The Address of Pope John Paul II To the Third International Meeting of
Catholic Universities and Institutions of Higher Learning 25 April 1989


It is a particular joy for me to be with you on this occasion - the Third International Meeting of Catholic Universities and other Institutions of Higher Education. If you will allow me to say something rather personal, I feel at home with you, since I spent several years in a Catholic university.

2. As Pastor of the Church, I would like to express my great appreciation for the work that you do in an area that is so important for the good both of humanity and of the church. I am also grateful for whatyou have been doing *during these days* [emphasis in the original], in the course of this present meeting, whose participants include not only delegates of the Catholic universities, but also representatives of the episcopal conferences.

3. I know that the labor you have been engaged in here at Rome has been intense, but I believe that it has also been profitable work, very profitable for all of you. You have dealt with a theme which is dear to you, a theme which I have also discussed on many occasions during the course of my visits to various Catholic universities around the world. You have been considering ways to give greater efficacy and a better expression of the bipolar entity "University-Catholic": an entity whose two poles complete and enrich each other, in which both poles must be maintained and brought to ever greater perfection in order to fulfill a task which remains always new and exciting. You must always keep in mind that it is *not only the Church* which looks to the Catholic universities and stands in need of them; *society too, throughout the world, looks to these universities and needs them The expectations are twofold, convergent, and critical.*

Is this really true? Does the world *look to*, and need, *these universities?*

4. Yes, because *there is a great deal that the world can receive from Catholic universities.* For the world today is confronted with a number of different challenges, challenges which are the result of its own progress and which today have assumed a universal or, as we often hear, a global dimension.

5. The tremendous economic development that has taken place in so many countries, a development inevitably tied to technological and scientific progress, has given them the capacity to overcome the scourges of hunger and sickness which have afflicted humanity for millennia. A problem which yesterday seemed to be insuperable, almost an impossibility, today has become, from a purely technical point of view, capable of being faced and solved. And yet many countries are still needy and underdeveloped. The same human person who is the artisan of so many new possibilities all too frequently witnesses practical impossibilities, ones that he or she is not directly responsible for, but which prevent the benefits of development from becoming real. And development itself is often enough unilateral. Such contrasting situations need to be dealt with, and because the source of the difficulty lies within the human will, they must be faced with a strongly renewed moral commitment. We can become capable of this by reflecting once again on the *mystery of man* - so capable of greatness and at the same time so capable of misery - and by looking to the transcendent fountain of justice.

6. All of us are aware of the fact that, while there can be no doubt that technological and scientific development bring great advantages to humanity, they also bring problematic and disturbing side effects which must be faced with committed and responsible ethical investigation. In addition, there is the crisis resulting from so many ideologies and models of conduct which are prevalent int he changing scene of today and which have left many people without identity and without any existential certainty.

This raises many questions - or, as I have said, many challenges.


7. It is surely a fact that these challenges have had an effect on the world of the university. You experience them keenly in your own institutions, and they are common to all universities. It is for this reason that the purpose and the role of the university have been the object of study in recent years, in a search for appropriate responses. These studies have taken place within individual countries and also in international organizations such as UNESCO and the Council of Europe.

8. Approaches have been suggested and solutions proposed that are filled with rich and stimulating possibilities. Careful analysis has shown that the response is not to be sought only within a social ambience, as if it were enough to make the university more aware of society's needs and transform it into a training ground for a more efficient and productive work force; nor can the response be simply greater commitment on the level of organization and academic planning, such as multiplying departments, faculties and specialized institutes. This may all be quite necessary, but it will not be sufficient; the challenge touches on more *basic questions*. What is at stake is *the very meaning of scientific and technological research*, of society, of culture; on a more profound level, what is at stake is *the very meaning of man*. Putting it in other words, and with a more general vision, we can say that the challenges have to do with the truth about man in his personal and social dimension; about the world with its laws which have to be discovered and put to use for the good of humanity; and the *truth about God*, the foundation of being, to whom all is to lead and who *alone* gives ultimate meaning to man and to the world.

9. These are questions which are proper to the university world, and with which universities must concern themselves, since the proper role of the university is that of probing, going to the root of the problem. For the university is where the various branches of what can be known are the objects of teaching and research. And teaching and research can only have the truth as their constant point of reference - their pole star. I am talking, therefore, about the truth as something researched, loved, taught and promulgated. This is the heart and soul of the university, because it is the source of life for human reason: "*Perfectio intellectus est verum*," ("Truth is the perfection of the intellect.") says St. Thomas. [1]

10. From this perspective we can understand that the university crisis which has developed since the Second World War, and for which remedies are still being sought, is not only organizational, but also spiritual and cultural. It is a crisis not so much of means as of identity, of purpose and of values.

11. There is general and widespread evidence today that unity of knowledge has been lost in the area of university researach; there is an increasing disparity among the various areas of academic progress which is the result of increasing specialization; there is no longer the search for that profoundly valid relationship among the various disciplines which will find a harmony in the results of their research and orient them to the true service of humanity within a framework of basic ethical principles. The university is meant to be a "living unity" of individual organisms dedicated to research into truth. Unfortunately we now face the possibility that the university will be reduced to a complex group of academic areas which produce only factual results which are, in the end, inarticulate and unrelated. If this is so, or when this is so, then the university will be able to offer an adequate professional formation, but will no longer be useful for attaining the purposes of a rich and full human formation.

12. Therefore, it is necessary to work towards a higher synthesis of knowledge, in which alone lies the possibility of satisfying that *thirst for truth* which is profoundly inscribed on the heart of the human person. Augustine expresses this well: "*Quid enim fortius desiderat aniima quam veritatem?*" ("What is there that the soul desires more strongly than truth?") [2] While all other creatures exist without any knowledge of the "why," man with his intelligence is the protagonist of an ongoing search for this "why." And I am not talking about something which is accidental or occasional. The "why" or the "whys" are ever present within the fundamental questions of the human spirit. As the lungs need pure air, so the spirit of man needs to know the truth: a truth which is not manipulated and not distorted. And it is *his passionate need for the truth* which leads to a passionate search for the authentic good of humanity.

13. It is also within this perspective that the Catholic university can and should develop its own distinctive role within contemporary society, presenting itself as a convincing model of an institution in which research is joined to the search for solutions to fundamental questions. As the second Christian millennium draws to a close, the Catholic university is presented with an opportunity which must not be missed.

*Yet the Church also looks to the Catholic university and has need of the Catholic university.*

14. The challenges to which I have referred also have their effects within the Church, whose salvific mission embraces man in his totality, in a concrete historical setting, with all his problems. It is in this context, in the intertwining of these challenges, that the Church is called to fulfill her evangelical mission. You can understand, therefore, why it looks to the Catholic university, asking for the university's distinctively specific, positive and enriching contribution towards a more effective accomplishment of the Church's own proper mission. Within the Catholic university *the evangelical mission of the Church and the university mission of research and teaching become interrelated* and coordinated. For the response to these challenges must be developed culturally and scientifically, and the specific role of the Catholic university is to provide this perspective with adequate instruments and with the necessary professionalism. It is in this way that the university, while retaining its own proper nature as a university, will assist the Church in becoming sensitive to today's cultural needs and in responding to them with inadequate initiatives.

15. In fulfiling this role, the means that the Catholic university uses are the same as those of any other university. However, in the conduct of its academic research, it can rely on a superior enlightenment which, without changing the nature of this research, purifies it, orients it, enriches it and uplifts it. It is *the light of faith, the light of Christ*, who has said: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." [3]

16. This light is not found "*outside" of rational research*, as a limitation or an impediment, but rather "*above*" it, as its elevation and an expansion of its horizons. The light of faith opens the way to the completion of truth, although it obviously does not dispense the Catholic university from the difficult and frustrating toil that research involves. It is a light which aids and assists!

17. Within the context of these needs which have already been indicated, the Catholic university must be willing to commit itself along certain specific lines:

A) Above all, a commitment int he dialogue with *science*, while it recognizes and promotes the value of knowledge, the Catholic university must be ever mindful of the limitations of science, and conduct itself in such a way that science is and always remains for the benefit of man and is never transformed into a destructive agent. This will be true only if the research and, more generally, the scientific method, is always placed within a framework of ethical values.

B) Concerning social disparities, while the Catholic university will actively cooperate in the development of the technological means to overcome these disparities, it will never cease reminding the various social and political agents concerned that the problem of human development, beginning with those least fortunate, is much more an ethical problem than a technical one. [4]

C) The Catholic university must recognize the dignity and creativity within the various cultures of the world, but at the same time, be committed to their purification and elevation through the light and active force of the Gospel - a process which in no way sacrifices what is authentically human; whatever is truly valid is developed and brought to complete and fruitful reality. [5] As I have written in my exhortation *Christifideles Laici*, "the Church asks lay people to be present, with outstanding courage and intellectual creativity, in the privileged posts of culture." [6]

D) And finally, in what concerns *man*, the Catholic university must inspire all its activity with an integral humanistic vision so that all its dimensions, including the spiritual, moral and religious, are valued and cultivated. Only in such an anthropology will there be sufficient room for all the existential demands of man.

18. But the *supreme criterion*, in whose light the Catholic university must measure all its options, remains *Christ, the Incarnate Word* who is the full Truth about man, the Teacher who lives within us, the universal Brother, in whom we find the meaning of life, the Divine Gift of solidarity and fraternity; Christ, the Savior of all mankind of all times and every culture; Christ, the Son of God and at the same time the new Man, in whom subsists the fullness of divinity [7] with the fullness of humanity.

19. This Catholic character - perhaps Christocentric is a better expression - does not distort the university or restrict its legitimate autonomy as a place of moral formation and of free research; it recognizes and even confirms this autonomy, helping the university to realize its true nature and to overcome the dangers of distortion.

20. It is precisely for this reason that the distinctive character of a Catholic university can become a *critical and prophetic voice* as it confronts a society which is becoming ever more characterized by a "persistent spreading of religious indifference and atheism in their various forms, especially in the form of secularism which is perhaps the most common form today." [8] On this subject it must have the courage to speak a truth which is not convenient, a truth which does not flatter, but a truth which is absolutely necessary in order to safeguard the true dignity of the human person. It must remind the world of culture that, while it is surely true that men and women can organize the world *without* God, without God it will, in the last analysis, be organized *against humanity*. [9]

21. If, therefore, there is some urgency today in looking to the life of the Catholic university, it is not in order to weaken or distort it. Rather, the purpose is to deepen and strengthen its Catholic character, *on both the theoretical and the practical levels.* It has today a function, or rather, a mission, which goes far beyond the traditional role of establishing *a rapport between faith and reason*, a rapport which has to be deep-rooted in both research and study, for both teachers and students. Its mission touches on and even embraces the vast and numerous areas of knowledge and, in a particular way, of scientific knowledge, which has seen vast new developments in today's world, which has opened up new horizons, which has been extended to new geographical areas and which has reached new peoples. A Catholic university must become fully aware of it growing responsibility for verifying what is authentically moral and human in this progress and expansion. For experience has amply demonstrated the fact that *scientific* advancement is not always and necessarily equivalent to *moral and human* progress, balanced and shared.

22. Some of your universities also have non-Catholics within their communities, members of other churches and religions or those of no belief. These young people - men and women - can contribute a diversity of cultural and human experiences that should be acknowledged and are worthy of study. While it welcomes them and the contributions they bring, the Catholic university should also offer them the concrete possibility of knowing the genuine Christian message with its liberating and salvific strength. It is only right that, without any loss of respect for their freedom, these persons be given an opportunity to develop a Christian vision of the world and of life. This is a new opportunity which will be the more effective the more that the community of believers within the Catholic university are able to give witness, through a *consistent Christian life*, to the beauty and the greatness of the Gospel.

23. With an awareness of these new responsibilities, delegates from Catholic universities throughout the world published a document in 1972 entitled "The Catholic University in the Modern World." In this document, at the very beginning, stress is laid on the fact that the adjective "Catholic" makes such a university distinctive through an institutional commitment. This must be a fundamental principle, involving the whole being of the university; in its organizational, directive and academic structure, and also in its programs, in the ambience, and in the formation which is given to its students. The "Catholic" character must be visible and open. It must be expressly indicated in the statutes, or in some equivalent document, and, I repeat, must be translated into concrete decisions. But, more important than any written text or study plan, there is the question of a style and an atmosphere!

24. Seventeen years after the conclusion of the 1972 meeting, you have come together once again to reflect on this responsibility. The new element which characterizes this present meeting is the participation of representatives from the episcopates where Catholic universities are located, along with delegates of those universities and of other institutes of higher education, members of Religious congregations which are responsible for Catholic universities, and also of some of the organizations of the Holy See. Such a presence indicates not only a wider interest in Catholic universities, but also a greater attention and sensitivity to the ecclesial values to be found in them. While the Catholic university is in society and in history, it is also in the Church.

25. It is apparent, therefore, that one question must inevitably be asked: *What kind of Catholic university is needed today?* A response to this question can be given only after we clarify a second question: *What ecclesial sense does the Catholic university have today?* And here our horizon is expanded by the need to reflect carefully on the two great Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council, *Lumen Gentium*, and *Gaudium et Spes*, and, more specifically, on the Declaration *Gravissimum Educationis*, nn. 7-10.

26. As we come to a deeper understanding, with the help of the conciliar documents, of the *ecclesial function of the Catholic university*, we should become more clearly conscious of the role that the Magisterium of the Church has to play: a role of stimulus and encouragement, of enlightenment and guidance along a path which must always be directed towards the full truth. In this context, I would like to repeat what I said in a talk given at the Catholic University of America in October 1979: "If your universities and colleges are institutionally committed to the Christian message, and if they are part of the Catholic community of evangelization, it follows that they have an essential relationship to the hierarchy of the Church." [10]


27. The fruit of such a deeper understanding should be a new "harmony:" a closer and more faithful collaboration between the episcopate, the religious communities, the ecclesial offices and the faithful on the one hand, and the universities and other Catholic institutions on the other. This will ensure that each activity undertaken within the ambience of these universities is in harmony with the Catholic nature of the institution. You and your universities should be proud of the title "Catholic," as suggested in the eloquent words of my predecessor Paul VI: "While equal to other universities in academic efforts and quality, and like them also in patterns and attainments, a Catholic university must not be afraid to be seen as different and original because of what can be called its baptism. This is a stimulus rather than a burden, which does not separate it from the world of culture, but rather enables it to enter this world with a more friendly and honest posture, not for vainglory but for the commitment of converting it." [11]

28. Such a mandate, given by this unforgettable Pontiff, remains valid today: If Christ is the Truth who illumines, frees and gives meaning to life, if He is the complete response to man's profound and persistent questioning, then *the truth which is Christ, the Truth which Christ has*, should be found within the Catholic university as a source of light for others, for the world. Jesus has said to us, "men do not light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket. They set it on a stand where it gives light to all." [12]

29. Do not be afraid, then, beloved brothers and distinguished teachers, to profess the Catholicity of your institutions! A Catholic university and all those who work in it ought to be convinced that the Catholic character assists in the more complete and effective accomplishment of the mission of a university in the world of today.

30. Asking God to bless your commitment in an area that is so important for the life of the Church and of society. I impart to all of you here present and to all those who work with you, dedicating their energies in various locations throughout the world to such an important task, the most noble among all others, a special and comforting Apostolic Blessing.

Pope John Paul II