RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
AN OPPORTUNITY, AND A CHALLENGE
Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
The new Constitution of the Philippines says:
• “At the option expressed in writing by the parents or guardians, religion shall be allowed to be taught to their children or wards in public elementary and high schools within the regular class hours …” (Article 14, Section 3, No. 3).
This is an educational revolution. It ushers in a new era in the life of the Church in our country.
For years religion was taught before classes began or after they had finished, on staircases, or under mango trees in the schoolyard. Now religion has to be taught within regular class hours–up to 90 minutes a week, if requested by the parents.
This is a magnificent opportunity, placed in our hands with great love, by God. It is also a challenge, which the Church will not be able to meet without the collaboration of everyone in the community.
Therefore, we, your Bishops, appeal for many more volunteer catechists.
• There are twelve million children in the elementary and high school public school system. We now have about 4,000 professional, fulltime, catechists. This means one professional catechists to every 3,000 public school students. A number out of proportion with the number of students!
• The Constitution offers 90 minutes religious instruction a week. To handle these religion periods properly we would need 60,000 professional full-time or about 240,000 part-time volunteers, assuming that each volunteer handles 90 minutes a week.
• Even now our professional catechists are greatly underpaid. To field 60,000 of them and pay them is not presently attainable. It appears then that the immediate practical and realistic solution is, while continuing the necessary program of building up the professional catechists through our catechetical training centers, to train and employ a legion of volunteers. Thus, your Bishops appeal to you, retired teachers, active public and catholic school teachers, members of the religious associations, students in the Seminaries, and in Catholic Schools.
• Catechetics should be given importance in the curriculum of seminaries, and all seminarians at all levels should teach religion at least once a week in the public schools.
• Every Catholic college and high school should have, where none as yet exists, an office for catechetical instruction giving the students an opportunity to teach religion in the public schools.
• We note with joy how providential is the timing of this appeal. We are only three months away from that time when the country’s Catholic faith will receive the Church’s universal recognition with the canonization of the first Filipino canonized saint, Lorenzo de Manila, himself a catechist.
In this context the training for volunteer catechists become a crucial need. Therefore we urge
• the catechetical training centers in our country forming professional catechists to extend their services, giving shorter courses for part time volunteers. So also the religious associations, the Basic Ecclesial Communities, the seminaries and the Catholic Schools should give special attention to the training of catechists.
Finally the need to support the cost of providing religious instruction.
Teaching catechism is a pre-eminent apostolate. Those who teach are doing it from a deep sense of faith. But the professional catechists cannot live without salary and the volunteers need allowances for their training, their teaching materials and their transportation. Without funding, the apostolate of teaching catechism in the public schools will be greatly hampered.
There is then a need for a catechetical fund in every parish to cover the training of catechists, the salaries of professional catechists and the allowances for volunteers. Funding for catechists should be in the annual budget of every seminary, and of every school. This fund can be drawn from the sharing of parents, special benefactors and the like; but catechesis should be considered as a necessary activity of every parish, of every seminary, of every Catholic school.
We need more professional catechists, who will consecrate their lives to the beautiful task of forming the character of children–teaching them to know, to love, and to serve Christ, our Lord. But at this important period of our history we need more volunteers for this apostolate.
We appeal finally with equal urgency to the appropriate government authorities to facilitate the implementation of this important constitutional mandate.
It was the last word of our Lord to the Apostles, on the mountainside, before He ascended into heaven: “Go, therefore, teach ye all nations — teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” This mission, given to us by God, begins at home, with our own children. Parents are the first catechists. In our desire to equip parents to undertake this all important ministry, we launched, through the Episcopal Commission on Education and Religious Instruction (ECERI) a religious education Program for Family Catechesis entitled “The Filipino Family Growing in Faith.” We hope that this work of love will assist our parents in the fulfillment of their catechetical responsibility.
We cannot end this Pastoral Letter without expressing our deep gratitude to all those who brought about this educational revolution. With special mention, we are sincerely appreciative of the open cooperation of the public school administrators and teachers.
With a certain note of joy we convey to you, dear parents our warm commendation for the fidelity with which you help build up the Church in faith.
A most special expression of gratitude however we reserve to our catechists. To educate children in the faith, to assist the adults in their growth in the faith — you have made this your chosen ministry within the Church. The price has been heavy, and still is. But you carry out your mission, year after year, with perseverance, with fidelity to God, to the Church and to the world. May the Lord through Mary, the Mother and model of catechists, sustain you in your difficult but essential task. May your example inspire many generous souls to join your ranks in the service of God’s people.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+RICARDO J. CARDINAL VIDAL
Archbishop of Cebu
July 15, 1987
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines
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RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS AN OPPORTUNITY, AND A CHALLENGE