Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins addressed the CCSTA conference in Ottawa Sept. 23.

Faith must be passed on in face of secular pressure

  • September 28, 2011

OTTAWA - Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins urged Catholic school trustees not to compromise fidelity to the Catholic faith as they face government pressure to adopt policies contrary to Church teaching.

Speaking to the annual conference of the Canadian Catholic School Trustees’ Association in Ottawa Sept. 23, Collins exhorted everyone involved in Catholic education to become disciples of Christ and to fully participate in the New Evangelization, which he described as proclaiming the Word in places where the Gospel has been forgotten and God has been squeezed out.

“We are marinated in secularism,” he said, urging those present to take a look at the working document for the upcoming Synod on the New Evangelization called by Pope Benedict XVI.

“We need to maintain and strengthen the Catholic identity of our schools,” he said, noting that the faith must not only be taught, it needs to be “caught.”

Faith must be modeled through the example of faithful witnesses, who not only offer a high-quality education, but also communities of Christian love, worship and integrity. Collins expressed hope that all involved in Catholic education would be “fervent Catholics” and “faithful disciples” of Christ and evangelizers willing to proclaim the Gospel.

“If not, why have Catholic schools?” he asked. 

“Education has always been central to the mission of the Church,” Collins said, noting the role Catholic education has played in his personal life and that of his immediate family when he was growing up in Guelph, Ont.

He called Catholic education a “treasure” but reminded the several hundred trustees from across Canada “nothing this side of paradise” is perfect. While some might be over-enthusiastic, others blow concerns about the schools out of proportion. But he said people do need to pay attention to “hints of problems and difficulties” and answer the “worries” some face.

Collins said he’s had parents tell him they are taking their children out of the Catholic system because they don’t think the schools are Catholic enough. He tells them there are wonderful people in the Catholic schools and great students, and while the system is not perfect “we’re working on it.” But the parents tell him, “That’s fine, bishop, we wish you well, but our kids will be adults before you make a dent in it.”

It took a long time to get into the problems Catholic schools face and it will take a long time to rectify them, he said, describing the process as a “marathon” and not a “sprint.”

The archbishop did not specifically mention pressure from the Ontario government’s equity policies that have raised concerns among many Catholic parents. Instead he spoke about various ways cultural supports for the faith, such as widespread weekly Mass attendance and more stable families, have eroded.

But the Catholic Civil Rights League issued a Sept. 26 call to members to ensure Catholic education is raised in the Ontario election campaign.

“The possibility of losing publicly funded Catholic schools is never far from the surface in Ontario, and there are groups that will use the controversy over equity policies and gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in schools to push that agenda,” said the League’s executive director Joanne McGarry.

But Friends and Advocates of Catholic Education (FACE) project manager Lou Rocha downplayed the threat to Catholic education in Ontario. He told CCN Sept. 23 Catholic education enjoys a secure position in the province, with support from all three main political parties.

“Catholic education has a strong future in Canada,” said Rocha, noting it has been part of this country for 400 years and represents 45 per cent of the population.

Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan have publicly funded Catholic systems, and four other provinces and territories have partially funded systems, he said.

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