ROME, February 25, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican prelate tasked with organizing the Global Education Pact to be signed at the Vatican on May 14 has explained the theological vision at the heart of Pope Francis’s “new humanism,” in which God withdraws in order to allow for the possibility of human freedom.
Speaking to LifeSite at a Global Education Pact workshop, hosted at the Vatican by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on February 6–7 (see full text below), Archbishop Vincenzo Zani, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, said: “[T]he pope, in the message with which he launched the initiative … makes reference to the need to launch a ‘new humanism.’”
Archbishop Zani explained this vision with reference to Michelangelo’s depiction of Creation in the Sistine Chapel, where Pope Francis will preside over an interreligious event to launch the Global Education Pact on May 13. “The finger of God encounters the finger of man but they do not touch[.] … [W]e see God who gives man strength, liberty and life but leaves him free. It is an encounter of freedom where there is a presence of God that does not crush man but frees him,” he said.
Archbishop Zani’s vision is in marked contrast to the traditional Catholic understanding of God’s omnipotence, which is the cause of and not an obstacle to human freedom. The idea that God’s actions exclude those of his creatures is characteristic of the eighteenth-century heresy of deism, which professes a finite “watchmaker” God who is not the author of reality but a powerful agent within the same reality as his “creatures.”
The concept of the supernatural, at the heart of the Christian revelation, is impossible to reconcile with deism. It is also notable in the interview that Archbishop Zani places his emphasis in regard to man’s alienation from God upon the sin of Cain and not that of Adam and Eve. The sin of Cain, being a social disruption, is easily understandable apart from the supernatural, while the sin of Adam (which preceded it and is more fundamental) is directly against God and against the gratuity of the supernatural life (i.e., grace) that God has offered to man.
In LifeSite’s interview with Archbishop Zani, we also discussed the Global Education Pact “manifesto” that will be signed at a globally televised event on May 14, its relation to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal on education, and the role the other monothestic religions play in the Global Education Pact initiative.
Archbishop Zani claimed that the Pact was initiated not by Pope Francis, but by the “other monotheistic religions.” The logistics of such a move are hard to imagine, as the most recent Jewish high priest, Phannias ben Samuel, died in A.D. 70 and the last caliph of Islam, Abdulmejid II, was deposed in 1924.
Here below is our interview with Archbishop Vincenzo Zani, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education.
LifeSite: Archbishop Zani, what is the role of the other two monotheistic religions at the May 14 Global Education Pact event? It has been said that this event comes at their request.
Archbishop Zani: Yes, the request came also from them. It was motivated by the fact that they want from the pope a word of ethical and moral authority. They recognize the pope’s authority in the world, which has relevance throughout the world, and so they want to discuss with the pope the theme of education. They believe that education is a very important tool, but you cannot educate in a neutral culture where there are no reference points. These figures came to visit the pope to say: we believe that when the pope speaks a word, this word is well founded and is relevant.
Where is this foundation? Why do they see this in the pope? Because they have a common root. All monotheistic religions have a common root, but other religions also make reference to it. We heard just a short time ago, for example, from this Hindu [at the PAS conference]. Also Buddhists also want to come, and so the heads of other religions are invited. But the request came from the other monotheistic religions because they said: here we have a reference point. And that is why the pope, in the message with which he launched the initiative, invites everyone, but he makes reference to the need to launch a “new humanism.”
With the heads of religions, there will be a special moment for them in the Sistine Chapel on May 13, with an artistic and cultural event that intends to reflect on Michelangelo’s depiction of Creation, in which we see the finger of God encounters the finger of man, but they do not touch. In this depiction of the Creation, we see God who gives man strength, liberty, and life but leaves him free. It is an encounter of freedom where there is a presence of God that does not crush man, but frees him. He launches him in his responsibility. Here we have two very important concepts. The Christian idea is that of Creation, and it is not only Christian. The idea belongs to the three monotheistic religions. Therefore, that is the very important root. The rest comes from it. It’s the centrality of the person. God creates but then withdraws. He leaves man, saying, “Go!”
Pardon me, but is this really the Christian idea of man’s creation? As Christians we do not believe in a God who leaves us alone. We believe in His supernatural action in the world.
Yes, but in the moment when God creates man, he gives him intelligence, heart, and the capacity for activity, and he tells him: “Go!” Then, at a certain point, he says: “Where is your brother?” Therefore, God does not withdraw. He is there, but he doesn’t want to replace man. And so, in the moment of Creation — this is particularly Christian because Christianity has its own specific vision — at a certain point, God sees man disoriented, and he sends his Son — the Incarnation. At this point, then, we find the specifically Christian dimension, where God himself becomes nothing in order to elevate humanity. This is the new humanism. This is the new humanism; that is, it is the humanism that gets back on its feet, resumes the journey of relationship to God, doesn’t cut off this relationship, but strengthens it, and especially — since man is made in the image and likeness of God — this impression of God in the soul of man has to be understood and developed.
God is not made in my image; I am made in the image of God. What is God? God is love. God is agape. God is relation: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — the Trinitarian dimension of God. This is the foundation of freedom and relationship and of giving one’s life for the other. If we want to go to the heart of education from a particularly Christian point of view, we have to go to the Trinitarian root.
Yes, but on the practical level, what is the role of the other monotheistic religions — or the Buddhists, for example — in the May event?
They are invited to participate, to listen, to say, and to hear that everyone in the world has an important task. It’s not that the pope, with the Global Education Pact, wants to absorb everything and himself become the point of reference. This isn’t the vision. It’s a matter of putting himself at the service of all of humanity in freedom. It’s clear that the first to welcome this message are Catholics, because there is revelation, there is truth that we need to understand better, that we need to develop. Christian education has extraordinary potential that we don’t always develop. Christian education needs to be rethought. In this case, it is offered as a vision.
Then, of course, one cannot impose. At this point, everyone can find his own space within this experience that is beginning. In this sense, we also need to realize that in the world we have 218,000 Catholic schools that are attended by over six million students, 35 percent of whom are not Christian, not Catholics, but attend because they appreciate Christian education. And so, we have a very great responsibility.
And so this is how we conceive of the Educational Pact, but we need to agree because we have a global problem: the care of creation, of the future of the world. Therefore, education is an important tool for responding to the many challenges that we have today. In that sense, the pope will invite the representatives of religions and other bodies to sign a manifesto with the fundamental principles of education for the future.
Who is responsible for drafting the Global Education Pact manifesto?
A group of experts has been working on it for over a year. It has already been well prepared.
Can you say who is part of this group?
No. They are experts from various disciplines, of various sensibilities, of various points of view because education is not only a matter of pedagogy in the strict sense. We have to have a vision. There are anthropologists, scientists, those for the theme of peace. So the group is already quite varied.
Does the group comprise representatives from different religions?
Does UNESCO have an important role to play in drafting the manifesto? Are they part of this group?
No, because the Holy See is a permanent observer to UNESCO and works with UNESCO. But in this sense, the pope didn’t want to oblige them. It’s more the civil society. Organizations including the United Nations and UNESCO are invited in May. But they are only invited; they are not involved with this type of work. Rather, the pope wants to work with the world of culture, science, art, sport, and religions. It’s the civil society, coordinated, that offers this possibility for collaboration, but the collaboration will come after. That is, we know what UNESCO and the United Nations want because we are always working together. We don’t want to impose or condition; we need to help open a new path of collaboration.
In your presentation here at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences workshop, you said the Via della Conciliazione will be transformed for several days into an education village. What can you tell us about the concluding event to be held in St. Peter’s Square on May 14?
It won’t be held in the Square. It will be held in the Paul VI Hall, because it is more respectful of the various sensibilities; it’s more neutral. It will be held there, but it will be transmitted across the world. One can connect, and there will be a moment when everyone will be able to demonstrate the major problems today …
Such as, for example, the major tensions, the climate, violence, marginalization, poverty — all that assails humanity today, in order to say: what can education do? Then, the young people who are present will pose questions to the great ones of the earth, and then the representatives of the various categories, Nobel Peace Prize winners, etc. will be invited to sign the manifesto. This will be the concluding symbolic moment of the event on May 14.
But at the same time, as you said in your presentation here at the PAS workshop, it will be just the beginning.
Yes, on the four themes that I mentioned in my presentation [rights, ecology, peace, and solidarity]. But the ministers of education from all over the world will participate the day after, on May 15, and have an opportunity to say: yesterday the manifesto was signed, and now what do we do? This is their task, not ours. But we will invite them, and the ministers of education who accept our invitation will meet at the Lateran University on the morning of May 15.
You mentioned that the education village to be built in May on the Via della Conciliazione will last several days.
Yes, it will last one week, and we will showcase experience, debate, meetings with young people, students, families, and make it open to all who wish to visit from 10:00 A.M. until 7:00 P.M.
What is the relationship between this initiative and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), specifically the SDG goal on education?
There are three or four major events this year. One of them is the Economy of Francis in Assisi. We haven’t spoken much about this because it’s another thing, but we will ask that the conclusions at Assisi be incorporated into the village.
Will the conclusions from the Economy of Francis event also be incorporated into the manifesto?
Something will be included in the manifesto, but we need to keep things distinct; otherwise, we will create confusion. Immediately after the Economy of Francis, there will be other events promoted in order to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’. After us, the Dicastery for Integral Human Development will do something on Laudato Si’. This is the third thing. The fourth is the COP, which will be in December, and so there is considerable preparation for that.
They are four distinct things. Education is of interest in all of these, it’s clear. But we also need to leave things somewhat distinct. Afterward, we will see about how to map out these four great themes [I spoke about in my presentation]: rights, ecology, peace, and solidarity. It’s a task that needs to be directed for the future.
What exactly is the role of the Pontifical Foundation Scholas Occurrentes in the Global Education Pact?
Yes, yes. It’s mixed in. They are working together with us.
But what do they do?
They have an important instrument, which is the digital platform, and they are in contact with a great many schools, children of the world, that are already working and mobilizing themselves for this event. Many of them are on the periphery and will follow the whole event from several major cities. Also universities will connect to the event in May, especially the final event in the Paul VI Hall. Using Mondovisione [transcontinental satellite transmission]. There are already universities connecting in order to carry out local initiatives.
Who is paying for the Global Education Pact event? Is the Vatican paying?
We are looking for foundations who will give us a hand to organize it. Yes, yes. The Vatican hardly has anything. We are looking for outside help.
Here at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences workshop on the Global Education Pact, we heard Havard economist David Bloom speak about population growth as a problem. He also spoke positively about the “causal link” between education and population reduction. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals promote reproductive rights, which in U.N. language signifies contraception and abortion. And according to UNESCO, the 2030 SDG for education seeks to promote “LGBT” rights. The Church cannot abandon Christ in order to befriend the world. How does the Church navigate agreements like the Global Education Pact?
On the website for the Congregation for Catholic Education, one can find a document on gender issued last year. We have a very clear view. We don’t impose it, but it is certainly very clear. Our education is based on these principles. When you educate, you encounter problems, and you have to face these problems. So you listen, you understand the problem and the suffering, but I can’t eliminate my vision, the vision of the human person, of human freedom, of rights, of the family. This is precisely one of the points the pope emphasizes. He has brought up the role of the family and the school, the family and society, and we need to recover this dimension. So we enter into a discussion about what the family is, the Christian vision of the family and the human person.
Is the Church ready to say and teach this to the world?
Right now, we are talking about the Global Education Pact, which is not the universal “Big Bang.” It’s a special moment when the Church: after a very clear reflection, we will launch a commitment to education. It’s obvious that, on all four of these themes that we mentioned before, the vision has to be translated into something concrete. What do human dignity and rights mean? And this is already one point we need to think over in terms of our vision and the vision of others. Ecology, but not an abstract ecology — an integral ecology that takes into consideration the whole person. Peace, the discussion on peace, the differences, being citizens in a world of tension. What are the elements that will help us to be citizens of this world but ones who also propose and don’t just undergo? Solidarity is the fourth aspect. There’s also service and availability, but also here we have very clear ideas.
Will there be anything in the manifesto about the mother’s and father’s rights — i.e. the primary right of the parents to educate their children?
It would seem to me yes, because it is fundamental and because it is natural. It is natural, and the Church sees this. It is very important.