This is a time for creative thinking and Catholic schools are reinventing themselves all the time. What an eye-opener it can be, encouraging the variety of young people involved in Catholic schools to tell their stories, ask their questions, listen to others, awaken to new ways of seeing the world, and reach out, especially to those most in need of love and support.
The Catholic understanding of education today is built on respect for the dignity of every human person. It is directed towards the growth of each individual as a person. It celebrates all of life in a spirit of justice, generosity and gratitude. In recent years, Catholic schools in Ireland have become well known, here and abroad, for the way in which they have quietly opened their doors to welcome young migrants and refugees. Among the themes for Catholic Schools Week, then, is 'welcoming diversity', in particular respecting people of other religions and world views.
What many adults remember about Catholic schools in their day is often very different from what is happening in Catholic primary and post-primary schools today. The mission is still the same but the approach is different. The Catholic community believes that Jesus Christ has revealed God's love for all to the world. That is the starting point in Catholic schools from which everything else follows. All are embraced, all are cared for equally, all are loved and with Jesus.
Catholic Schools Week therefore also includes a focus on the 'living tradition' of Catholic schools, acknowledging the riches that come down to us through time and culture. The emphasis is on this as a living tradition, always looking to the future in new ways with young people and their families.
During Catholic Schools Week, grandparents are specifically invited to engage in reflection with their grandchildren on how to love, how to care, how to share. They can also teach us about God and how prayer is such a wonderful way to talk to God. Catholic schools are being asked to find new ways of 'supporting faith'. They see themselves working 'in service of our community' as Jesus has taught us.
There is an opportunity this week to talk with young people about school, to listen to what they are learning for life, what they enjoy most about being in school, and what they have discovered through their conversations in religious education. My bet is that you will be surprised by the depth of the issues they are dealing with and amazed to hear about the dialogue that is taking place. Maybe it will be you who comes away with a new way of seeing the world.
Rev Dr Gareth Byrne is Associate Professor of Religious Education and Director of the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education at DCU Institute of Education.