Pope Francis presents UNESCO with religious leaders’ message to the world’s teachers

His Holiness Pope Francis called for educational renewal to advance universal fraternity and expressed gratitude to the world’s teachers for their dedication, during an inter-religious dialogue at the Vatican on 5 October marking World Teachers’ Day.

During the event, Pope Francis handed over to UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini a statement of greetings to teachers and educators from representatives of religions in which they express “hope that each nation will give due value and recognition to your service, in the knowledge that the future of humanity depends on the quality of teachers and education.” To achieve “open and inclusive education,” the representatives share their commitment to “putting the human person at the center of every educational process, listening to and respecting students and teaching lifestyles that are more respectful of the environment.”

The message reflected the tone of the meeting, during which representatives from various religions described education’s seminal role in fostering universal values of care, tolerance, respect and solidarity. Across traditions, they advocated for a humanistic and holistic approach to education.

The meeting, the first of its kind, was organized to take forward a global compact on education launched by the Pope in 2019 as a broad alliance of all those engaged in education to shape the future of our planet. “All change requires an educational process aimed at developing new solidarity and a more welcoming society,” said Pope Francis. “We want to be a stimulus for renewed education activity that can advance universal fraternity. Today we want to state that our religious traditions reaffirm the mission of integrally educating each individual - head, heart, hands and soul.”

Pope Francis emphasized the responsibility of religions in promoting peaceful coexistence, dialogue and mutual respect. “If in the past, in the name of religion, discrimination was practiced against minorities, today we want to be defenders of the identity and dignity of every individual and teach young people to accept everyone without discrimination. If in the past, the rights of women, children and the most vulnerable were not always respected, today we are committed to defend those rights and teach young people to be a voice for the voiceless. Education impels us to reject and denounce he violation of the moral and physical integrity of every individual,” he continued.

Affirming that “nature never forgives,” the Holy Father insisted on ecological responsibility. “If in the past we accepted the plundering of our common home, today we must train ourselves and future generations in more ecologically sustainable lifestyle.”

Ms Giannini recalled that young people made a strong call for common responsibility at the Pre-COP Youth4Climate summit on 29 September in Milan. Concluding he event, she said that the statements by religious leaders resonated with UNESCO’s humanistic vision of education, stressing that teachers are at the heart of change. “Without empowered and well-prepared teachers we cannot do anything. As the COVID-19 pandemic has proven, no screen and no device can ever replace a teacher. The human factor is at the heart of learning and its success.”

The meeting gathered representatives from Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Jainism, as well as the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Quakers, the World Council of Churches, the World Evangelical Alliance.