Catholic News Service photo
Pope Francis speaks as he leads his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 12. 
Catholic News Service photo
Pope Francis speaks as he leads his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 12. 
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said Catholic educators should engage in dialogue with increasingly multicultural societies in order to share the Gospel more widely.

The pope made his remarks Feb. 13, at a meeting with participants in a plenary session of the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Vatican body that oversees church-affiliated schools and colleges around the world.

Noting that "Catholic schools and universities are frequented by many non-Christian students and even nonbelievers," the pope said such institutions should offer all of their students, "with full respect for everyone's liberty and in ways appropriate to the educational context, the Christian proposal -- that is, Jesus Christ as the meaning of life, the cosmos and history."

"Catholic education is one of the church's most important challenges, committed to carrying out the new evangelization in a historical and cultural context in constant transformation," he said, likening the modern world to Jesus' mission field in the "Galilee of the gentiles: a crossroads of people of diverse races, cultures and religions."

In this context, Catholic educators must involve themselves in "discussion and dialogue, with a courageous and innovative fidelity that might lead to an encounter between Catholic identity and the diverse 'souls' of multicultural society."

Church-affiliated schools and colleges have a "responsibility to express a living presence of the Gospel in the fields of education, science and culture," he said.

Referring to the Areopagus in ancient Athens where St. Paul preached to the pagans, the pope said "Catholic academic institutions should not isolate themselves from the world, but should know how to enter courageously into the areopagi of today's cultures and engage in dialogue, conscious of the gift they have to offer everyone."

Pope Francis said Catholic teachers need spiritual grounding to communicate with young people in a fast-changing society.

"The young need high-quality teaching as well as values, not merely enunciated but witnessed. This coherence is an indispensable factor in the education of young people," he said.

"For this reason, the educator himself needs permanent formation," the pope said. "Investments must be made so that teachers and administrators might maintain both their professionalism and their faith and the strength of their spiritual motivations."