The state of North Rhine-Westphalia offers religious education in seven confessions at its schools. In an interview, Archbishop Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki of Cologne emphasizes the importance of religious education for interreligious dialogue.
Bildungsportal NRW: What do you see as important contents and goals in modern Catholic religious education??
Cardinal Woelki: The most important thing that religious education can provide is a value-based orientation in the midst of the breathtaking fast pace and confusion in which children and young people are growing up today. School must provide comprehensive and multidimensional human formation, and in this, religious education holds open the crucial place that makes it clear that man is more than the sum of his economic and pragmatic possibilities. Because no matter what he does, knows or represents: Every person is unconditionally loved by God. The challenge is to spell out this fundamental message of Christianity anew under the conditions of the present and thus to show young people perspectives for a successful life. Orientation is always concrete. Therefore, in Catholic religious education, the transfer of knowledge about our faith is of course at the forefront, but at the same time also the development of a religious ability to dialogue and judge in an increasingly religiously and ideologically heterogeneous world. However, in order to be at home in a concrete faith and at the same time to be able to make decisions and provide information, students must also be able to experience forms of lived faith, even if this can certainly only be achieved to a limited extent in a regular subject. This task goes far beyond the school. For the mothers and fathers of the Basic Law, at any rate, religious orientation and a critical examination of religious questions in school seemed to be so important that they only gave religious education priority. This is a high demand, which this subject must constantly face up to, even under the conditions and challenges of a strongly secularized society – for the sake of a holistic education of children and young people.
Bildungsportal NRW: As Archbishop of Cologne, what do you consider to be particularly important contents that you want to represent and that should then also be a topic in our schools??
Cardinal Woelki: It is above all the diaconal aspects of our faith, i.e. the concrete action based on the conviction that God always turns to us first. From this experience of being lovingly accepted comes the impulse to reach out and accept others, to become part of this community-building movement. Because our faith is not an empty doctrine, but it creates community, it encourages responsibility, it urges action. We live more and more in the one world, which is borderless and interconnected. Exchange, the ability to engage in dialogue, and an unprejudiced approach to one another are crucial. This dynamic is constitutive of the Christian faith. All the major topics such as religious freedom, commitment to justice, peace and solidarity in a global context as well as in a local context first need to be practiced in a concrete way. Currently, this can and must prove itself in our country, especially with regard to the refugee ie.
Bildungsportal NRW: North Rhine-Westphalia was the first federal state to introduce Islamic religious instruction. What do you think about this offer??
Cardinal Woelki: It is absolutely to be welcomed that all children and young people receive religious education in their denomination and religion in the sense of the aforementioned imparting of knowledge and being at home. In its legal constitution and with its educational-theoretical target perspectives, this instruction must meet the same demands as our denominational religious instruction, i.e., it must, for example, naturally be based on the catchment area.
Education Portal NRW: The Basic Law and also the state constitution define the right to confession-oriented religious instruction. In view of violent Salafists and many Germans who do not want to accept Islam as part of Western culture, it seems important for religions to learn from each other and to engage in dialogue with each other. How could religious education promote such a dialogue??
Cardinal Woelki: An important goal of today's religious education of all denominations and religions must be that it not only introduces students to their own faith, but also qualifies them for a differentiated ability to engage in dialogue and to make judgments. This is a central basis and prerequisite for a peaceful coexistence of religions and cultures as well as for a true interreligious dialogue. This can be practiced in a special way at school, under the guidance of experienced educators. But as important as this is, it must not be limited to religious education, also in order not to overload it with expectations. This must be addressed in all subjects and also play a prominent role in school life as a whole. For school is in a certain way always a reflection of society.
Education portal NRW: In Lower Saxony and Baden-Wurttemberg there is a dispute about the topic "sexual diversity" in the classroom. Parents resist sex education. How do you evaluate these debates?
Cardinal Woelki: The teaching of sex education is an important school task from the primary level onwards. In trusting cooperation with parents, teachers should teach essential content at an age-appropriate level in each case. In this context, it is important to me that sex education focus on the whole person and not reduce it to a single human dimension. As a church, we have important things to offer here that contribute to a successful life. Our school department has z.B. has published a working aid for sex education in elementary schools, which is based on this holistic view of man and the precious multidimensionality of man.
Bildungsportal NRW: Is there a specifically Catholic education? If so?
Cardinal Woelki: I can't imagine anything meaningful about a "specifically Catholic education" as a kind of special form of education. Very much, however, there is a Catholic-motivated and grounded education. This means an education based on a Catholic spirit, attitude and basic approach. This includes, for example, the image of man that sees man as a beloved creature of God, free and responsible for himself, his fellow man, his fellow creatures and the world. An important goal of Catholic education is the unconditional respect for the dignity of the human being loved by God – especially the defenceless human being – which then also manifests itself in the concrete educational and upbringing work at school. According to Catholic understanding, it is first the duty and also the right of parents to educate their children. Applied to the school setting, this means that we see the work of parents as well as teachers as an educational community with different responsibilities.
The interview was conducted by Dr. Sabine Braun-Bau. our site publishes parts of the interview with the kind permission of the Education Portal of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (Ministry for School and Further Education of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia).