Cardinal Pietro Parolin (Ansa/Alessandro Di Meo)

Parolin: "Educating, an act of hope"

The Church's educational task, the heart of man and the 'architecture of peace'. A speech by the Vatican's Cardinal Secretary of State, who took up Fr. Giussani's pedagogical intuition.
Paolo Perego

On March 12, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, inaugurated the 2024 edition of "Basilica e Agorà", an event promoted by the Diocese of Parma, this year dedicated to the educational mission of Christian communities and of those who are engaged in the relationship with young people. In his speech, delivered in Parma’s cathedral, the Cardinal reviewed the characteristics of the Christian educator, their responsibilities and tasks, speaking of "education of the heart and education for peace."

"The Church is an educator inasmuch as it is a mother, and the first education that the Church-mother must take care of is that which addresses the fundamental orientation and meaning of life," explained Parolin, who at several times referred to the teaching of Pope Francis and of Luigi Giussani, "one of the great figures of Christian educator that the Church has given us in these times" and who "loved to define education as an 'introduction to total reality." Fr. Giussani invites us to assume a "hypothesis of a total explanation of reality" that starts from a tradition. For us Christians, this tradition is represented by our faith, by the interpretation of reality provided to us by the Christian creed and the living tradition of the Church."

The relationship with this tradition, Parolin continued, quoting the founder of CL, passes through an auctoritas: “Without authoritative figures who present young people with a fascinating proposal of life, there is no education.” Hence, the third point taken from Giussani, verification: "Every young person must verify for themselves whether all that Christianity says about life, about death, about the present, about the future, about love, about social coexistence, about the family... If all this really helps us live better. That is, if the Christian tradition really helps each person to confront reality, to make sense of everything, to live everything well and in depth and, above all, if this way of understanding life responds to the deep needs of one's own heart." Thus, “every educator must in a certain sense be like John the Baptist who ‘fixing his gaze on Jesus’ teaches his disciples to look in the right direction, to orient themselves towards the one who can give an answer to their anxieties, their searches, their desires.”

Thus, aseptic, 'neutral' education is revealed as a false myth: "The Church must not be afraid to present the Christian 'proposal', because the vision of life and the moral it contains are well founded, have passed the scrutiny of history and have been a source of happiness and fulfilment for millions of human beings, as well as a source of progress, prosperity and peace for many peoples over the centuries. Education aims first and foremost to help young people discover the good foundation of life. Being in the world is a gift and it is good.”

Only within the framework of these assumptions, according to Parolin, is an 'education of the heart' possible, the central theme of the first part of the talk: "The heart, for us, is not a ‘producer’ of feelings, often chaotic and conflicting, or even blind. Biblical tradition has taught us to consider the heart as the ‘spiritual place’ where every person can see themselves in their deepest and truest reality, without veils and without stopping at what is marginal. It is the metaphysical depth of every person. It is the interior of every person, where each person lives their being, subsistence, in relation to God, to others and to the whole of creation."

Educating the heart involves, first and foremost, educating to beauty. But there is also a need for 'emotional education', capable of accompanying young people to discover themselves in their states of mind and understand their causes, not to be reactive and, at times, to 'distance themselves'. And attention needs to be directed towards 'affective education', as Parolin defined the accompaniment of the person “to become capable of establishing stable and authentic relationships of friendship and love.” Indeed, the Cardinal dedicated a special in-depth discussion of the ‘education to love’, understood as “the highest goal at which the education of the heart is aimed”: 'Love is an aspiration, an inclination rooted in the human heart that drives us to seek a relationship in which we are unconditionally accepted and wanted and in which we unconditionally accept and want the other. It is an unreserved giving and receiving. When this happens the person discovers a new dimension of themselves and their existence takes a 'leap forward'". Educating to love is above all, however, to invite people to discover that it is a journey with its own stages: "From emotional affinity to falling in love, to the deepening of mutual knowledge, to the maturing of a decision of definitiveness in a relationship...." Up to the sexual sphere – another crux of the Secretary of State's speech – with the "final choice of giving and accepting the other that involves the mind, the heart, the body."

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But “an educated heart, according to integral education as understood by the Church, is undoubtedly a heart that is a bearer and maker of peace. In this sense, educating the hearts of young people is in itself educating them to peace.” This is the second key point of Parolin's speech: educating for peace. "The first threats to peace are in fact found in personal relationships polluted by the ‘evil intentions’ that come out of the human heart, of which Jesus speaks in the Gospel." It happens “in the street, at work, in schools and offices, with acquaintances or with strangers we meet in our cities.” Changing ourselves, the Cardinal explains, is part of that “architecture of peace” of which the Pope speaks. And this concerns the task of education: “Educating is an act of hope. To educate, in fact, it is necessary to nurture hope in the person to be educated, who is the bearer of goodness and newness.” This goes from educating to solidarity, to change. At the service of the community.

Finally, the Secretary of State closed his address by once again recalling the Pope’s words: "He has often told young people not to let themselves 'steal hope'. Even in the face of the conflicts present in the world, the Church's educational task must never fail, indeed it must find new motivations, because it is a work of forming hearts that rekindles hope, recreates solidarity and counteracts all the seeds of violence that the culture of indifference and confrontation sow in our societies and that prepare the ground for wars. Education is ‘one of the most effective ways of humanising the world and history’.”