Last week, Pope Benedict XVI visited Rome's Sacred Heart Catholic University, for the occasion of the inauguration of the academic year.
The day began in the university, prior to the Pope's arrival, with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar general of the diocese of Rome. The Eucharistic celebration was attended by students from all branches of the Sacred Heart Catholic University: Milan, Brescia, Piacenza-Cremona, Campobasso and Rome.
The main celebration began in the Holy Father's presence later that morning. The Sacred Heart University was founded by Fr. Agostino Gemelli from whom the university hospital takes its name. A brief speech by Lorenzo Ornaghi, rector of the university, was followed by a greeting from Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, archbishop of Milan, Italy.
The Pope began his address by greeting the academic authorities, then said: “Finding ourselves here together we cannot but think of the time charged with trepidation and emotion we experienced in this hospital during John Paul II's final months. During those days, from all over the world the thoughts of Catholics and non-Catholics alike were directed to the Gemelli hospital where, from his ward, the Pope provided everyone with a matchless lesson on the Christian meaning of life and suffering, bearing personal witness to the Christian message.” On this subject, the Holy Father expressed his gratitude for “the attentive care given to the Holy Father.”
Highlighting the fact that many thousands of young people pass through the university, the Pope asked: “How do they leave? What culture did they find, assimilate, develop? This is the great challenge: to give life to a true Catholic university, one that excels for the quality of its research and teaching and, at the same time, for its faithfulness to the Gospel and to the Church's Magisterium.”
“The Catholic university,” he went on, “is a great workshop in which, in keeping with the various disciplines, new lines of research are constantly being developed in a stimulating encounter between faith and reason, one that aims to recover the synthesis” between these two elements. This synthesis is “unfortunately contrasted by important currents of modern philosophy. As a consequence, the fundamental questions facing man — how to live and how to die — seem to be excluded from the realm of rationality and are left to that of subjectivity. The end result is that the question which gave rise to the university — that of truth and goodness — disappears, to be replaced by the question of feasibility. This then is the great challenge facing Catholic universities: to practice science within the horizon of a rationality different from that which dominates today, in keeping with a form of reason open to the transcendent, to God.”
Benedict XVI called on the teachers and students to cast out their nets “into the high seas of knowledge, trusting in the Word of Christ, even when you experience the fatigue and disappointment of not having 'fished' anything. In the great sea of culture, Christ always has need of 'fishers of men,' in other words, of people of conscience, well prepared people who place their professional expertise at the service of the Kingdom of God. And university research, if carried out from the standpoint of faith, is also part of this service to the Kingdom and to mankind.”
In closing his address, the Pope referred to the “Paul VI International Scientific Institute of research on human fertility and infertility for responsible procreation,” which was founded in November 2000. “It is, he said, “an eloquent example of that synthesis of truth and love that constitutes the living center of Catholic culture.”
The Holy Father pointed out how the institute, “which came into being in response to the appeal launched by Paul VI in his Encyclical Humanae vitae, aims to give a secure scientific foundation both to the natural regulation of human fertility and to the commitment to overcome infertility by natural means. Echoing my venerated predecessor's grateful appreciation for this scientific initiative, I trust it may find the necessary support in continuing to carry out its important research activities.”
(This update is courtesy of the Vatican Information Service.)