It was a great honor to attend the World Congress on Catholic Education recently held in Rome. The gathering brought together educational leaders from Catholic K-12 and higher education from around the globe.

The program featured presentations from respected Catholic educators, including two American university presidents: Dr. John DiGioia of Georgetown University, and Father John Jenkins, CSC, of the University of Notre Dame. Professor Anthony Sabatino and I represented Loyola Marymount University. The ultimate highlight was an audience with Pope Francis on the final day, in which he responded to questions and shared his vision of Catholic education.

Pope Francis spent 30 minutes speaking to the World Congress, giving off-the-cuff responses to questions, and his presence inspired and electrified the delegates. The Holy Father shared that his vision of Catholic education is to introduce students to the fullness of truth. Our grounding is in the Incarnation of God becoming human, and thus Catholic educators teach attitudes and values that are fully human.

The pope expressed the concern that education has become too elitist and selective. In some cases, we select only the most intelligent and well prepared to attend our schools, and leave the others outside. No one, however, should be denied an education given the social pact that unites all of us. This can be conceptualized as an educational covenant whereby we use the power of education to improve humanity. Thus, we need to leave our places of comfort and go to the outskirts of society, to serve the poor and marginalized. Education needs to be more inclusive, not exclusive.

In discussing the greatest challenges in Catholic education today, the pope cited being closed to transcendence. Further, he said we as human beings build walls to protect ourselves. The greatest failure of education is to only educate within the walls: the walls of selective culture, the walls of a culture of security and the walls of a social class. We must be willing to take risks as educators and teach beyond the walls, being more merciful and inclusive.

The Holy Father stated, “An educator who does not know how to take risks has no business in education.” A certain healthy informality is needed in education, not rigidity. Closure begins with the roots of rigidity: “The doors are shut, but the people want in.”

The Holy Father said that there are three languages of Catholic education: the head, the heart and the hands. We must teach students to think clearly and to know information. We must teach them to love, have empathy and compassion and be merciful. We must teach them to put these into action with their works to help improve the world and help their fellow human beings.

The World Congress, titled “Education Today and Tomorrow: A Passion that is Renewed,” was called to mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis, and the 25th anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

The major themes from the World Congress emphasized the importance of Catholic education being rooted in the Gospel values of Jesus Christ. These were summarized in the closing session as follows: Catholic education is primarily an act of love — it is an issue of the heart that involves knowledge and relationships. Second, Catholic education is an ongoing dialogue: it is an open house, a project that has Christ at its center. Third, Catholic education is manifest in service, which is offered in the search for truth, beauty and what is right and good.

The World Congress on Catholic Education was a powerful testimony to the global impact that Catholic schools and universities are making. It was an awesome gathering of Catholic educational leaders who represent a worldwide commitment to education that is poised to help humanity and society. The overall impact of the World Congress will be felt in the months and years to come, but the immediate impact on the delegates was a tremendous affirmation of their work in Catholic education.

Shane P. Martin, Ph.D., is a dean and professor at Loyola Marymount University School of Education.