AVILA, Spain, AUG. 18, 2011 (Zenit.org).- In preparation for World Youth Day, approximately 900 people came together at the 1st World Congress of Catholic Universities, according to the prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski.
Held Aug. 12-14 in Avila, Spain, the Congress met to address challenges that face the Catholic Universities in the 21st century. Among the issues addressed is the need for Catholic Universities to “re-discover their identity,” said Professor Stefano Zamagni of the University of Bologna.
According to Zamagni, today’s Catholic Universities must offer young people a “valid education … that prepares them to face the future with security and greater hope than that of their companions who have studied in secular universities.” Zamagni went on to say that, in recent years, “Catholic Universities …suffered a loss of confidence in their capacity because they have ended up adopting the same schemes of thought and program as the secular universities.”
In addition to re-defining the Catholic University’s identity, the congress also addressed their mission.
Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, said that Catholic universities are called to make a significant contribution to culture and to contemporary society. The prelate referenced maintaining the balance between ethical and cultural values while still allowing present-day society see themselves as capable of building society.
“[This] passage of the ethically good man to the builder man [is] the great challenge that Catholic culture and the Church is called to address; it is one in which Catholic Universities have a determinant function,” he said.
The Church’s ability to impact human rights, especially in these times of crisis, was also addressed. Professor Vincenzo Buonomo of Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University stated: “Our universities are called to propose a vision of human rights as an instrument that is contributing to transform society into a community of persons in the image of the family.”
The congress highlighted Benedict XVI’s request for Catholic universities to redefine themselves and promote a renewed rationality. Participants in the congress understood this to mean that Catholic universities should dedicate themselves to “re-thinking the sciences” and opening them up to philosophical and theological questions and answers.
“Scientific research and science are not neutral processes,” said Manuel Braga da Cruz, rector of the Portuguese Catholic University. “They are piloted processes, oriented by values. Because of this, we have a very important role in making research meaningful, [by giving it] an orientation, and [by focusing] this orientation on man, [and] his dignity.”
The congress recognized that today’s culture is a “fragmented” one and spoke of it’s ultimate purpose. Speaking on Vatican Radio, Archbishop Fisichella said that Catholic universities must be able to receive every person, while presenting strong faith-based and professional programs.
“We must act so that, above all,” he said, “our universities are the center of thought to overcome the fragmentation and to rediscover the unity of learning, which is necessary to redirect this responsibility to both themselves and to society.”