Headline: Mission Sunday and Catholic Education

Posted on: 2016-10-27

Post-script Mission Sunday

The Catholic World, on 23rd October, celebrated Mission Sunday during which the Catholic Clergy, Religious and Faithful prayed for the mission of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. That mission is that all who believe in him may have life eternal. They would also have reflected on the duties and responsibilities of all Christians to witness to the work of evangelization and to joyfully spread the gospel. The mission of Christ has many dimensions for Christians. With salvation as the overall purpose, the faithful must reflect on their task to witness to Jesus by living holy lives. Witnessing to Christ, in other words, means living a life of service, love humility, forgiveness and of prayer among many other things. One main means of bearing witness to Jesus Christ is to do precisely what he said when he sent his disciples forth in Saint Matthew’s gospel to go and teach. The Catholic Church takes that injunction seriously and does so well beyond church buildings and pulpits.

At ground level

Only last week on October 21, St. Joseph Catholic Nursery and Primary School in Iseyin in the Catholic Oyo Diocese, celebrated 25 years of its existence. The school, started even earlier than 25 years ago by the initiative of a lay woman, Mrs. Felicia Abegunde of Blessed memory, was eventually taken over by the diocese on the lady’s invitation, for better management. Today the school counts about 500 children and has an annex in the Barracks area across the town. Many of those who participated in the celebration testified that it has indeed provided holistic education for hundreds of children of all faiths in these 25 years in Iseyin. Many of these have become productive citizens of Nigeria. Due tribute was paid to the commitment of the Sisters of Saint Louis (SSl) who took over and still run the school and to the dedication and sacrifice of all the clergymen and lay people who have contributed to its history. During the media interview at the occasion I was asked two main questions. One was about the origin of the vision of establishing such a school. The other was about the vision of Oyo Diocese for the future of the school. Those two questions offered me ample opportunity to express my humble views on the vision and goal of Catholic education.

The vision belongs to Christ

Discerning the vision of any institution is about discerning the mission of its founder. Catholic education basically derives from the mandate of Jesus When Jesus said: “Go…and teach them to observe all I have commanded you…” (Matt 28: 19-20), he established the overall vision of all Catholic educational institutions for providing good education that entails academic excellence moral rectitude and the fear of God.

The scope of the vision

Catholic education is addressed to help as many people as possible, irrespective of faith, tribe or status. Many children all over Oyo diocese are currently being supported by the Church in primary education with either full or partial scholarships. This year alone around 200 children will be thus supported because of the extremely harsh economic conditions for many poor parents and guardians in Oyo Diocese. But the motivation extends beyond merely providing qualitative education. It is also to get all parents and guardians to appreciate and access holistic education for their wards for education is the key to resolving many challenges of modern society. Further than that, it is to get Catholics especially to take up their responsibility to access the inimitable legacy of Catholic education which has been cherished over the years all over the world. Today unfortunately, many Catholic parents and guardians simply do not care anymore what school their children attend. They could not care less whether those children enjoy the benefit of catholic culture, catechism and environment in their school or not. This is regrettable and parents need an examination of conscience whether they are doing all they can to make Catholics out of their children especially through their education. Those who fail to see this point simply work against the mission of Jesus Christ.

The ultimate task

The ultimate task however is to convince civil authorities at all levels to appreciate again as in the past, what treasure the Church is offering to society, open up the space and provide a conducive not constrictive environment for the Church to participate in the education of Nigerians. It is urgent right now that the government in Nigeria reverse the unfortunate privatization of education which is currently going on in the country under the excuse of scarcity of resources. The authorities thus leave this all important sector at the mercy of profiteers and charlatans who have no genuine interest in providing good education. A professor of sociology of the University of Abuja, Professor Chike Okolocha, in The Guardian on Sunday of October 23, 2016, correctly wrote “By privatizing education, we are constricting the educational space. This is contrariwise to the imperatives of modernity and a negation of some of the progressive educational policies introduced after the Nigerian Civil War”. While we pay tribute to organizations that genuinely offer holistic education to the Nigerian public, we must here reiterate that the Catholic Church deserves the preeminent place among the players in the field of education. The reason is simple! She is unflinching in her determination to continue to pursue the mission of her Master to teach the whole world by providing holistic comprehensive education to those who need it most. Nigeria needs now more than ever to take advantage of this good.