‘Welcoming Each Other: Guidelines for Interfaith Education in the Schools of the Archdiocese of Melbourne’ is a document of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne which has the full support of Catholic Education Melbourne. It is a companion document to ‘Promoting interfaith relations’ and has been prepared with thorough consultation. These guidelines contain excellent reflections and considerations for those seeking to incorporate multifaith education in lessons.
These Guidelines, which provide advice and direction to schools regarding interfaith relations and education, have been prepared by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission in close consultation with Catholic Education Melbourne. They are addressed to both principals and teachers to support the work of learning and teaching in Catholic schools in a multi-faith, multicultural society. It is hoped that these Guidelines will influence the practices of schools in regards to interfaith considerations, provide a guide to the development of teachers’ skills in this area and provide useful suggestions and resources to assist school leaders and classroom teachers. (Note: the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission is the agency of the Archdiocese that deals with relations between Christian Churches and between different religions.)
1. Multi-faith, multicultural Australia
The rich diversity of a multi-faith and multicultural Australian society is encountered by all members of the community in both primary and secondary
schools through a variety of ways, including their everyday life, their families, their local communities and the media. These encounters can lead to questions such as ‘Why do they dress like that?’ … ‘Can you become a Buddhist?’ … ‘Are all religions the same?’ … ‘What about atheism?’ This diversity is true of Australia as a whole, but these Guidelines are focussed on the Archdiocese of Melbourne. They may be of interest more widely.
2. The role of the Catholic school
Catholic schools play a key role in the evangelising mission of the Church, connecting students to the life of the Church to provide pathways for Christian discipleship in and beyond school. We do this by actively promoting an authentic Catholic identity through an informed and animated Catholic culture.
3. Opportunities for inclusion
The study of different religious beliefs and practices and the encounter with people of different faiths can deepen students’ knowledge and appreciation of their own faith and religious tradition. In noting both the similarities and differences with other religions, students can be affirmed in the infinitely valuable nature of the Christian tradition and appreciate the right of other persons to all that is true and holy in their own faith. This clear appreciation of the differences and similarities protects the students from confusion.
Inclusiveness does not lead to relativism, which asserts that there is nothing that is absolutely true. Neither does it encourage indifferentism, which asserts that it doesn’t matter what religion you follow.
For the last fifty years, since the Second Vatican Council, the encounter with those of other faiths has been undertaken through a commitment by members of the Catholic community to participate in interreligious and intercultural dialogue. Dialogue is an invitation to understand and respect others and their faith and culture while growing in appreciation, understanding and commitment to one’s own faith tradition and its meaning. It is an invitation to deeper engagement with one’s own religious and faith tradition and to respect the tradition of other people.
People can dialogue in various ways. There is the dialogue of everyday life: people sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations, and developing individual friendships based on mutual trust; the dialogue of action: working together for the good of the earth and for all people; theological dialogue: where participants come to a deeper understanding of each other’s traditions; and the dialogue of religious experience: ‘where persons, grounded in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, ceremonies and places of worship’ (‘Promoting interfaith relations’ p. 3, which is available from the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission).
Ten-point summary of the Guidelines
1. Australia is a multicultural and multi-faith society.
2. Students in Catholic schools need to be prepared for life in a world that is diverse and complex.
3. In keeping with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Catholic schools ‘proclaim Christ “the way, the truth and life” (John 14:6)’, while at the same time they ‘recognize, preserve and promote’ all that is true and holy in other religions.
4. Students can deepen their sense of Catholic identity through their encounter with different faith traditions.
5. Principals and leaders in schools need to prepare teachers for interfaith education.
6. Principals and leaders in schools need to make interfaith education part of goal setting for the school.
7. The presence of students of other faith traditions has implications in a variety of situations in the school, including enrolment, relations with parents, and participation in the classroom and in liturgies.
8. There are four forms of interfaith dialogue that are relevant to the school: dialogue of life, dialogue of action, dialogue of theology, and dialogue of religious experience.
9. The Church has provided rich teaching in a variety of publications relevant to this subject; a selective list is provided.
10. Since the quality of internet sources on faith traditions varies and their use requires discernment, these Guidelines include a recommended selection.
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