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Church and culture combine in addresses

Maddie Hanna | Thursday, February 2, 2006

ROME – The relationship between the Catholic Church and culture – a theme tied to the focus of University President Father John Jenkins’ addresses last week – served as the topic of an academic conference in Rome Wednesday that featured speeches by Jenkins, auxiliary bishop of Rome Rino Fisichella and Notre Dame trustee and Peoria, Ill. bishop Daniel Jenky.

The conference, entitled “Contribution of Catholic Universities to the Church and Culture,” was part of a week of activities surrounding the Board of Trustees meetings. In addition to trustees and their families, those in attendance included University officers, local university officials and a handful of Notre Dame students studying in Rome.

Jenkins, who discussed “Notre Dame: A Catholic University within American Academe,” focused heavily on the Church-culture interface and said it was the role of a Catholic university to serve as intermediary between the sometimes opposing forces.

He drew upon the teachings of the late Pope John Paul II, who said, “A Catholic university, aware that the human culture is open to revelation and transcendence, is also a primary and privileged place for fruitful dialogue between the Gospel and culture.”

This Church-culture relationship is mutually beneficial, Jenkins said.

“As John Paul made clear in this dialogue between the Church and culture, both are enriched,” he said. “How can we accomplish this [role as intermediary]? How can we do it better?”

To build his model for how a Catholic university should manage the conflict and facilitate the dialogue, Jenkins shifted roles from authority to teacher, explaining how Thomas Aquinas – one of his personal interests – formed his “disputed question” structure.

“First, a Catholic university and its scholars must identify the great and profound questions of our time,” Jenkins said. “If a Catholic university is not engaging on the highest level the most pressing questions of our age, we are not fulfilling our mission.”

These questions, he said, pertain to economic and social justice, the meaning and purpose of human life, the relationship between science and religion and morality in professions, among other topics.

Next, Jenkins said Catholic universities “must listen to and take seriously the contrary voices” – a concept that, while not directly acknowledged, seemed linked to the question-and-answer format of his addresses on academic freedom and Catholic character last week.

To follow the teachings of Aquinas, one must “begin by stating the person’s objection in a manner that he or she would find acceptable,” Jenkins said, quoting Aquinas. “Indeed, put it in a way that is even more persuasive than he or she would.”

This is necessary, Jenkins said, because a Catholic university cannot fulfill its role “unless we listen to and understand the contrary voices.”

The third step, Jenkins said, is to attempt to resolve an issue “in the best way one can in the light of Christian faith and revelation,” striving to give reasons “persuasive to those engaged in discussion.”

He said the final aspect of the process is to “try to address and respond to questions and contrary views in a manner that will speak to and help persuade others” – another method that seemed similar to how Jenkins is conducting the dialogue on academic freedom and Catholic character.

There are “great opportunities as well as challenges to a Catholic institution,” Jenkins said. “We cannot address these issues without strong, vibrant Catholic universities.”

Fisichella delivered an address entitled “The Role of the Roman Catholic Universities.” One of the primary aspects of his speech was the balance between science and Catholic universities in the 21st century – a topic found in Jenkins’ address as well.

As heads of universities, “the first thing we must do is look to the future of our young people,” Fisichella said.

Second, Fisichella said, is bearing personal witness as credibility of teaching.

“Personal credibility is not extraneous to teaching,” he said. “[We must provide] functions that will last [students] all of their lives.”

He quoted Pope John Paul II and said, “We face a great challenge at the end of this millennium, [to go] from phenomenal to fundamental, a step as necessary as it is urgent.”

Fisichella said Catholic universities must prepare their students to be “scientifically competent and fully professional” people who know how “to head toward the future with optimism that introduce[s] them to the Church and society as young men and women.

“In our universities, they can find a fertile [ground] for discovering their life as a vocation,” he said. “Our universities are called to bring about … an intelligent search for the truth and its existence.”

Jenky’s speech, “The Congregation of Holy Cross and Catholic Education,” traced the story of the Holy Cross schools back to their 19th century roots in Congregation founder Basil Anthony Moreau, connecting those roots to modern Notre Dame.

“[Moreau] wanted schools to be up to date in methodology and curriculum,” Jenky said. “He liked to encourage service and volunteerism. His brothers and priests were encouraged to sacrifice their weekends, even their school holidays, to conduct world missions and contribute to parish education. Moreau also actively promoted lay collaboration for the direction, finance and continuing influence of the school … He also stayed very close to the alumni association, and it has been faithful to [him] even when the community isn’t.

“Now, does any of this sound familiar to my Notre Dame friends out here?” he asked, inviting a few laughs.

Jenky said Catholic schools were unique in their ability to make a “singular contribution to educational mosaic of the world.”

“The world today doesn’t need more private schools. There are plenty of them out there,” he said. “But both the world and the Church need more Catholic schools that remember their reason for existing. Our schools should never choose between being excellent or being Catholic. Catholic school should not be ‘either or,’ it should be ‘both and.'”

After the speakers – introduced by theology professor John Cavadini – completed their addresses, Provost Thomas Burish awarded honorary degrees to Fisichella and U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Frances Rooney III.

Fisichella, Burish said, was honored for multiple reasons, including “revering Jesus no less in the academy than in the public square.”

Rooney, appointed to his position by the Vatican in November, “aspires to assist in the alignment of the earthly and heavenly orders,” Burish said.

The event concluded with a reception for those in attendance, culminating the official Board of Trustees meetings.

Trustees will leave Rome Friday morning.