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VATICAN CITY — Catholic education is an excellent form of evangelization, Pope Francis said.
“Indeed, education does not consist of filling the head with ideas,” he told people at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square June 28.
Education is “accompanying and encouraging students on the path of human and spiritual growth, showing them how friendship with the Risen Jesus expands the heart and makes life more humane,” he said.
It was the pope’s first general audience since being released June 16 from Rome’s Gemelli hospital where he underwent abdominal surgery June 7 and his last audience before his usual summer break for the entire month of July.
The pope continued his series of talks about “zeal” for evangelization by focusing on St. Mary MacKillop, the Australian founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart. Australia’s first saint, she was born in 1842 near Melbourne and died in Sydney in 1909. Her order established schools and charitable organizations across Australia and was devoted to the care of orphans, neglected children, the homeless, sick and aged.
Pope Benedict XVI, who canonized her in 2010, had praised her as one of the most outstanding figures in Australia’s history, and St. John Paul II, who beatified her in 1995, praised her courage and her commitment to serving the poor.
In his general audience talk, Pope Francis called her “an extraordinary religious sister,” who dedicated her life to “the intellectual and religious formation of the poor in rural Australia.”
“Wisely reading the signs of the times,” this young woman whose parents had emigrated from Scotland understood that the best way for her to spread the Gospel and attract others to encounter Jesus was through teaching young people, “in the knowledge that Catholic education is a form of evangelization. It is a great form of evangelization,” said the pope, who himself had taught high school in Argentina.
“Mary MacKillop was convinced that the purpose of education is the integral development of the person both as an individual and as a member of the community, and that this requires wisdom, patience and charity on the part of every teacher,” he said.
Education is helping others “to think well, to feel well — the language of the heart — and to do well — the language of the hands,” Pope Francis said. “This vision is fully relevant today, when we feel the need for an ‘educational pact’ capable of uniting families, schools and society as a whole.”
But an essential part of St. MacKillop’s zeal for sharing the Gospel, the pope said, was her dedication to caring for the poor and marginalized.
“This is very important,” he said. Along “the path to holiness, which is the Christian path, the poor and the marginalized are the protagonists, and a person cannot move forward in holiness if he or she does not also devote himself or herself to them in one way or another.”
Those in need, he said, “draw attention to injustice, which is the huge poverty in the world. Money is spent on making weapons and not on making meals.”
St. MacKillop also had great faith in God’s providence and “was always confident that in any situation God provides,” the pope said, “but this did not spare her from the anxieties and difficulties arising from her apostolate.”
“Yet, through it all, she remained calm, patiently carrying the cross that is an integral part of the mission,” he said, and she never gave up “when her joy was dampened by opposition and rejection.”
“You see, every saint faced opposition, even within the Church,” he said.
St. MacKillop had been briefly excommunicated in 1871 and her religious order temporarily disbanded during a disagreement with local Church authorities, who disapproved of the sisters living in tiny, isolated communities frequently cut off from the sacraments in the remote Australian outback. The bishop who had excommunicated her lifted his censure after a few months and a Church commission cleared the sisters of all wrongdoing.
“May St. Mary MacKillop’s missionary discipleship, her creative response to the needs of the Church of her time, and her commitment to the integral formation of young people inspire all of us today, called to be a leaven of the Gospel in our rapidly changing societies,” the pope said.
May her example and intercession support parents, teachers, catechists and all educators, “for the good of young people and for a more humane and hopeful future,” he added.
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