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 CNS Story:

VATICANII-YOUTHS Oct-12-2005 (860 words) With photo. xxxn

Today, educators challenged to teach about pre-Vatican II church

By Agostino Bono
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Forty years after the Second Vatican Council, teachers face the challenge of conveying to most students the dramatic changes that Vatican II made on church life and teachings.

"Ask seminarians what Vatican II is and some answer: 'It's the pope's summer residence,'" joked Sulpician Father Melvin Blanchette, faculty adviser at Theological College, the national seminary affiliated with The Catholic University of America, Washington.

The challenge also exists in Catholic high schools and parish catechetical programs. So how do teachers convey the dramatic impact of the council?

"Use bridge people born before Vatican II," advised Michael Pennock, who taught religion courses in Catholic high schools for 36 years and has written 30 religion textbooks.

Pennock said teachers should get students to interview their grandparents and read novels and see movies about church life in the first half of the 20th century. These movies, videos and novels convey the church atmosphere at the time, its teachings and how moral dilemmas were framed, Pennock said.

Students should contrast these with what is going on today, he added.

Father Blanchette, 65, said he regards himself as a bridge person and said that he and other older priests talk to seminarians about the church prior to the council, comparing it to the church of today.

Educators involved in teaching Catholicism to post-Vatican II generations told Catholic News Service that in the decades since the council, its teachings have become embedded in church doctrine with the result that students may know the teachings but may not be aware that they sprang from the council.

Regarding liturgical changes, "I don't think there is a great deal of attention to the 'before' and 'after,'" said Notre Dame Sister Mary Frances Taymans, executive director of the secondary schools department of the National Catholic Educational Association.

"The emphasis is on the richness that is experienced now," she said.

Similarly, high school students today study world religions and have a better understanding of Protestant churches, but students may not know that these courses are a direct result of Vatican II, said Sister Taymans.

Vatican II took place from 1962 to 1965. A 15-year-old walking into a high school religion class or attending his parish religious education course today would have been born 25 years after the council ended.

This student never experienced the preconciliar world of Mass in Latin with the priest's back to the people or the lack of widespread lay participation in the administration of parish life. The student lives in a world where dialogue rather than suspicion marks relations with other religions.

Pennock, 60, said that until his retirement last year as a teacher at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, he was a bridge person for his students; he was in his late teens during the council.

"As youths, my generation had a more triumphalistic view of non-Catholic religions," he said, noting that Vatican II made clear that "God's saving grace extends to all."

One result is that young Catholics today "know that our faith is not the only faith."

Besides movies and novels, Pennock suggested looking at videos of the 1950s television preachings of then-Auxiliary Bishop Fulton J. Sheen of New York.

Bishop Sheen was considered "the spokesman for the Catholic Church," he said of the prelate's popular TV broadcasts.

For many Catholic educators, putting church doctrine in historical context is an important part of teaching.

"You can't tell the Catholic Church's story without a sense of history and giving historical background," said Pennock. "You can't teach in a vacuum."

Educators said high school courses and approaches vary because individual dioceses and Catholic school systems are responsible for their own content.

Sister Taymans said that, in general, the events of Vatican II would be taught as part of a semester course in church history, and thematic elements from the council documents would be taught in other courses.

Several educators said that a major teaching aid has been the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," approved by Pope John Paul II and published in English in 1994 and revised in 1997. The catechism incorporates Vatican II teachings and is filled with quotes from the council's 16 documents to back up explanations.

It is often used as a religion textbook, said several educators.

In seminaries, future priests get a much more complete theological and spiritual formation than high school teens moving on to secular professions.

Seminaries have a detailed church history curriculum that includes the importance of Vatican II, said Msgr. Jeremiah McCarthy, director of accreditation and institutional evaluation for the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. About 50 Catholic seminaries are among the Catholic, Protestant, evangelical and Orthodox theological schools that belong to the association.

"Many seminaries have specific courses on the documents and the theological traditions that led up to them," Msgr. McCarthy said. Those classes help seminarians learn about theological experts at the council who helped shape the documents, he said.

As an example, Msgr. McCarthy cited the writings of the late Father John Courtney Murray, a U.S. Jesuit who was the principal writer of the Declaration on Religious Freedom.

END


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