a large, co-ed diocesan high school in a neighboring diocese, but just over the border from our own. We did not realize until too late that this diocese is among the most conservative in the country - girls banned from altar service, no wine with communion in most parishes etc. The high school reflected a 1950s style Catholicism - what I would call "negative" Catholicism focused on law and order, obedience - no thinking allowed, etc. But the worst thing about it was the way some of the teachers and staff treated the students. It is not surprising to me that so few of their classmates are still in the church (one of mine is, one isn't). We sent our youngest to an Episcopal high school. No catechism, but respectful religion classes that treated the young people as intelligent, good human beings. The teachers and staff modeled christianity in a gospel-like way - with charity and kindness. It wasn't Catholic but it was more Christian than the Catholic high school had been. Teach as Francis teaches - model compassion, christian love, forgiveness, charity, generosity and non-judgmentalism in words and actions and also in discipline when discipline is needed. Don't emphasize sin and guilt and punishment as my children's Catholic high school did. Be positive. It is very important to teach them how to live as Jesus taught and how to think instead of what to think. That should come naturally in a Jesuit environment. Be creative and get the students involved in living the gospels instead of just cramming rote information down their throats and waiting for them to feed back an echo. Don't just tolerate questions and dissent, encourage them to say what they think and believe and to ask questions without fear that they will "fail" for not giving the "correct" official Catholic teaching. Reward thinking instead of making them be parrots in order to get a good grade. And make sure that everyone is on board - all the teachers, staff, coaches. Young people watch and learn, and are very quick to spot hypocrisy.


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