By Elizabeth O’Brien

SYDNEY, Australia, August 8, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Australian bishops have issued a pastoral letter calling for a renewal of vigorous commitment to John Paul II’s call for a "new evangelization" in every aspect of the Catholic school system.

Earlier this year, Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell requested that all school principals, deputy principals and religious education co-ordinators within the diocese pledge fidelity to Catholic Church teachings. In response to the increasing secularization of the school system, teachers would be bound to adhere to church teaching on controversial areas such as contraception, same-sex "marriage" and women’s ordination.

Pell withdrew these plans, the Sydney Morning Herald reports, and is now the head signatory of a pastoral letter by the Bishops of NSW and ACT. Signed on August 8, this document challenges students, teachers and families to become living witnesses and active promoters of the faith within Catholic schools. It challenges Catholics to "make the most of what Pope John Paul II called ‘the sense of adventure’ involved in renewing Catholic education."

In the letter, the Australian bishops stated that Catholic schools are "at a crossroads," and charge "Catholic educational leaders, staff and parents, as well as the broader Catholic community" to join the bishops of Australia "in recommitting to Catholic schooling in the new situation of the 21st century."

Calling the Australian Catholic school system "a jewel in the crown" of the Catholic community, the bishops stated their concern that the number of Catholic students within the Catholic school system is decreasing, while non-Catholic student enrollment has risen from 9% to 20% in the past twenty years. The system is losing poorer Catholic children to state schools, while wealthier Catholic students increasingly attend non-Catholic private schools. Thus, the bishops exhort schools to give preference to Catholic children in order to maintain a "critical mass" of Catholic students.

In addition, the bishops have provided a list of practical ways in which schools can remain truly Catholic institutions. First, it is essential that "leaders and staff understand, and are solidly committed to, the Catholic identity of the school. Schools must also be "Eucharistic communities within the parish context where, as far as possible, students regularly take part in Mass and Reconciliation."

They should "continue to be places of prayer, including prayer at assemblies, in classes and in other staff and student meetings, and places where practices are encouraged such as Scripture reflections, the Angelus, Eucharistic adoration and prayerful silences." Truly Catholic schools are also "places cultivating a Catholic imagination, where prayer and liturgy are supported by a Catholic visual culture, including crucifixes and pictures of Our Lady and the saints."

Referring to the late Pope John Paul II’s call for a "new evangelization", the bishops charge Catholic schools to become centers of evangelization through programs, activities, retreats, and participation in major Catholic events such as World Youth Day. In this way, "young people are given a sense of belonging to a wider Church beyond their family and school."

In order to foster lasting faith, however, evangelization must be followed up with solid catechesis and religious instruction. This includes information and encouragement for potential religious and priestly vocations.

A good indicator of a school’s solid commitment to the faith is that "all Principals, Assistant Principals and RECs are practising Catholics who understand and profess the Catholic faith, model it in their own lives, and can teach it effectively." Similarly, a newly-appointed staff should be "reminded of the Catholic identity and mission of the school and of the expectation that they will commit themselves to that mission." 

The letter concludes, "Evangelizing, forming and otherwise educating our next generation is not the task of our schools alone: it requires a common effort from all our families, parishes and agencies. Nevertheless we look to those involved in our schools to ensure that their very significant resources achieve, as far as possible, what the Catholic community rightly expects: young men and women of character and faith whose individual gifts are nurtured to their highest potential so that they can contribute effectively to Church, society and culture."

Read the pastoral letter of the bishops of NSW and ACT: http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2007/jun/07060406.html”>http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2007/jun/07060406.html

Catholic Youth Face Dangerous Religious Confusion, Warns Australian Cardinal Pell
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2004/mar/04030303.html”>http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2004/mar/04030303.html