University pastoral work for a new humanism in Europe

From 27th to 30th January 2011, 60 delegates of 23 European Bishops’ Conferences and representatives of university associations and movements have met in Munich for CCEE meeting on pastoral work, titled Formation, Education and the Gospel. Perspectives of university pastoral work in Europe.
Published: 2. 2. 2011 21:30

Munich (DE): The meeting was also attended by delegates of the Holy See, representatives of the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

Organised by the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), under the auspices of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, the meeting was also sponsored by the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK).
In his introductory remarks, Cardinal Marx stressed the importance of pastoral work in universities, whose role is to encourage a new humanism, as reinforced by the Holy Father in Caritas in veritate. To this end, the Church should have a global vision of science, promoting a thorough pedagogical formation based on trust, helping people cope with the plurality marking the future of our cities and going back to the original task of universities: growth of mankind, spiritual development and interest in common good. To achieve this goal, scientific and academic liberty should focus on values that only the Church can provide.

H.E. Mons Marek Jędraszewski, responsible for the "University" Division of CCEE Commission, officially kicked off the meeting, laying stress on the need to have university pastoral work focus on broadening the scope of reason in order to attain realism, objective truth and common good.

The meeting expanded on three issues: university students today, the experience of faith in universities and dialogue between faith, science and culture.

At the beginning of the works, the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, President of CCEE Commission "Catechesis, Schools and Universities", presented the vision on education of the Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. The Idea of University promoted by Newman (first dean of the Catholic University of Dublin) is concerned with the fragmentation of thought and university education. Newman maintained that education had to include all disciplines. All modern sciences and professions should find room in universities. What was missing then – and is still missing today – is "integration". For Newman, the common search for truth should be common to all disciplines. These concerns were recently shared by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who pointed out the crisis of truth and alienation that the university is going through, owing to our modern technology society exploiting man.

Tino Bargel from Konstanz University (Germany) described students as efficiency-oriented placing more and more value on individuality, losing sight of fundamental values. According to him, today it’s much harder to involve students in common actions, they seem to be alien to all ideals. Even social participation and solidarity are being lost, along with political interest and public commitment. On the other hand, however, respect and esteem for parents, siblings and friends is growing, owing to the fact that most students don’t have a clue about what future the society might have and don’t know in what to commit. Participants from all over Europe have stressed the fact that young people experience permanent mobility and connectivity. Finally, when faced with the future, the students of this generation, more than others, are confused and looking for certainties.

The issue of faith in universities was addressed by Prof. Sergio Lanza, church assistant at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. For Mons. Lanza, the presence of faith in universities is legitimate since true Catholic faith generates culture. Universities should encourage evangelisation "because after centuries of tragic separation between faith and culture, Christian communities have the chance to play a prophetic role". There is no such a thing as neutrality: we have come to end of the positivistic age of reason, whereby anything could be explained. Knowledge should aim at an anthropological synthesis to find a new meaning and set the stage for a new humanism. The words of the Chancellor of the Polytechnic University of Munich, who has worked for years with students, have made even clearer how this "pastoral work of intelligence" should be the pathway to follow.

The relationship between faith and reason should be explored in universities, especially if the latter aim to be considered as institutions disseminating knowledge at the service of common good. This issue – which was the leitmotiv of the meeting – was then specifically addressed by the contribution sent by the President of CCEE, Cardinal Péter Erdő, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest. For Cardinal Erdő, pastoral work in universities should not merely help students, rather contribute to make "the richness of the message of the Gospel match the plurality and the immensity of human knowledge". Scientists in universities, based on their own vocational skills, can contribute to this dialogue and "offer through research a connection between Christian faith and life in our societies". During the meeting, three distinguished representatives of the scientific world (an expert in biocomputer science, an economist and a philosopher, all Catholics teaching in university) highlighted how the dialogue between faith and reason is a priority for the contemporary world. Through their words, it became evident that such dialogue is possible and fascinating.

Over the four days of meeting, the many activities and projects promoted by bishops’ conferences all over Europe to rise to the challenges of pastoral work in universities were described in detail. Likewise, attention was drawn to pastoral work in general, since the future of pastoral work in universities depends largely on the interaction with pastoral work in our dioceses, in order to fully and originally contribute to a new evangelisation. To this end, it is necessary to broaden the scope of reason and lay stress on faith. During the meeting, all the attendants realised how teachers, students and managers of our university communities in Europe are in need of Good, call for a new perspective of God in a society like ours, which is going through a post-secularised phase opening up for the future.

After visiting one of the university parishes in Munich, the attendants heard about the organisational model adopted by the German Bishops’ Conference, a well-structured system taking into account all the parties involved in university life: students, teachers and managers. It is an actual network across independent facilities, albeit interconnected. Special attention was paid to trainers’ training. Equally significant was one of the pilot experiences named “ora et labora”, helping students manage their time, attaching importance to education, prayer and rest.

On Saturday 29th, the participants paid homage to the monument of the White Rose, dedicated to the Christian students who opposed the Nazi regime with non-violence. Works ended on Sunday 30th, with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Marx in the cathedral of Munich.


For further information:

Thierry Bonaventura
CCEE Media Officer
Tel: +41-71-227 60 40
Fax: +41-71-227 60 41
Mobile: +41-78-851 60 40


The Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) gathers the Presidents of the current 33 European Bishops’ Conferences of this Continent, represented by their Presidents, and the Archbishops of Luxembourg and of the Principality of Monaco, as well as the Bishop of Chişinău (Moldavia) and the Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus. The President is Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Primate of Hungary; the Vice-Presidents are Cardinal Josip Bosanić, Archbishop of Zagreb, and Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux. The General Secretary of CCEE is Fr Duarte da Cunha. The headquarters of the Secretariat is in St Gallen (Switzerland).

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