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Some considerations on educational practice

The cultural and religious pluralism is marking so strongly our environments and it poses challenges to our being educators. It is a human and religious, a cultural and social dilemma. The avenues for reflections mapped here start from some convictions, such as putting at the centre the person and the service to its growth; to live the relationship within the difference (cultural, social, religious) in order not to fall into indifference; to open ourselves to a new understanding of one’s identity that is built through a relationship, not in the closure and self-reference. The educator is called to an “exodus “dimension, that is, to be able to go out to meet the other and help others to constitutively grasp being with each other. In the knowledge that God is the first educator and that He has already reached the boy’s heart, it is the educator’s task to help the boy to become aware of this presence by building together an atmosphere where we breathe primarily a lifestyle rich of Christian and charismatic humanity.

Salvatore Currò


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Some considerations on educational practice        (Salvatore Currò)

The educational contexts (even the Josephan –Murialdine ones) (in all countries where we are present, although in different proportions) are increasingly marked by cultural and religious pluralism. We notice that this can be a resource and it offers new educational opportunities, but we also experience the difficulties of interaction and right balance between respect for their own culture and a proposal of an active education (which for us includes, among other things, the announcement of the gospel). When problems arise, we can escape in our position that the other respects our culture, we can be led by fear and close ourselves in. We often stand, among boys and educators, in a passive tolerance, we give up dialoguing and the chance to get to know and enrich each other.

The diversity of religious affiliation may be a further complication, because religion, so people believe, moves away, divides, raises other obstacles. Religious fundamentalism does its part, and often has the effect of crippling the dialogue.

Furthermore an important role plays that mentality, widespread in Western societies, which exalts presumed neutrality and which is expressed as secularists outdistance from all religions. Many times we do not even notice it or, in any case, we underestimate the other, who even though from another culture can be of our own religion (Christian like us).

This, among other things, raises some questions about the ability of Christians and ecclesial communities to live the universal and intercultural dimension. Religion, certainly the Christian one, should help the encounter, rather than be trapped in thought patterns of closure.

Such issue is human and religious, cultural and social. It may be helpful to consider it from the educational – anthropological point of view (more than from the religious and pastoral one).

Some questions arise: how should education be articulated in this context? what does it mean to educate in the sign of intercultural or, as it is often suggested, trans-cultural setting ? and, in the case of Christian and Josephan education, which draws its strength from the Gospel and the charism, how to bind this inspiration with the respect and recognition of the other, of his culture and religion? How to integrate the specific pastoral (and catechetical) attention, that we feel intimately incorporated with the educational action? Is it possible to (or should we) preach Jesus Christ?

Nobody today has absolutely definite answers to these questions. However, we are already practicing an education in multicultural and multi-religious environment. From it, it may be useful at this time, as educators (and pastors), to keep in mind some attitudes that will become, little by little, educational models suited for these challenges. I suggest three attitudes (which should be considered together): (1) the centrality of the individual and of his growth, (2) a relationship within the difference in order to free us from indifference, (3) the opening to an exodus anthropology.

  1. The centrality of the person and of its growth

Education is a flow of values, an impact with meaningful experiences, and a reminiscence of cultural and spiritual traditions. All these are particularly necessary, especially now, in times of pluralism and complexity, when there is a strong risk of getting caught up in the adult world, by a sense of educational rejection.

A proactive approach must be kept alive in education, rather it is greatly needed. Children and young people do not grow without proposals; have no chance of comparison, to exercise interiority and freedom. We can not renounce, in our educational and pastoral context, to the proposal of the Christian faith, for an explicit proclamation of the Gospel and for the catechesis, since this does not mean lack of respect for others and for their culture or folding into proselytizing.

Yet the proactive approach must be situated in a perspective of placing the person at the centre. The key of the educational experience is not given by the content offered (even when doing evangelization explicitly) but from the boy. He needs to feel the subject, to deal with new visions but starting from the experiences that mark him; he needs to make an effort of appropriation and internalization of what reaches him; he needs to feel that in some way he produces the values that also come from the outside. Only then he will learn to critically evaluate, to recognize and choose what is most important for life, escaping the consumerism of the experiences, the reduction of knowledge to the instrumental use of knowledge and the urge to remain in his own world (virtual or real).

This does not signify to make the education subjective by reducing the values for fitting the boy.

It rather allows a real contact with the cultural and spiritual possessions of our tradition, without overriding them indeed encouraging the sense of “starting even from themselves.” He, who starts from himself, gets involved, is open, and becomes available. True growth comes from the exercise of the subjective freedom and it involves a gradual process. The proposal of the educator always raises the course favouring possible leaps of growth; not without provocation, as a reminder to the sincerity of themselves, the need to break free from fears and not renouncing the riches that life carries within.

In this context, in which the boy and its growth are at the centre, the reconciliation with one’s own tradition, the opening to the cultural tradition of the other, the comparison without stiffness become easier. The comparison is thus free of ideological elements and is brought on the ground of the experience, the call for everyone to grow and be responsible. Will we, as educators, be proactive, yet really decentralized on the individual and on his path of growth? In the view of a believer, it can help to keep alive the memory – a memory that serves as a real practical inspiration that God works in the heart of each boy. God, so to speak, has already arrived before us, and he is already operating. The centrality of the boy can do alliance, beyond what may seem far and by any stretch of fundamentalism, with the centrality of the educational work of God. He is the first educator.

This awareness (and practical inspiration) was certainly very strong in Murialdo and it is part of our tradition. Let us think about feeling like St. Joseph who recognized in Jesus God’s work. A strong inspiration of this kind gives significance (human, Christian and charismatic) to our educational activity, even when it would not be necessary or appropriate to make an explicit announcement of Jesus Christ, because the work is, for example, among youths living a strong connection to the Muslim religion. The concern for the integral formation (which also involves the religious dimension) must always be present, but it is in some way subordinate in giving a Christian and murialdine inspiration (breath, atmosphere) to the education. Let us not forget that the Gospel is first of all witnessed, it becomes a style, a way of relating, an atmosphere. First of all you can breathe it. The attention of our educational tradition regarding the educational atmosphere (the family atmosphere, co-responsibility) should be seen in this light.

  1. A relationship in the difference in order to free us from indifference

The subordination of the proposals to the growing process of the person, if lived with superficiality, can fuel a sense of relativism, which does not really help education. Not only a lack of proactive education could make its way in but also the sense that the proposals are basically all the same and can be approached in a partial and instrumental way.

This could lead to a religion or ethic of “do it yourself”, that leaves imprisoned in their own subjective world. Since the proposals, not only those coming from another culture, but also those that come from our tradition, are put together for what they are, we need a constant practice of a relationship in the difference. It is not just an intellectual practice and cultural recognition. It is not, therefore, only a proper and respectful welcoming of what comes from outside. It is a relational practice, made by overcoming the fear of real reciprocity, to care, to exercise responsibility, to exchange glances, by crossing over the real differences. It is a crossover that recognizes and promotes the originality of each, without approvals or mortifications. Every relationship, even with the neighbours, with those of our group and culture, is always a crossing over the difference. It is a real exit from one’s own world, from themselves, from one’s own vision and preconceptions.

We live with preconceptions but we are called to break them or allow others to break them. Not only to get into the vision of the other and to properly understand it, but to live a terrain that goes beyond the visions and understandings and where the affection and practical capacity to love them selves is at stake. The encounter, before being a cultural or intellectual event, is, we might say, a bodily event, made up of gestures, actions, movements; it is an emotional event, risking a contact, an exposure, to welcome, to bring out a responsibility for one another that perhaps is already registered in our flesh.

Often, the reasoning behind whether to accept or not the others hides our relational inability, our struggles to get out of our world. It hides that indifference for the other. The vision that we have of the other acts as a protection in order not to come out of ourselves, not to live the difference.

Living with foreigners could become a resource in view of reconciling ourselves with the notion that the foreignness of each other makes us.

Every one, as far as I know and as far as he comes into my vision, remains always a stranger to me, radically different from me, and this challenge can not be silenced.

Perhaps, indeed, this challenge brings in the pledge of the meaning of life, the possibility of openness to the truth of human relations and the possibility of reconciliation with the strangeness of ourselves, with that part of ourselves that is out of our control (or from which we escape) and that could instead be a forerunner of gifts and reconciliation with the gift that is life itself.

The educational environments are today challenged to make this shift from a visionary outlook (human, religious, of life) to the level of concrete human relationships.

The differences of tradition, culture and religion, can be traced to the practice of living the difference of the relationship with each other (with every one). Living the difference is to live in a space that is not ours, enter a place where we have never been. When we are ready for this livelihood (or to enter into someone’s place or to leave one’s place) one is free from fear of expressing himself in his own identity and at the same time such identities are dynamic, alive.

We thus override that relativistic mentality that needs instead to report the differences on a basically neutral field that actually leave us in our world, in the indifference. The differences instead save us from In-difference.

The Christian-inspiration of education can, again, give an important impetus to this process, provided that Christian faith is not only or primarily restricted to a vision or a morality (or, worse still, as something that is almost identified with our tradition and culture) but as a witness, a lifestyle, a way of living with others, which has its source in the way of acting of the God of Jesus Christ.

The current cultural situation could also help us Christians to encompass our faith, to rediscover it, to relocate it in a personal and ecclesial bond with the person of Christ. For this it is necessary that our relationship with Christ is real, bodily and emotional (also sacramental) rather than intellectual, a relationship in the difference.

Without realizing we can bring Christ in our world, we can approach Him as a bearer of values or of doctrines, be taken by the subtle illusion that deep down we know Him already.

Even though we know Christ and have already met Him, He is also stranger, different … and just because he is not indifferent, because he loves us. The difference perhaps is today a privileged way to be reconciled with the transcendence, a necessary condition of a true relationship with God. God, surely the God of Jesus Christ, always has the initiative. His love always precedes us. His initiative always surprises us and we capture it where we did not assume to find it

In our josephan tradition the educational relationship has a central role.

It will probably be practiced and deepened in its meanings of difference and its references to a relationship with God in the sign of the difference-transcendence. The same relational difficulties, in our religious or educational communities, could become a place of growth, provided they are crossed and lived in the call to live the difference. Such a path could be fostered by daring more about the meaning of internationality and on the gamble on international communities.

  1. Opening to an exodus anthropology.

In mentioning the difference, since we really open ourselves to another (and to God), it also open ourselves to a new understanding of identity. The current multi facets context is experienced by many in the concern for our cultural identity that should be preserved from the invasion of other cultures.

In terms less alarmist, it is said, even in educational environments, to keep alive our cultural identity is a necessary condition for a true dialogue and not to remain slaves of novelty. Sometimes Christianity itself, as mentioned previously, enters or is brought into this discussion; it becomes almost an instrument of affirmation of our cultural identity.

It is important in education to broaden the horizons. The question must be addressed on the basis of cultural anthropology, that is, in relation to the sense of the human being. The anthropological question could be read as follows: when is my identity given as a human person? When I myself? Even if these questions do not emerge explicitly, education, and even more so Christian education should pose these questions and give answers. Where the inspiration comes from the Gospel the answer must be on the extent of Christian revelation, but that does not mean that the answer is related only to Christians. The gospel can exert a kind of prophecy about the very meaning of the individual and can do so in not exclusive terms but with great aperture. In other words: it can open an anthropology that is in the measure of man’s dignity.

The suspicion is that an anthropology which underlies so many experiences and educational projects, also in the Christian (and Murialdine) environment, is marked by categories that are not up to the multicultural and multi-religious challenges.

Even though much insistence is set on the dimensions of relationship, on a universal welcoming and aperture, the feeling is that these dimensions are too subordinate to the understanding of life, first of all, as a project, as a personal journey, as a search for meaning.

Basically as first of all (a first in a chronological or methodological sense) we were alone rather than constitutively with-others; as if we were first of all in front of objectives and values ​​rather than linked to others; as if our care for others was the result of an awareness and a choice rather than written on our skin, in the heart of ourselves, from birth. It is an anthropology of that identity that precedes the otherness, of being oneself as a condition of acceptance of others; an anthropology, after all, the self-awareness and self-control (old legacy of the Western cultural and spiritual tradition).

The feeling peers in that it is rather in the risk of being open–or better going out–that we are our truly selves. He who does not get out gets sick, pope Francis would say. Better to risk an accident by getting out on the road, than getting sick by turning too much within them. In fact the identity is radically crossed by the risk and to go to the other does not fall in the calculation neither in a designed choice. It is a kind of exodus, risky and liberating at the same time. The sense of being oneself is a dynamism of grace, to be received as a gift. (Here the Murialdine sensitivity of feeling loved by God or, we might say, to allow God to love us, is very current).

We are ourselves while paradoxically we are not thinking about ourselves, moving from the risk of getting lost, to receive each other as gifts because of the other. The other (the stranger, the poor), at the moment I talk to him, gives me, without realizing it, the sense of my identity, of being myself. A miracle occurs: the “the plus in me” emerges in myself, what is foreigner to me, the poverty that I was previously fleeing was instead hiding treasures.

This exodus identity, of going out, but that is at the same time the identity of reconciliation with oneself, of being received as a gift, is slowly making its way. It needs to emerge in educational sites. More than an explicit vision is connected with attitudes of true hospitality and generosity It is emerging where you can feel the fatigue of the relationships, it breaks away from the ideologies, there is at stake the getting free from personal excuses or self-justification.

The Christian faith can, again, be a source of inspiration, provided that it is not reduced to a content to be announced and that it does not be trapped in the mesh of the dominant anthropological individualism (and this happens often in subtle but profound manner).

In the heart of the Christian faith there is an exodus, an Easter. He who tries to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will find it: before being a teaching of Jesus, this is the logic (actually illogical) of Jesus’ story, it is the secret of life, of every life, over and beyond culture or religion.

Salvatore Currò

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