By Barbara J. Fraser
QUITO, Ecuador — Fernando Serrano was one of 150 teachers placing numbered stickers on 5,000 chairs arrayed on the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador’s soccer field July 5.
“It’s a blessing from God that the pope is coming to speak here,” said Serrano, 50, who teaches foreign languages in elementary school. “We hope for a message of peace, that we must work to educate for peace.”
When Pope Francis meets July 7 with teachers from Catholic, public and other private schools, he will be speaking as one educator to others, said Romulo Lopez, executive secretary of the Ecuadorean bishops’ education commission and president of the Confederation of Catholic Educational Establishments.
The pope will be speaking not just to Ecuadorean educators, but to “all Catholic educators around the world,” Lopez said.
The pope’s speech in Ecuador will be especially timely, however, as government educational reforms have limited the teaching of religion in schools. Only recently was an agreement reached to allow Catholic schools to add religion classes to the official government curriculum, Lopez said.
“The pope’s presence will help us strengthen our work and open up possibilities for dialogue with the government,” he said.
He and the teacher volunteers were not the only people looking forward to Pope Francis’ visit to the university.
Ten-year-old Nathalie Tomala Calderon, who will present the pope with a rose and a statue of St. Miguel Febres Cordero — an Ecuadorean member of the Brothers of the Christian Schools canonized by St. John Paul II — was alternating between excitement and nervousness.
“This doesn’t happen every day,” the girl said, as her mother noted that even the rehearsal had given her the shakes.
In a nearby building, out of the sun, Dominican and Salesian sisters were fashioning huge arches of flowers and foliage. They expected to spend two days attaching 4,000 roses, along with carnations and baby’s breath, to the frames.
“Catholic education goes beyond spiritual formation,” Dominican Sister Mariana Garcia said as she tucked leaves into a foam base. “The pope motivates us to have a social commitment to the poor.”
She will be among the teachers listening to the pope’s words in the stadium, in which will hang two huge banners bearing quotations from Pope Francis: “Do not be afraid to dream of great things,” and “Educating is an act of love; it is like giving life.”
The participants will then face the “serious mission” of communicating the pontiff’s message to others, Lopez said.
“The Holy Father comes with great wisdom and charisma. He knows how to speak to everyone, and we have to learn that simplicity, that wisdom, and transmit it to our students and the people with whom we work,” said Anita Caicedo, who works at a Salesian school on the outskirts of Quito.
“Subjects like philosophy and science you can learn by studying, but it is what you carry in your heart that you live out every day,” she said. “Speaking from the heart, he will try to help us reach others. We need that, if there is to be peace in the world.”