Making the Faith Felt at Universities

Interview With a Spanish Delegation at the Symposium

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ROME, JULY 21, 2003 ( The presence of faith in the university must not be something that is concealed but rather expressed naturally, participants in the symposium on the «University and Church in Europe» told ZENIT.

Those interviewed, members of the Catalonian delegation from Spain, were promoting the idea of a theology secretariat at universities, a place for professors and students to meet to reflect on faith and introduce theology in civil universities.

Q: What is the contribution made today by a Catholic university?

Jordi Giró, professor of the Ramon Llull University of Barcelona: The quality «Catholic» is not an adjective but a noun. It is not a play on words, but a reality of great transcendence and differentiation.

Someone with a Christian identity must be able to contribute a point of view to science, a way of seeing, reading and interpreting the world from a universal perspective. In the same way that in a plural society Christians have the mission to be the sign of a presence, this mission is also taken to the university.

Q: What is the challenge facing Christians in the university?

Óscar Vernaus, secretary of SAFOR (Service of Assistance and Religious Formation) of the University of Barcelona, Central Campus: At present, the principal challenge facing Christians in the university is to make their presence completely normal while, at the same time, their commitment to the faith they have received must enable them to carry out a normal dialogue — in addition to being very necessary — with the given scientific contents.

A faith that is detached from culture and science is a faith without roots, a dehumanized faith. All this, of course, must take place within a sense of unity and consistency that must characterize all pastoral action in the university.

Q: Do you think that Christians must be courageous, explicit and clear when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel in the university?

Jaume Soler, secretary of SAFOR of the Autonomous University of Barcelona: Yes, but above all it must be known that courage is not synonymous with arrogance but, rather, with charity and solidaristic commitment. We must not be afraid to make known the God in whom we believe, if we want to be the yeast in the dough.

Transcendence, in fact, has been removed from studies although, according to Christianity, it is that which man has that is most human, that which most unites him to his true being.

The dialogue of faith with culture, with an open, respectful, rigorous, serious point of view free of taboos … cannot do other than enrich and complete the integral and human formation of the university population, students or professors.

Q: Cardinal Lehmann suggests that «new ways» be created for university pastoral care, especially dialogue with nonbelievers. What kind of activity could the university realm suggest today in this respect?

Antoni Matabosch, delegate of the Lay Apostolate of the Archdiocese of Barcelona: It is difficult to initiate a dialogue directly, as often the need doesn’t arise, especially among individuals who are indifferent. It is easier with agnostics. What can be done is to talk about «borderline» subjects, such as biology, evolutionism, the dialogue between faith and science.

Q: Is it easier to evangelize students or professors?

Jaume Dantí, professor at the University of Barcelona: It is easier to evangelize students. They are more willing to question themselves about their own life. There are no prejudices before the possibility of knowing and believing.

There is willingness in face of credible testimony. There is a need to feel oneself welcomed and accompanied amid a world of doubts. However, there is much fragility and the opposite ambience often imposes itself. The steps taken by professors can be definitive.

Q: Students move on but professors remain. Should the greater evangelizing effort be made in the teaching ambit of the university?

Llum Delàs, delegate of the university pastoral care program of the Archdiocese of Barcelona: Students change every five years; it is an unstable public by definition and with a date of expiry. Instead, professors are stable and exercise natural leadership as teachers.

Therefore, it is necessary that the Church «spoil» professors, and not just accompany students. At times some professors, because of reserve and embarrassment, have failed to give personal witness and neglected the formation of faith in the university.

In some cases there has been schizophrenia between teaching and academic work, with personal faith options confined to the private realm.

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