with Father José Enrique Oyarzún, LC, Rector of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum

with Father José Enrique Oyarzún, LC, Rector of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum Photo: Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum

Ecclesiastical Academic Institution Promotes Culture of Dialogue

Interview with the Rector of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum

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(ZENIT News / Rome, 08.07.2024).- Pope Francis has urged ecclesiastical academic institutions to promote the culture of dialogue, a task that has become an imperative in the current context. Explored in this interview with Father José Enrique Oyarzún, LC, Rector of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum is the way one academic institution, located in Rome, responds to this appeal and puts this vision in practice.

Q: Thank you for this interview. We begin with a general but fundamental question: What is the main mission of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in the current context?

Rector: The main mission of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum is to form our students not only in academic knowledge but also in human and spiritual values. We seek to be a house where truth is sought, a place that fosters human beings’ capacity to know and to recognize what gives meaning to their life and their environment. Moreover, as part of the network of Universities of the Legion of Christ and of the Regnum Christi Movement (RIU) we collaborate actively in the task of evangelization. Our specific mission is to form apostles, Christian leaders, clergy and laity at the service of the Church, creating cultural currents of Christian thought, which respond to man’s theoretical and existential questions, in full communion with the Magisterium of the Church. Hence, we seek to imbue society with a Christian spirit.

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Q: In your mission, you mention the quest for truth. How is the culture of dialogue integrated in this quest?

Rector: The culture of dialogue is essential for our mission. As the Veritatis Gaudium Constitution points out, dialogue is not simply a tactic but an intrinsic necessity to live and experience communally the joy of the truth. In our Athenaeum, dialogue is understood as an encounter based on mutual respect, attentive listening and openness to the truth, which makes possible the sharing of different experiences and perspectives.

Q: In the Western cultural tradition, dialogue has always been present as a means to seek the truth. How is this reflected in the University’s history and methodology?

Rector: In fact, dialogue has been an essential part of the Western cultural tradition. From Plato’s Dialogues to the Quaestiones Disputatae in the Middle Ages, the exchange of ideas and opinions has been essential for the University experience. In particular, the Quaestiones Disputatae were academic debates where different questions were examined from multiple angles, promoting a joint quest for the truth. This historical methodology should inspire our current practice, fostering an environment where rigorous and respectful dialogue is central in academic formation.

Q: Can you give us concrete examples of the way this culture of dialogue is fostered in the Athenaeum?

Rector: Of course. We foster the culture of dialogue in various ways. We organize seminars and conferences where topics are addressed from multiple perspectives, promoting open and respectful discussions between students and professors. We are also preparing specific programs of formation in communication and mediation skills, which are essential for an effective dialogue. Moreover, we foster academic exchange with other ecclesiastical and secular Universities.

Q: What is the role of the Athenaeum’s Catholic identity in this dialogue?

Rector: Our Catholic identity is central in everything we do. As Catholic institutions, we are part of a believing community with a rich tradition of ethical knowledge and experience, which is certainly a good for humanity. This identity doesn’t imply imposing a conviction on others, but, rather, to present it in a convincing manner as a good for every person and for humanity. Sought, in this focus, is to understand the perspectives of other people and foster a respectful and enriching dialogue. Openness to encounter with other convictions is an integral part of the Catholic tradition, which values inter-culturalism and mutual respect.

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Q: Speaking of respect and empathy, how are these values inculcated in the students?

Rector: We inculcate these values through the integral education we offer. This includes not only the academic curriculum, but also extra-curricular and communitarian activities that promote empathy and respect. The students take part in social service projects, where they learn to put themselves in the other’s place and to understand his needs and concerns. Moreover, our classes and workshops emphasize the importance of attentive listening  and mutual respect in all interactions.

Q: How does the Athenaeum ensure that the dialogue is kept constructive and doesn’t become a mere exchange of opinions without depth?

Rector: To ensure that the dialogue is constructive, we promote a rigorous and scientific focus in the formulation of problems and arguments, which safeguards respect of the other’s person. We foster critical thought and the capacity to question prejudices, always with the objective to reach a more profound understanding of the reality. Moreover, we establish a framework of respect and transparency, where the identity of each interlocutor is respected and entrenchment in inflexible positions is avoided.

Q: What are the greatest challenges the Athenaeum faces in the promotion of the culture of dialogue?

Rector: One of the greatest challenges is the current social and cultural context, where polarization and unwillingness to listen to the other prevail. We also face the challenge of relativism, which can lead to the idea that all opinions are equally valid, without a critical examination. Moreover, there is a certain culture of susceptibility, where people can feel easily offended, which makes difficult the open exchange of ideas, but which also has great facility to offend others, especially through the social networks. However, we see these challenges as opportunities to grow and to strengthen our commitment to dialogue. We make an effort to create an environment where all feel valued and heard, and where objectivity is sought based on well formulated arguments.

Q: To conclude, what message would you like to give other educational institutions about the importance of dialogue?

Rector: More than a message, I would like to share what we are doing concretely, in the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, to promote dialogue. We are working actively in processes of collaboration with other academic institutions of Rome, which form part of the Conference of Rectors of Roman Pontifical Universities and Institutions (CRUIPRO). These synergies are translated in collaborations in different ambits, such as the creation of some joint diplomas, agreements for students’ mobility, etc. Moreover, we foster dialogue with non-ecclesiastical institutions, collaborating actively with the Universities of the Network of Universities of the Legion of Christ and of the Regnum Christi (RIU). These initiatives are concrete examples of the way dialogue can enrich the academic life and contribute to the building of a more just and solidary society.

Thank you very much, Rector, for sharing your vision and experiences with us. It has been a very enriching conversation.

Rector: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

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Jorge Enrique Mújica

Licenciado en filosofía por el Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum, de Roma, y “veterano” colaborador de medios impresos y digitales sobre argumentos religiosos y de comunicación. En la cuenta de Twitter: https://twitter.com/web_pastor, habla de Dios e internet y Church and media: evangelidigitalización."

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