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Essay contest held on Pope’s ‘God is Love’

Emma Driscoll | Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Office of the President aims to spur discussion of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “God is Love” with an essay competition and a student conference in the spring to discuss the work.

The encyclical was chosen because it addresses issues that face not only the church, but the world as a whole, said Sabine MacCormack, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh C.S.C. Professor of Arts and Letters. MacCormack is the faculty advisor for the competition and the committee that will run the conference.

“It’s the first encyclical of this papacy,” MacCormack said. “It is on a topic that is a very broad concern not just in the church, but I would say in the world in that it has two parts. The first part is theoretical, philosophical, theological and the second part is practical.”

The essay contest will award prizes for essays submitted by students in three categories – freshmen and sophomores, juniors and seniors and graduate students. The guidelines for the contest are open-ended so students can consider the encyclical in a way that suits their interests, MacCormack said.

“Basically, students are encouraged to think about the encyclical in the context of the professional qualifications they may be getting or hoping to get – like law, business, medicine – or in the context of one of the humanistic disciplines, or in the context of any one of the social or natural sciences,” MacCormack said.

An example of a practical application of the encyclical would be the discussion of charitable works, MacCormack said.

“[The encyclical] talks about the work of Catholic charities, but it also talks about charitable activities broadly speaking,” MacCormack said. “The pope emphasizes that it’s important to live the faith by one’s actions as well as speaking [the faith] in one’s words. You can call that a practical application.”

Students who are not Catholic can also explore the meaning of the encyclical, MacCormack said.

“For those people who are not Catholics or Christians, we thought the document of the encyclical could be a basis for dialogue on a number of vital issues – like war and peace, poverty” MacCormack said.

She added that students can also submit short stories.

“It would be difficult to think of anything that wouldn’t be welcome,” she said.

The first place winner in each group will receive a $1,000 prize and the runner up in each group will receive $500, MacCormack said, for a total of six prizes in all.

There has also been some discussion of awarding additional prizes in the arts, MacCormack said, although she said she was not sure how this would happen at this time.

A student conference will also be held April 27-28 in the Hesburgh Center, MacCormack said by e-mail.

“A group of students is organizing a conference where they will present papers [about the encyclical] and they are right now working on inviting a couple of keynote speakers,” MacCormack said.

As far as MacCormack knows, holding essay contests with high monetary prizes is a new practice at Notre Dame.

“It’s certainly new in the experience of any student who is at Notre Dame now,” she said. “They might have done it ten years ago, but I’m not aware of it.”

Individuals have not yet been appointed to judge contest submissions.

“The essays will be judged by a faculty committee and that hasn’t been appointed yet,” MacCormack said. “I’m going to try and get as widely representative a group as possible in that there is somebody from the humanities, somebody from the social sciences, somebody from law and business and somebody from the natural sciences.”

MacCormack said she couldn’t make a good guess about how many students would submit entries for the contest.

“I’ve had questions from maybe a total of fifty or sixty students who are interested, but it’s hard to say whether they will actually get around to writing an essay and submitting it,” MacCormack said.

She said she suggested to some students that they discuss the contest with professors to see if they could get class credit for contest submissions.

“Obviously it would be nice if lots of people get interested,” MacCormack said.

Winning essays and essays written by runners-up may be published in a booklet.

“I think the booklet will either be given out free or sold at a nominal price,” MacCormack said.

The deadline for contest entries is May 4. MacCormack said contest winners will be announced either at or before commencement.