Whilst these thoughts have been prompted by the review that is currently underway regarding education in Northern Ireland and its potential impact on faith-based education, the situation South of the border is really not far behind with an apparently relentless attempt to drive religious education out of schools. An immediate reaction is to want to fight these moves as something that will undermine the passing on of our Faith but I think that before seeking to defend the status quo, we should perhaps ask ourselves how well that status quo is working and whether it is delivering real results.
Sadly, I think it is not delivering results as can be seen by the minimal levels of participation of young people in Mass and other church services. The poor attendance of children is well recognised – “we see them at First Communion but don’t see them again until Confirmation and then until their wedding or funeral” is a common refrain. Perhaps even more worrying is the similarly minimal level of participation among young adults, the people on whom we are likely to depend for the provision of faith education outside of schools.
This is no reflection on the teachers in our schools who work so hard to teach our religious values to our children but struggle against the fact that there is little or no interest in those values in the children’s homes and the children are assailed from all sides by things that are (or appear to be) far more interesting.
Overcoming this sheer lack of interest is a major challenge and should be a key element of our reflection during the Synodal Pathway. Teaching the Faith as just another school subject and perhaps trying to replace the current school-based approach with some sort of Sunday School framework is unlikely to give any better results than what we are currently getting. In order to thrive, our Faith has to be part and parcel of what we are, an integral part of the lives we lead. That, to me, is the real challenge we face – getting our young people to realise the value that our Catholic Faith can add to their lives. If we can achieve that then, we will see a genuine appetite for a better understanding of that Faith and that appetite is surely what drives education and understanding.