In the presence of the Holy Father
By Michael Lancaster
Superintendent of Schools,
Diocese of Madison
Last week I was privileged to attend the Pope's address to Catholic educators in Washington, D.C. The experience of hearing the Pope speak in person is the experience of a lifetime.
I was most honored, privileged, and blessed. I could not help but question, why, at this point in my life, God had chosen me to be in that room, to hear a message from Pope Benedict XVI delivered in person, speaking directly to us.
I remember hearing Pope John Paul II, both at a general audience in Rome, and at World Youth Day in Denver, many years ago. Then, the Pope's message to all young people, and all Catholics, was his resounding refrain echoing the words of Christ "Do not be afraid." Then, I was one among tens of thousands in the arena and yet, even then it was impossible to deny the palpable, real, permeating presence of the Spirit that came to us through the physical presence of the Pope, even in the midst of such a crowd.
Last week, I was not one of tens of thousands; I was one of a few hundred. How much more intense was his presence! It is an experience that is, in all respects, beyond words.
Although I was committed to taking notes during the papal address, it was difficult to focus on the words. So commanding is the presence of the Holy Father, and so rare the opportunity to be with him, in the same room, that I found myself not wanting to avert my eyes from him, even briefly to jot down some notes.
Pope sets an example for us
Pope Benedict connects with people through his humility, his mere humanity, and his gracious, gentle, and loving presence. He demonstrates how each of us is called to accept Christ into our own lives and to be Christ to others.
The Pope invites us to a personal relationship with Christ. When you encounter a person so filled with Christ, it awakens within you a deep desire to emulate Christ, to know Him, and to love Him.
The Pope sets an example for us. So too are we called to be filled with the presence of Christ, just as he is - to invite others to meet Christ and be transformed by him. Christ is our hope!
Spreading Christ's hope
We are privileged and blessed to work in Catholic schools, with principals and teachers and parent volunteers who help to spread Christ's hope each and every day. The Pope recognized this effort in his Address to Catholic Educators, thanking those who work in Catholic schools, colleges, and universities.
The Pope spoke further on the mission and importance of Catholic education, saying that, "Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News."
He added that, "First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth," thus clearly stating the mission of Catholic schools.
Affirming Catholic schools
Regarding the future of our schools, the Pope said, "Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation."
These words both affirm our mission and challenge us. The Pope's message has many implications for our schools and we look forward to working with our principals, teachers, students, and parents to answer the Pope's call. This message will play an important role as we move forward with our comprehensive schools planning process in the coming months.
As always, thank you for reading and as we face life's daily challenges, may we all continue to look to Christ, our hope!