The role of Mission schools

Archbishop Joseph Marino, Apostolic Nuncio to Malaysia, also spoke on the role and affirmation of Mission schools by all levels, in his opening talk t

Jan 26, 2019

Another area where you may have a possibility to manifest yourself is within the context of the question of Mission Schools. Perhaps we are all aware that during the second half of last year, the Mission schools came into public debate. There was the article in The Malay Mail on August 5, 2018 and subsequently pub- lished in the HERALD with the title Mission schools behind Sarawak success, says CM. In it, the Chief Minister of Sarawak is quot- ed as giving credit to the alumni of mission schools to Sarawak’s success story, as “they are the movers and shakers of Sarawak’s economic progress and development of the past, present and future.” He added that he hopes that “mission schools will continue to play an important role in Sarawak’s educa- tional landscape, as well as mould younger generations in a positive way.”

He praised mission schools for their proud tradition, academic excellence and all-round com- mitment to producing citizens with an out- standing character and sense of discipline. He affirmed that “mission schools are not just schools, but institutions in their own right for their legacy and contribution to the community and society.” Each one of us in this room has heard such affirmations about the mission schools from numerous persons at every level of society.

And when alumni of every religion and eth- nicity speak of these schools, they speak of them which much pride and gratitude. My own experience of those who have attend- ed these schools manifest that they feel at home with us; they are not strangers to us or us to them, and they feel comfortable with being with us.

The positive words of political leaders, like the ones I quoted from the Chief Min- ister of Sarawak, sound like an invitation, if not a plea, addressed to the Church to once again become the principle mover within the mission schools, because they are quite aware that these schools, as they did in the past, can make a unique contribution to the building of the nation, because a sound, well rounded education is essential to the future of any country and society.

In fact, Pope Francis himself on many oc- casions has spoken about Catholic schools and, almost always when describing them, has described them as “places of hope”, in other words, places which look to the future with confidence and conviction. I would like to refer to an outstanding talk that he gave almost two years ago to a con- ference on Catholic education in the Vatican on February 9, 2017.

In that speech, he stat- ed that Catholic schools are “outstanding en- vironments for articulating and developing [the] evangelising commitment’, and “they are a most valuable resource for the evange- lisation of culture, even in those countries and cities where hostile situations challenge us to greater creativity in our search for suit- able methods”, as he quoted in his apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Then he named the solid and much need- ed contributions that Catholic educational institutions offer to society today. “Firstly, faced with an intrusive individu- alism which makes us humanly poor and culturally barren, it is necessary to human- ise education”.

He emphasised that Catholic schools have full meaning only in relation to the formation of the person. “In this process of human growth, all educators are called to collaborate with their professionalism and with the wealth of humanity they bear, to help the young to be builders of a more fraternal and peaceful world. Furthermore, Catholic educational institutions have the mission of offering horizons open to tran- scendence.

The education that the Church can uniquely give is in the service of an integral humanism and that the Church, as an educating mother, always looks to new generations with the prospect of the forma- tion of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the so- cieties of which, as a man, he is a member, and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share.”

In fact, schools under the care of the Church are open to the development of the whole person, because the Church has, as its responsibility, integral human development, which means that it is holistic, therefore ma- terial and spiritual, open to all people regard- less of race, religion or ethnicity; deals with the whole human person, body and soul and heart and mind, offering real and concrete and, indeed, daily feasible models of social integration; speaks freely of the social and moral issues facing our societies and world, the environment, peace and justice. In his Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis stated: “I dream of a mission- ary option ... an impulse capable of trans- forming everything” (EG. 27)... of promot- ing the development of the entire person, the development of all people.

Certainly a crucial setting to realise such a dream is the mission school.” Another goal, almost automatically, that mission schools can attain, is the promotion of the culture of dialogue. “Our world has become a global village with multiple pro- cesses of interaction, where every person belongs to humanity and shares in the hope of a better future with the entire family of peoples. At the same time, unfortunately, there are many forms of violence, poverty, exploitation, discrimination, marginalisa- tion, and approaches that restrict fundamen- tal freedoms, creating a throwaway culture.

In such a context, Catholic educational in- stitutes have, as an essential part of their mission, to put into practice the grammar of dialogue, which educates in encounter and in the appreciation of cultural and reli- gious diversities. In the setting of a mission school, children from the tender and young age learn, experientially, of knowing others, appreciating others, enjoying others and, ul- timately, respecting others who are different culturally, ethnically and religiously.

I am absolutely convinced that there is no better setting to form a durable culture of dialogue and encounter, in countries like Malaysia and Singapore, than mission schools. In this regard, you will avoid becoming strangers to one another in your very country. Segre- gated education leads to a segregated soci- ety. Finally, Catholic schools contribute in sowing hope. In this regard, Pope Fran- cis affirmed that “man cannot live without hope, and education is a generator of hope”.

Indeed, education means bringing to light, nurturing, and as such, is part of the dimen- sion of life. And life that is born is the great- est source of hope. ... I – and these are the words of the Holy Father – am convinced that the young of today need, above all this, life that builds the future. Therefore, the true educator is like a father and a mother who transmits a life capable of having a future. Catholic schools offer and give this hope because they are founded on the mis- sion of the Church, who herself is called to give hope to the world, to give a future to the world based on sound human and spir- itual values which arise from the heart of the Gospel. He ended by saying that “Catholic schools make a great contribution to the mission of the Church when they serve growth in hu- manity, dialogue and hope”. Already before the historical events of May 9, 2018, you, as a member of the Cath- olic Mission School Association, made an overture to the then Government in terms of regaining the Mission Schools in terms of recreating their ethos and essential charac- teristics.

Now, and perhaps more than ever, this same appeal can be made within the new political realities, with a view to pro- pose that this would be the Church’s great- est contribution to build what is being called the New Malaysia. The statement issued by the LaSalle Brothers on August 29, 2018 puts it this way: “For more than 165 years, the Catholic Mis- sion Schools have been closely involved in formal education throughout Malaysia, with the beginning of St Xavier’s Institution in Penang founded in 1852.

Since its first es- tablishment, Mission Schools have strived to provide education for all the people in the country regardless of race, religion, creed and social class or gender. These schools have also played an important role in the education of women, when such education was not available or limited at that time. Such schools include the Convent Light Street, Penang (the first girls’ school in Ma- laysia) founded by the Infant Jesus sisters in 1852, and the Canossian girls’ school in Malacca, established in 1905.

“Mission schools were known in the past for providing quality education and disci- pline, coupled with education for religious, moral and spiritual values. Hence, the Mis- sion Schools readily identify themselves with the five principles of Rukun Negara, namely, belief in God, loyalty to King and Country, supremacy of the Constitution, up- holding the rule of law and mutual respect and good social behaviour.

These values have helped build up generations of Malay- sians that are tolerant with a strong spirit of service to society and the nation.” I also wish to refer to the Education Con- sultation Workshop which took place in Kota Kinabalu last July 7, 2018, which af- firmed that the largest mission field is still the schools and reflected upon the vision of mission schools in today’s situation.

Then in October of last year, the Board of Gov- ernors of the five Catholic mission schools in Sandakan paid an official visit to all their schools. During the visits, it was affirmed, according to press reports (see HERALD, October 28, 2018), the need to preserve the identity and maintain the ethos and special character of these schools, with a goal to have the sense of ownership of the schools. In his talk to the United States Congress on September 24, 2015, Pope Francis stat- ed: “To construct a Nation, we must recog- nise that we must constantly be in relation with others, refuting a mentality of hostility but to be able to adopt a mentality of recip- rocal subsidiarity.”

One means, of course, for this social integration, necessary for a healthy society, is the school. Therefore, we can say that to educate is to integrate and to accept and celebrate diversity as a richness. These are concepts that, while very obvious and human, rest at the heart of the Christian experience and message. I, personally, cannot think of a better for- mula for contributing to the development of Malaysia as it embarks upon its future in this new political context, and to be very honest, cannot think of a better means, that is, Mission Schools, that the Church can employ to make this tangible and generous contribution.

Therefore, I hope that this issue will be- come a priority in your pastoral planning and mission. Without question, the coun- try is waiting for the “glory of the mission schools” and you very well know that there have been calls from other quarters remind- ing the state not to forget its historical obli- gations to mission schools.

We all recall that, in the first months of his pontificate, Pope Francis issued his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (EG), which contains the guiding principles of his ministry as Pastor of the Universal Church. The fundamental nucleus of his view of the Church is rooted in the affirmation that the “missionary activity” of the Church con- stitutes, for us, the greatest challenge as the People of God.

It is a challenge that invites the entire Church to go out of herself to bring the Gospel with renewed energy and zeal to the faithful, to those who have distanced themselves from the Church, to those who are not members of the Church and to those without faith. Within that context, he affirmed: “Mis- sionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity.”

Therefore, we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”; we need to move, “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation, to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry” (EG, n.15). In another place he wrote: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the com- placent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way’” (EG, n.33). Therefore, the Holy Father expressed sincere “hope that all communities would devote the necessary ef- fort to advancing along the path of a pasto- ral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are” (EG, n.25).

Therefore, I hope that, collectively, you will continue to examine, in a fraternal way, all that can be done together as one Church to advance this outreach to those within our faith and those outside. This will always be the greatest contribution that you can make in these changing times, particularly in Malaysia.

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