“I feel like I’m serving a purpose,” Sébastien Barges says with a laugh. This permanent deacon, a CM1 class teacher, is also a pastoral volunteer at the Saint-Joseph d’Aubière school-college (Puy-de-Dôme), providing catechesis in primary school, as well as awakening to faith and monitoring of catechumens, and pastoral care for the college. Last year, nine students prepared for their baptism as part of the school ministry of this Catholic educational establishment.
“One of my great spiritual joys is when I see the discovery of God blossom in a student,” confides Johanna Le Minoux, school pastoral assistant (APS) at the Catholic Normal School (ENC), a school of the 15th arrondissement of Paris. Before summarizing her job in an effective formula: “I am a matchmaker between children and God. My role is to provoke the meeting! »
It is a very particular profession that of school pastoral assistant, these educational executives of Catholic education, referents in pastoral matters in their school, by delegation given by the head of the establishment. The APS position does not exist everywhere. Almost non-existent at primary level, it is not systematic in secondary schools, which do not always have resources to allocate to it. Some schools only have one volunteer facilitator, who is not part of the management team. “Everything depends on the policy of the establishment, and its resources,” explains Édith Bonnefous, assistant to the diocesan director for pastoral care of the diocese of Tours (Indre-et-Loire). In any case, “the deployment of pastoral care depends on the responsibility of the head of the establishment,” explains Renathe Le Cornec, assistant to the diocesan director for the dioceses of Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) and Moulins (Allier). ). Some call pastoral assistants, who put together a team of animators. Other establishments are linked to parishes for catechesis. Everything is possible ! »
However, whether a salaried position is dedicated to it or not, the announcement of the Gospel to students of Catholic education is “an establishment project, not just the business of the facilitator”, and is not limited to not at a time slot during the week, insists Marie Bidet, head of the Sainte-Anne de Loireauxence college (Loire-Atlantique). To avoid this pitfall, she wants the pastoral facilitator to “be part of the establishment at all levels, without staying in a room all alone in her corner”. Among the 310 students in his establishment, very few come from practicing families.
“Many are not baptized, and we also have many children of other faiths and religions: Protestants, Orthodox, Muslims, Jews, etc.,” explains Marie Bidet. But what makes us a Catholic establishment is the way we welcome students and their families on a daily basis. »
“The specific character of Catholic teaching must permeate the entire posture of the establishment,” adds Renathe Le Cornec. It is expressed in the professional way of being of teachers and educators, in the way of teaching, of looking at young people…”
In addition to this “way of being”, the spiritual proposals are as varied as there are establishments, depending on the wishes of the teams, the requests of parents… In Aubière, in addition to times of celebration and charitable initiatives, pastoral care for college students takes the form of monthly lunchtime meetings.
“Those who attend the chaplaincy are not necessarily baptized, Muslims also come”, underlines Sébastien Barges, recounting exchanges which sometimes turn into “great unpacking” conducive to strong words on “suffering, death, equality women-men”, all “with a Christian perspective”. “It is an opportunity for an explicit announcement”, he assures.
At ENC, where 80% of students are baptized, and around 10% practicing, spiritual times punctuate schooling: presentation of the Bible in sixth grade, profession of faith in fifth grade, three-day retreat for all final year students, including the non-baptized, masses offered outside of school hours…
At the Sainte-Anne de Loireauxence college, Christian identity is visible through the presence of symbols, statues of Saint Anne, and crosses. “This identity is also displayed in our educational project, which is based on the Gospel and on Christ,” adds Marie Bidet. I said it during the registration meeting: the establishment is Catholic and will support it until the end. Catechesis is offered, and religious culture courses are given for everyone. »
Because Catholic education is open to all, as required by its statutes. However, “one of the risks is to weaken the message, to fear offering too much,” emphasizes Édith Bonnefous. Some are afraid of shocking the Muslims registered in their establishment, whereas the Muslim families who entrust their children to us are happy that they hear about God. However, it is not a question of proselytizing, but of announcing. »
“Last year, the head of the establishment completely forgot the pastoral slot in the timetable,” says a facilitator from an establishment in central France. However, when the establishment is clear with its “specific Catholic character”, it “can be open to all without fear, without dilution of its message, and without tension”, assures Renathe Le Cornec. She does not hesitate to question teachers about the reason for their presence in Catholic education. Because it happens that a certain reluctance to develop pastoral care comes from teachers themselves who, although they appreciate working in Catholic education, feel less concerned by its confessional aspect.
“Some people are reluctant when a time is trivialized for a celebration,” confides a facilitator. “Sometimes, through discussions with colleagues, I make them discover that in what they experience in the ordinary, there is the presence of God,” says Sébastien Barges. Some people take small steps. They tell me that, since this or that discussion, they sometimes pray, that they see the students differently, that they try not to trap this or that in their failure…”
For Renathe Le Cornec, it’s the same thing with families. “Most do not necessarily choose the establishment because it is Catholic, but for the attention paid to young people, for the welcome, the listening… It is up to us to take everyone where they are to help them grow. We also have to help them understand, through explicit discourse, that it is Christ who is at the origin of what is experienced in our establishments. »