Christians are ‘samples’ not salespeople

Catholic eduction

According to Fr Richard Leonard SJ, Christians are not salespeople but free giveaways or samples of Christianity, of how to love our neighbour, and that’s what Catholic education should be.

Leonard worked for 25 years in forming teachers and spoke recently to the South Australian Catholic school leaders in Adelaide, Australia.

For many children, Catholic schools are the only Christian community they may ever belong to, and they must find people who are passionate about Christ and the Church’s best proclamations.

Currently parish priest of the combined parishes of North Sydney, Lavendar Bay and Kirribilli, Leonard quipped it also meant he was the parish priest of Luna Park.

Applying the teaching of loving God and your neighbour is key, he told Catholic school leaders.

“Our core business is applying the teaching of Jesus to all aspects of our schools – ‘Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. On this hangs all the law and prophets'” Leonard stated.

Increasing demand for Catholic education

Leonard outlined key statistics showing declining religious practice in Australia, with only 9.1% of Catholics attending Mass weekly. However, he observed that the demand for Catholic education continues to grow.

“Demand for Catholic education is ever increasing. Our schools are going up (in enrolments), but participation in local parishes is going down, dramatically so” he said.

“Schools are not a business.

“They are a series of relationships – relationship with God, the church community and stakeholders.

“So how do we animate our vision for a faith-filled community that’s neither pious nor fundamentalist?

“Unashamedly, we are following Jesus. It’s Jesus’ way, truth and light and we’re on the same mission. Sometimes the parish and the school can feel increasingly like we’re on two missions. It’s the one mission with two expressions.”

Leonard encouraged educators to create welcoming, hospitable liturgical communities with good music and preaching at their schools.

Evangelical moments

The Jesuit priest said that the perceived dilution of faith means some clergy want to close down Catholic education.

“I want to own right up front – there are some priests because I’ve heard them, who want to close Catholic education down. There have at least been a couple of bishops, the way they’ve spoken at Catholic education conferences that I’ve been at, the way they spoke to principals, the way they have berated them, they’ve chastised them, that people aren’t going to Mass any more…that we’ve diluted the faith, it’s just terrible.”

On the contrary, Leonard wants to make the schools modern mission territories.

Leonard said nobody baptised or celebrated weddings and funerals better than Catholics “when we get it right”.

“They are our greatest evangelical moments, people who go to a cathedral for a big funeral are probably not believers, but they’re on our turf and we need to welcome them, take that group very seriously because they have an impact on who we are” he said.

“But the first thing we tell people is that they can’t go to communion.

“Similarly, Catholic schools should be embraced” he said.


The Southern Cross

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