Only one in six students still go to church

By Jantine Brandemann & Melanie Hazenberg

Catholicism is by far the largest religion in Madrid. But although it is a big thing in Madrid, one-in four declares to be atheist nowadays. So, is it still relevant that a lot of Roman Catholic schools and universities can be found in Madrid? Because more and more people say they do not feel connected to Catholicism.

For a long time in Spanish history, Roman Catholic religion was strongly connected to the Spanish ideCrossntity and Catholicism was taught at all schools, both private and public. Under the name of religion, the Franco government used education to connect nationalism and religion to promote its fascist agenda.

Since the Spanish socialist prime-minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero took up his post in 2004, religious education in public schools started being cancelled and crucifixes were being removed, despite of protests of the Spanish church leaders. So the influence of the church in the Spanish educational system has been decreased. What is striking is that private schools do more with religion than public schools. More often, private schools have a religious background, and religious activities and lectures still takes place here. This happens fewer at public schools, where Catholicism is optionally being taught. At some schools pupils have the choice to choose between Jewish and Islamic religion.

Catholic Universities
Father Pedro Semiento is working as a theological and anthropological teacher at a couple of universities, educating nuns and priests. Besides that, as an extra job, he works in the student campus of San Pablo University, where he prepares the mass on Sundays. “The situation in Madrid has changed a lot comparing with thirty years ago,” Father Semiento says. “Nowadays, there are still a lot of Catholic schools and universities, but pupils and students do not need to be Catholic to go to these schools. Teachers only have to sign a form which says they have to accept and respect the Catholic character of the schools, but only the director, pastors and priests need to be Catholic. There are a lot of private schools where Catholicism is still really important. These private schools collaborate most of the time with local churches. These churches provide masses which can be attended by the students, but it is not mandatory. It is like the student campus where I work: around 300 students live here, but only 50 of them attend the mass every Sunday.”

“50 of 300 students attend the mass every Sunday”

Chapels and mass
“Some schools are more confessional than others. There are some schools with a chapel where students can pray and attend to mass. And a few universities have a priest or pastor who is around. But this is not being recognized as a need,” according to Father Pedro Semiento. Universidad CEU San Pablo has a chapel, but most students are not using it anymore. Pablo and Maria are two other journalism students at San Pablo University. “I am going to pray in the chapel every morning before my class starts, but I have the feeling I am the only one. The students do not really use the chapel anymore. But I like the fact that I have the possibility to pray and I hope the chapel will remain,” he says. Maria is not going to the chapel. “I don´t go, and I honestly didn´t know there were still people going to the chapel. This is just the school where I can do my studies, nothing more. Sometimes you see the Catholic standards of this school in class, but most of the time this is just a school, like anywhere else. The crucifixes on the walls, the Catholic newspaper and the chapel make you feel this is still a Catholic school.”

“Every day before class I pray in the chapel”

Not for Christians, but Christian
The new situation on Catholic universities also generates new challenges. The role of Catholicism in education makes Spain changing the objective of universities. The Catholic universities will become Christian, not for Christians. This means it is based on the person and the respect towards this person. So students need to respect the religion, but they do not necessary need to be believers.

“Catholicism will become a minority, but it will not disappear”

A minority, but it will keep existing
So, Catholic education is not the standard anymore, but it still exists. “I think the Catholic universities will definitely stay. Catholicism will become a minority, but it will not disappear, Father Pedro Semiento concludes. “I think that it will become harder to be Catholic, especially for students as they will not be stimulated any longer by their family and friends to go to church. The people who will still be Catholic within thirty years need to deal with the consequence of getting no social support regarding Catholicism. On the other hand, the students who are Catholic will be confessional. I am sure Catholic education still has a future.”