Moral and Religious Education of the youths through Catholic Schools: Prospects and Challenges.
+Most Rev. Valerian M. Okeke
i. Some Clarifications and definition of Terms
Lecture for Enugu Diocesan Synod. Every society does preserve and sustain its values, culture and characteristics through various means. For some, engraving ideas on works of art or manuscripts help preserve their values and provide information to the coming generations. For others, there is a system of handing over these values, knowledge and skills to the next generation while at the same time, eliciting the knowledge from the learners. Such process of handing over or eliciting values, knowledge and skills can broadly be termed education. For us in this paper however, we are concerned to a stricter sense of education, focusing on the formation of the whole person. Such process of education as directed to the whole person can be traced back to the Latin word educare meaning, “to rear, to train, to bring up, to lead forth, to take out”. It involves taking somebody from one point to another.
In this paper also, we defined our youths to include young people from the age of seven (7) to thirty (30). This age bracket encompasses the formative years of the young ones especially in the sacraments and morals of the Catholic Church. Besides, we use the word “Church” to mean the Catholic Church without prejudice to other ecclesiastical bodies in Christendom. The activities of the Catholic Church being reviewed in this paper focused more on the geographical area making up Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province which includes the three states of Anambra, Ebonyi, and Enugu.
The youths are prime assets for sustenance and continuity in any society, organization or institution. In our youths, we witness some lacks which are not yet cracks in the faith but are understood as needs. It is in recognition of these facts that, Blessed JP II noted that,”humanity is in urgent need of the witness of free and courageous young people who dare to go against the tide and proclaim with vigour and enthusiasm their personal faith in God, Lord and Saviour” (John Paul II, 2003).
In the teaching of Blessed JPII then, wediscover that young men and women need to engage their youthful vigour and spirit of adventure in swimming against the current. That means that they need the right map, the right guide and the proper motivation to succeed in this task. These useful tools are fashioned and moulded through moral and spiritual education such as should be provided in Catholic Schools.
Even with the current increasing complexity of education as occasioned by the rapid changes in the social, technological, psychological, economic and cultural changes, education should still aim at integral formation of the whole person. Children and the youth should be assured of the possibility and opportunity of harmonious development of their physical, moral, intellectual and spiritual gifts. They also should be assisted to evolve a sense of responsibility, imbibe the correct use of freedom and actively participate in social life (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2011; cf c. 795). For this to be achieved, it requires the efforts and collaboration of many agents beginning with the family, immediate cultural agents, the Church and extending to the school which holds special importance (GE 5).
The great importance of Catholic Education is underlined given the obfuscation of values in modern society; such corruption of values as seen in moral relativism, extreme subjectivism and even nihilisim (Congregation for CatholicEducation, 1997), necessitates an objective voice, a voice as an institution wherein objectivity and truth are aimed at. Such truths do not end in pure scientific discovery which points at the true based on fact as is known at any point in time. Such truths do change as often as new discoveries are made of facts hitherto unknown to the searcher for truth. The type of truth that is meant here is such that encompasses the good and constant value which is lost should one embark on his quest for knowledge via pure scientific methods alone. The Catholic Education system therefore, encompasses the range of what is true as discovered by science, illumined by the light of faith, judged by right moral conscience and acknowledged as being helpful to human beings while advancing the course of human development. Indeed, “the Catholic Church is ever conscious of her mission to teach, to instruct in view of imparting knowledge of life which in its full acceptance also implies knowledge of salvation” (Okeke (ed), 2006, p. 2). This holistic approach can only be attained with the acquisition of requisite knowledge and training. The Catholic Church recognizes this fact and such awareness formed the force behind the school and education apostolate of our early missionaries (Okeke, 2006).
However, one notices that the promises and hopes that education held in the past which was our platform to an intended greatness did lose its appeal at some point. A point at which our crisis as a nation escalated: a crisis of having more over having morals, a crisis of faith without a creed, a crisis of entitlement over gratitude, a crisis of embracing the average as a leverage, a crisis of consumption over creation and productivity, indeed, a crisis cultured in materialism and consumerism. Such a culture seems to have evolved where value is less and being civil is termed weakness, a culture of low morale; a culture of recklessness, violence and impunity.
It is this situation that presents, sometimes, overwhelming challenges to the teaching of moral and religious education to our teeming youths for whom we long to recapture the values that once put us on a speed lane of development and nationhood, of productivity and civilization;a civilization that is described more as the quality of people in it than the height of its skyscrapers.
Our aim in this paper borders on the evaluation of the efforts of the local church in the education sector as yet, the challenges she encounters in the teaching of morals and faith especially as it concerns the youths. We will also attempt to suggest some possible means of surmounting the challenges in order to position Catholic Education System as a veritable and effective instrument for the formation of the whole person.
iii. The Catholic Educational Efforts
With the first Catholic Missionaries, education was at the centre. Education not only provided the platform for human capacity development but also was a veritable tool for evangelization. Indeed, education, for the missionaries, was for the formation of the whole individual. For them, there was no doubt about the goal they wanted to achieve. “Yes, Shanahan and his companions brought God to the people and brought schools which made them educated, civilized and part of the modern world”. This approach enabled and encouraged the people to doubly enrol in the register of God’s people through baptism and efforts at personal holiness and to participate in the march to civilization through literacy (Okeke, 2005). Education, as a vehicle for evangelization, seems to have been part of the initial strategy of the missionaries (Onwubiko, 1985).
To the people, the presence of the Catholic Church is a welcome development. It is so because, the Catholics were known to bring with their presence, high moral principles, churches, schools and hospitals (Ekechi, 1972). For the purposes of this paper, it is instructive that the people placed high moral principles first, in their record of what the Catholic presence brings. Having highly moral people who have their religion to support the morality creates the condition for peaceful co-existence paving the way for institutional and societal development. One can then attribute the intolerance and slow pace of development in our geographical area to the suppression of moral teaching and genuine religious spirit in our schools, as well as ignoring the “Catholic Presence”.
The Catholicpresence means that the Churchwas on the side of the people against the Royal Niger Company. Their humanitarian services were next to none; they were the first to teach the “natives” in English and more so, their flair for aesthetics and beauty stood out the Catholic schools from the pack. This last quality proved to be very attractive to the would-be students. Above all, the presence of the Catholic schools brought pride to all the towns where they were sited (Onwubiko, 1985).
These efforts of the Missionaries in schools continued until the end of the Nigeria Civil War when the government, forcefully, took total control of schools. One has to note that the beginning of government control of schools began much earlier in 1925 with “Education Policy in British Tropical Africa” wherein the government arrogated to herself, sweeping powers to direct and supervise education even with the powers to close down any school that fails to meet their criteria (Fafunwa, 1974). As one would expect, the Catholic Church found that hard to swallow given that a single criteria is inequitable for the different terrains in Southern Nigeria and more still, it may, and did, seek to take the shine off the evangelization efforts of the Church through the school. The consequence of this conflict is the withdrawal of financial assistance to those schools that chose to shield their Catholic identity when it was threatened by the government edict. The Universal Primary Education (UPE) of 1954 scheduled to take off in 1957 sought to restrict the influence of the voluntary agencies in the schools. It was on record that the Catholic Church alone fought this program through the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria Catholic Bishops’ Statements, and demonstrations by the lay faithful under the aegis of Eastern Nigeria Catholic Council (ENCC). It was not so with other denominations who, even till today, have dragged their feet or mutilated the idea of Return of Schools to their rightful owners in many states (Onwubiko, 1985).
Still to this day, the Catholic Church has been on the fore of preservation of morals and ethical behaviours in the schools. This has not been without challenges coming from the government and also the changes in the society. We shall now take a look at some of those challenges to the teaching of morals and religion in our schools.
iv. Challenges and obstacles to effective education on morals and religion in our schools.
The report on the state of education in the United States of America popularly known as the Coleman’s Report of 1966observed that out of school factors account for about 70% of factors influencing the academic achievement of the students in school. This was replicated with similar findings. Steinberg (1997), found that the mainstream culture especially as subscribed to, by the family environment is about the single strongest factor in the academic achievement of the students. This situation has not been disproved even in our case. In addition, so much have also been written about the impact of peer pressure on our youths (Aspen Educational Group, 2013) but what has not been emphasized on enough is that peer groups are greatly influenced and shaped by the societal trends as perceived by the peers.
In our time trends as being projected on the internet, some home movies, globalization, have led to the culture of death, insensitivity to people’s beliefs, the absolutism of relativism, the apparent disinterestedness in existential questions , banishing of faith to personal privacy domain and disregard to common good, among others. These form the foundation for current societal trends which in turn attracts the attention of the young ones in their peer. The impact of the aforementioned issues can be witnessed in the character of modern family, the ever-changing face of the society, the perception of the Church’s position and methods as anachronistic. This impact is further seen in the emergingnarcissisticculture and lure. It seems also that consensus among nations is supplanting Divine love as the supreme standard for global integration. It is a new humanism placing human standards at the centre of every consideration. We will consider these individually as challenges to the benefits of Catholic Education in our milieu.
a. The Character of modern family
The demands of parenting seem to have snowballed into a big challenge for parents of today. That this challenge sends shudders and cold sensation down the spines of modern parents can be demonstrated in more ways than one. In some countries, not a few people put off giving birth to children until many years into their marriage and sometimes, only to beat the biological clock of the woman. In our clime and society, the economic demands of raising children and the trend of two working parents in a family takes its toll on parenting tasks. For many parents, bringing home the bacon, is the primary need and takes precedence over other needs like caring and training of the children. To create more time for this factor, parents are taking a hands-free approach to raising their children with the time parents spend with their children increasingly shrinking.
It is not seldom that one sees the parents leaving home in the morning even as the children depart for school. All these period till evening, the parents are not directly involved in the lives of their children. When everybody returns later in the day, the father of the house usually, engages in some social activities and oiling the machine of their social interactions while the lady of the house runs around to get dinner on the table. By the end of supper, almost everybody is tired and not a few doze off in front of the television set. The foregoing outlines the much burden and stress the material needs of the family squeeze other important values off the schedule such that spending quality time as a family is now a luxury. It is within this context that is located the indispensable function of the family as a domestic church and the basic educational setting for children. It means that children are not only denied quality time with their parents but also members of the same family areincreasingly drawn apart from each other. Religion and faith life seldom survive and very doubtfully, thrive in such conditions as these. Where the basic foundation of the faith even as modelled by the daily life of adults in children’s immediate environment is lacking, it is no surprise the low attention the children may pay to faith matters. The consequence is that religious education, as designed in the immediate parishes, has no foundation to build on and in schools, it lacks its appeal by sounding strange and alien to the students/children.
A worrisome consequence of the stifling of religious education time in families is that children process the situation as meaning that religious education and matters are among the least important factors in their daily lives. Religion has no relevance to their daily life and when it is referred to and attended to, it is as something to be used to solve a problem and dissipate a challenge confronting one on his way to material prosperity. Religion fortifies one, in the mind of these under-instructed children, to face the “real Issues” in life namely: affluence and financial security. No one would need a research to figure out the challenge this poses for deep religious education in the schools. What is presented, albeit indirectly, as of little relevance and beckoned upon as a means to the pursuit of what is considered immediately important cannot command the attention of the children in school even when such schools have Catholic culture and climate.Disengagement therefore becomes the response of many children in school where and when religious and moral education is being taught.
Concerned by the disengagement of many students in school, some teachers have been devising means to curb boredom and hopefully enhance student engagement and interestedness in religious and moral education. Such attempts include singing of spontaneous songs, spontaneous prayer, preaching and so on.Though very well intentioned and really commendable, such interventions have done little good to religious and moral education. It is believed that the students need more teaching than preaching in the schools. They need deeper understanding which will lead to motivation and inspiration. Exhortations should rather predicate on explanations. Giving also that the content of the songs and preaching topics betray the same usage of religion, it plays into the misinformation received from the families hence does not significantly advance the cause of proper catechesis in the schools.
Above all, the reversal of the role of parents and children in the families today does little to help teaching of moral foundations in the first school – family. On the one hand, parents want to court the friendship of their children and when overly pursued, they become permissive parents allowing anything for anybody in the family. Some would also tighten the rein of control to such an extent that breeds rebellion in the children. Either way, it remains an attempt to evade the real task of parenting: becoming lackadaisical or creating an atmosphere of fear to artificially shield one from his/her responsibilities. Indeed, parents today, would prefer being liked than being respected by their children (Twenge and Campbell, 2009).One can only say, that the disengagement of parents from the business of child-rearing is a public problem that warrants national attention (Steniberg, 1997). Our society has evolved in many ways which created the environment that modern parents work in. Looking at the framework of our society can be very helpful here.
b. Confusion from the intractable pace of modern societal changes
Our society today is one that, at best is seen as pluralistic and at worst, without identity. For those who care for who they are, they are driven into nationalism in its extreme form which, sooner than later, metamorphoses into radicalism. However, the changes in our world move at a pace that only a super human can measure up with. These changes have brought with them some consequences both intended or not. There is the change leading to the “dictatorship of relativism” (Ratzinger, 2005), and the self- referencing ideology (Bergoglio, 2013). One observes that self-referential practise is only a reaction of resistance to the dictatorship of relativism, albeit, taken too far.
Technological advances in all facts of life especially in information dissemination, medical practice among others have set new standards for human living. Discoveries and the scientific explanation seemingly solving the mysteries as organized religion has held them come with their problems.
Humanity seems to believe that it has demystified religion and this position is not being helped by weakness of the human face of organized religion. The misdemeanours of some human symbols of the church have all but supported the error that religion is a value in human life instead of the value in human life.When religion seems to have been rendered private, and only as a tool for human comfort, the deification of the self ensues. It leads to a narcissistic culture.
c. Narcissistic Culture
One can easily summarize the creed of the modern society as captured in a pop culture that, money, success, fame and glamour are all that matter since all other values have either been destroyed or discredited. We are living in the age of thing (material). The culture of deep love with self where the self is at the centre and the world revolves around the self. Indeed, the emphasis on self-admiration has resulted in flight from the real world to that of grandiose fantasy (Twenge and Campbell, 2009). It appears that people are content with the world of “phony”: phony genius students (with examination malpractices and the “miracles” of the miracle centres), phony feelings of being special (every child is now called a prince or princess by their parents), phony friends (as acquainted with, on social networks). The fact is that the line separating the real and virtual world is disappearing and the tragedy is that many children and young adults seem to believe in the virtual world as the real. This confusion has, elsewhere, been explained as the lack of analytical/reflexive disposition of the “digital natives” (people who were born after computers are in home and never knew life without one) who seem to be more broad than deep (Prensky, 2000, 2005).
The culture of self-admiration seems to find reinforcement in the advertisement world. What is being promoted is the route to your better self and unabashedly, how one “deserves” the treat. In that confluence of desire and deserve, the tragedy is to substitute one with the other which brings about a feeling of entitlement than empowerment. Yet, the champions of those advertisements are only stoking people’s ego to buy their loyalty. It has been established that the narcissistic self-absorbed individual immerses himself in self-admiration and becomes unable to connect with anyone outside himself (Twenge and Campbell, 2009).
However, the content of Catholic religious education is about something other than oneself, it is about a person, Jesus Christ. It is about the divine revelation and human response to that invitation. It does not suffice in an individual but is about a holy dialogue of life between the Creator/Redeemer and his unique creature. The culture of “me, my, and mine” strongly negates and opposes the tenets of this faith.At this point, it is important to take a look at how the church has been carrying out the function of teaching the faith and morals in such atmosphere of narcissism.
d. Inadequacy of the local Church’s Evangelization/educational methods: Need to update.
The Church in South East of Nigeria flourished on the school apostolate of our missionaries and their successors. We have always seen the school as, not just a place for academic purposes but an institution for human formation. In the past, church buildings serve as schools too and many who went through the Catholic schools did so thanks to financial assistances of the Church. Given that the church places much emphasis on human development for common good, quite a few of these students who passed through the Catholic education system were reabsorbed to help others as teachers. These were in a bid to develop the human capital and set in motion, the process of independence, enlightenment and development. It is safe to say then, that, the Church’s method of religious and moral education can be located in institutions, in processes as well as in persons in the form of catechesis.
The Church has always seen catechesis as being at the core of her mission. This is the injunction to witness to the fact of the resurrection and its hopes for humanity, a message that should resound from one end of the earth to another (John Paul II, 1979). Our forebears in the faith put in place the Teacher’s Training Colleges to prepare teachers who many times double as catechists too. For this system, there were the demands of work, the duties of citizenship of the Church, and the obligation of every individual to utmost development of his potentials (Adler, 1984). This system enabled teachers not only to acquire skills, techniques and methods of transmission of values; they also helped in personal development. With the winding down of these colleges, the dichotomy between the teaching as mere profession and teaching as a ministry was introduced. The demands of work lessened, the castigation of the church as an underpaying task master with the popular “teachers’ reward are in heaven” eroded the obligation of ecclesiastical citizenship while cutting corners and corruption negates the need for self-actualization through development. Gradually teachers began seeing themselves as mere people who are in the profession as a means of livelihood. The consequence is that catechists in the true sense of the word were not only lost but never replaced. Taking cognizance of those who teach catechism in our parishes, we discover that it is difficult to accept that they themselves understood more than a few of what they are teaching not to mention those they teach.
The foregoing clears the way for rote memory of the content of faith with little or no effort at such an explanation that should lead to understanding. This is without prejudice to the fact that the knowledge of Jesus our Redeemer wells from the heart through faith. However we cannot say that someone can understand and believe if the person is not taught well since faith comes from hearing(Romans 10:17). The content of our moral teachings in our schools became not much different from anthologies or at best hard facts nobody needs to understand but one has to endure in order to be admitted into certain sacraments.
More still, the lack of systematic approach to our moral and religious education has significant negative impact on our education of the youth. The design of our religious/moral educational process seem to taper off after the sacraments of initiation. The other times we engage Catholics in catechesis seem to be few and far apart. The result is that we have people who may not have had any real religious formation all through their adult life. They have doctorate degrees in differentfields of life but a twelve year old knowledge of the faith. Yes, many will argue that the homily is also used for catechesis. Agreed, but the truth is neither is the structure nor the average time for homilies and the immediate spiritual and psychological needs/demands of the people permit a solid catechesis. We ended up having young people who had no really trained catechesis teacher graduating from the class with honours. It is no surprise then, how the wind of every doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) or happenstance shake the very foundations of Catholics’ faith and how all too often it is easier for a Catholic to be convinced to join a protestant Church than vice versa. This assertion does not play light on other factors making this movement happen.
Above all, there is the error of thinking that religious and moral education should only take place in the Church and its institutions (Adler, 1984). It is common knowledge and agreement that the family is the most effective institution for religious and moral education (Pope John Paul II, 1981). One usually hears the argument that because moral/religious education is being stifled in our schools, the society is experiencing moral haemorrhage. One is inclined to ask, if the school blocks off these important values, how about the family, community and the Church communities? Indeed, the time the youths spend in school is less than the time they spend out of school. To expect so much from the school as an agent of religious and moral education might have contributed immensely to the challenges experienced from educating the youths in moral values. The shortcomings of the school in the teaching of religious and moral education most times are based on the competing voices claiming authenticity as the source of genuine knowledge. In an apparent dominance without satisfying the needs of the people, there appears on the stage the cacophony of voices leading to the truce called mutual respect. Taken to its extreme, whatever is absolute or objective was rejected and the dictatorship of relativism was born.
e. The apparent rise in dictatorship of humanism above the Divine in world affairs
While truth has been much abused, its concept has become suspect. Truth should have a way of verification which surely should be accompanied by tolerance (Pope Benedict XVI, 2010). What becomes a problem then is the idea of negative tolerance viewed as freedom. Within such tolerance, a position like the Church’s faith is being attacked as a way of making people feel good. Nevertheless, without an objective truth, relativism takes over. One perceives a contradiction here since relativism admits of no opposition –dictatorship of relativism.
One outgrowth of the suppression of objectivity is the suppression also of divine signature replaced by humanism as agreed to, by the people. Morality becomes a subject to absolutism of humanism. It becomes what makes people feel good and not hurt their feelings. Such humanismhas an appeal so tempting especially to young minds that it is difficult to resist. This appeal is the liberal set of moral values. In such humanism, forgiveness is taken as being weak, trust becomes naiveté, truth becomes only a construct of convenience and guilt is seen as a discouraging instrument utilized as a weapon of control. Within such humanism is located,the exclusion of God and his Word to whom is attributed difficult demands like discipline and strict moral judgement. Attempt is therefore made to retire God to his abode even so, with little appreciation for his kindness in creating the universe as it is.
When God is seen as inhibition to human ultimate development as humanity has construed it, he becomes an unnecessary obstacle to self- conceived height yet to be attained. It becomes better for human beings to keep God aside and go with our common agreement as what should count as right and wrong. Being that the minimal pain and suffering is what humanity desires and most times aspires to, the subjective standard of feeling good neutralisesevery act as not good or bad but how one feels about it. Everyone’s disposition becomes the supreme arbiter of ethical rightness or wrongness of any action.
Such a situation as described makes the teaching of moral objectivity less attractive and scarcely embraced not to mention imbibed. When religion and faith matters have been presented to the young generation as an inhibition and unnecessary obstacle designed to be cumbersome to the ordinary individual, it loses its appeal to them. It is harder then to convince the youths on why they have to pay attention to matters of religion and morals. When religion is actually mentioned, it is from a multi-dimensional perspective which borders on anthropology and sociology than faith. This remarkably differs from the desire of the parents and of the Church (Congregation for Catholic Education). Nevertheless, there has to be a way out of this grim situation.
v. What can be done
a. Giving the youths a voice
Having outlined some obstacles to the religious and moral education of the youths, we shall attempt to suggest some possible solutions to the issues. These are in no way exhaustive but can get the debate started towards making a positive and significant change in the teaching of religious and moral education to the youths.
Giving the youths a voice can be seen in expression, consultation, participation, partnership, activism and leadership (Toshalis and Nakkula, 2012).
i. In expression, the youths have the opportunity and freedom to air their opinions and get attention of the stakeholders. This is important because the processing of information and social cum faith needs of today’s youth differs from those of yesterday. Thinking that what worked in the past is adequate for the present may be one mistake too many.
ii. Consultation: creating ownership of the content of our faith does not lie in consensus since the core of our faith come from divine revelation. The manner of presentation of the faith material, the appropriate place and time and the methods of evangelization may be more effective when the youths are reached out to for their input. One area that we can consult the youths is the Rote Memory method of learning Catechism in our Church. Could it be that aside the rote memory method, they would prefer discussion method in which they can watch a movie or read a book and as the discussion goes on, introduction of the contents of faith may be presented? This can come in the form of feedback, being part of a focus group or survey among others.
iii. Participation: when opinions are given, it is more important for the youths to be present and be part of the process that leads to the conclusion. This promises to reinforce the idea of inclusiveness not only of their opinions but also the trust of the adult world on the youths. Co-ownershipof the process can lead to conscientious implementation of faith-demands lived out in love, freedom and fulfilment.
iv. Partnership : this is collaborative and harmonious working with the youths by trained adults. Usually, the youths plan their events and activities in which the adult supervisors are invited. Those social or quasi spiritual gatherings could be more fertile ground for catechesis than in a formal setting.
v. Activism: here, we tap into the youthful adventurous spirit and activism. Youths can identify the problems they have with their faith life and proffer some solutions. They may apply pressure for change in a particular area of our faith and religious life. One area that such pressure has been cropping up is the idea of divorce and admission to sacraments of people who have remarried.
vi. Leadership: this is where the youths do not just have a voice but also the power to make a choice. The choice here is not about what to believe but how best to live out the content of their faith. When the youth see that their perspective is taken seriously, they tend to get involved and absorbed in the faith process more and welcome more teaching on that (Mitra, 2009).
Giving a voice to the youth cannot be allowed to become whatever pleases them. It has to be compassionand love in stating the objective truth. This does not, in any way, suggest reducing our faith to a consensus. The content of our faith is revealed, it cannot be the sum of the various agreement of the youths or what appeals to their convenience.
b. Living the truth in love
It is common to hear people say that the truth is bitter and therefore they assume the freedom to abuse and hurt people in the name of saying the truth. The youth naturally seek independence and freedom. Perception of the fact that they are wrong all the time and need correction is usually received as an indirect means of trying to control them. The response to this perception is opposition which is not a “can’t do but won’t do” problem; an attitude instead of an aptitude problem.
In catechizing, the Catholic Church, especially, after the Vatican Council II, has emphasized proposition instead of imposition. To propose the faith in a way that does not appear as indirect control or coercion, can be welcome to the youth. This can better be achieved in a mentorship program.
b. Mentorship Program
Noting that the Church has a culture which has been influenced by different customs over the years, it is only reasonable that care is taken to initiate the youth over time into this heritage. The teaching of religious and moral education in our schools today takes the form of unfolding a mystery that the listener “does not know” which sometimes translates as “cannot know”. In this program, effort should be made to give precedence to dialogue and attentive listening to the concerns and confusions of the youth (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2002). Attentive listening promotes an environment of acceptance and value.
However, care should be taken to ensure that the mentorship program does not become a cage that stifles their creativity. It should rather help the youths discover how their individual goals fit into the faith structure of the church. Effective mentorship takes time to come on stream, leads to collaboration and matures into a partnership. One can say then, in faith mentoring, effort is made to present the faith and morals as relevant in the daily life of the youths.
c. Making Faith Relevant
We have noted that many factors seek the attention of the youths today and sometimes crowding out the voice of religion and God. However, it is true to note that many youths who were born Catholics and havenot been practising or being not really deep in their faith are questioning the relevance of religion in their daily lives. Some have come to see religion as limiting their possibilities in life and rather would let their feelings and emotions form the base for their decisions and judgement. Many of these youths were given wrong impressions about the Church while others formed opinions, albeit wrongly, of their own about religion and morals. They feel that science is doing a great job demystifying religion and what it stands for, it has become irrelevant to their daily lives. Being hero worshippers, the youths tend to identify with the “triumphant” science as they currently perceive it.
In answer to this phenomenon, attempts have been made to remake religion to pander to youthful appeals. One often hears people argue that spontaneity and usage of everyday language, in addition to pop gospel, appeals to the youths. Others have responded to this issue by having a separate mass and Sunday Catechetical instructions for the youths, opining that age-related reasons informed their decision. It can be said that making religion conform to people’s life is to subject it under the whims of the people. It is the shortest way to devalue religion and set it up for rejection by people who genuinely seek something to depend on for proper guidance. The result of some of these interventions has not stemmed the haemorrhage of the youth’s religious fervour. To some, these methods cheapen religion and betraytheobjective contents of genuine faith. To others, it is moving the faith forward but for critical minds, the contrast between our society’s religiosity and rascality calls for deeper reflection.
Such reflection has to begin with finding out what the youths actually need. One important factor is that young people generally search for what is certain and stable since their stage in life hardly knows any stability. They seek reassuring direction in their lives. Making faith relevant in the lives of our youths should therefore be an attempt to answer the many questions bogging their minds.
It is notable though that, “religion” does not seek to conform to our lives but to radically change it. It transforms than conforms to our life trajectory. God may not be trying to be relevant in our lives but to show us a relevant life. What it means to make faith/religion relevant in the lives of the youth is not just to weave the value of faith into their daily works but to make our Catholic institutions a place to encounter God (Wuerl, 2011). This encounter has been and can be done in the witness of the clergy through visibility and availability in our schools. Creating faith encounter programs which should have an interactive session is important. The witnessing of the instructors through extraordinary service, can serve as models and inspriarion.to the youths.
Educating the youths in religion and morals, which the Church in Eastern Nigeria has dedicated her mission to, has not been without challenges. Many of these challenges emanate from the rapid societal changes while others are systemic and cultural. There are obstacles to this mission which is placed by the civil powers either in misconception of the aim of the Church or in neutering perceivednegative vibes coming from the system. Above all, the conflicts and confusion of the young adults corresponding to their developmental stage has to be recognized as part of the challenge.
It needs be said though that care should be taken to avoid overgeneralizations that characterize analysis of youth interest in religion and faith because of their complex nature. It is better to keep true to the Church’s traditions and identities that havebeen effective over time (Smith & Denton, 2005). It has been observed that it is very important to engage the youths in a deeper way in matters of faith and morals. This meaningful engagement seems to be the single most influential factor in the religious lives of the youths. While some programs today seek to separate the youths from their parents in order to “speak their language”, studies have shown that it is more beneficial to get their parents committed first and then the youths would follow. Family ministry may actually be more effective than separate youth ministry.
Entertaining the youths does not mean teaching them. If the Church seeks to be more effective, she has to be confident in teaching the youths the faith and morals which can only happen when there is a good personal relationship with the youths. To get the desired results, a better job should be done in being articulate about the contents of faith and morals of the Church than is being done now. The inadequacy of knowledge about the faith creates lack of confidence in identifying with the Church leading to doubts and uncertainty-, a value whose contrast is most important to the youths. This is because, articulacy engenders reality.
We believe, though, that being challenges, they are not insurmountable but make the process more difficult. Much as it is easier to go with the flow and pander to every wish of the young ones, it is more noble and fruitful to guide them aright.Religion therefore should not be presented as an instrument that makes people better only. It has to deal withthe major issues of truth, divine love, discipleship, and purposeful life.
For the Church in Eastern Nigeria, the issue may not be the challenges we have in teaching faith and morals in our schools, it may be the opportunity we have to get it right. The youths are hungry. The young ones look to us for guidance and stability. It is our choice to seize the moment and make visible, the divine encounter their souls yearn for.
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