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Encyclical discussion planned

Ken Fowler | Friday, April 27, 2007

Nine students will present papers on Pope Benedict XVI’s papal encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” (“God is Love”) tonight and Saturday during a two-day conference, which will examine the work and its relevance to the Notre Dame community and the University’s mission.

The conference has been a major focus of University President Father John Jenkins, although students have been the main organizers, said Micki Kidder, who has served as a liaison between Jenkins’ office and the student committee that has prepared the events.

Last year, Jenkins asked history professor Sabine MacCormack to chair a faculty committee that would study the encyclical and find possible ways to “bring the encyclical into the classroom and create awareness,” Kidder said. Late in the fall semester, MacCormack formed the student committee that became the main force behind the conference.

MacCormack, Kidder and a group of about 15 students met occasionally for planning and discussion purposes since the beginning of the spring term.

“We have been meeting periodically and on a variety of different content,” Kidder said of the committee. “Sometimes we would discuss and study parts of the encyclical. Some meetings we would specifically focus on the conference, though, and planning.”

Students have been presenting parts of their papers during committee meetings for the last few months, Kidder said, with the goal of getting feedback and stimulating discussion on how different topics in the encyclical could be addressed in the conference and their relevance at Notre Dame.

Kidder said the students had almost full control over the content but were supported by Jenkins’ office.

“Father John has obviously been very involved in sponsoring it and encouraging and them to increase awareness across campus,” she said.

Sam Cahill, a graduate student of English, agreed.

“Father Jenkins has been very supportive of our whole endeavor, and that’s been wonderful,” Cahill said, also noting Kidder and MacCormack’s work. “We just have a really strong group of people who believe in the relevance of Church teaching to academics.”

Kidder said Jenkins has supported the conference and the students studying it not because it was the first such work from Benedict XVI, but rather because of its content.

“Father Jenkins was very much impacted by this encyclical,” she said. “He has expressed to me that it’s an intellectually interesting text because of its diverse nature because it can impact people from various states, various walks of life. So I think he saw this encyclical particularly to have such an effect on all constituencies across campus because of its diverse reach.”

Kidder said Jenkins believes the document can have a “significant impact” on anyone who reads it.

Jenkins will attend all of today’s events, which will begin when he presides over the opening Mass at 4 p.m. in the Alumni Hall chapel. Kidder said Jenkins may miss some of Saturday’s events due to a scheduling conflict.

Cahill said one of the best parts about the conference is the interdisciplinary nature of the papers. A driving force of the student committee that organized the conference, Cahill said students studying English, political science, architecture and other programs incorporated different fields of study into their papers.

Cahill’s paper examines the use of the “pilgrimage” metaphor in Benedict XVI’s “Deus Caritas Est” and the work of Jane Barker, a 17th century writer and Catholic convert.

“I think it’s important to remember that we’re all pilgrims on Earth,” she said. “We have to look at what we go through in life – our suffering, our happiness, everything – in an eternal perspective. And that really comes out in ‘Deus Caritas Est.'”

Mary Brosnahan, the director of the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City, will deliver the first of two keynote addresses tonight at 6:30 in the auditorium of the Hesburgh Center for International Studies, where the entire conference is taking place.

Brosnahan is a 1983 graduate of Notre Dame and has been director of the Coalition for the Homeless since 1990. She won the Alumni Association’s Dr. Thomas A. Dooley Award in 2002.

Father Philip Anderson, prior of Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek Monastery in northeastern Oklahoma, will deliver the second keynote address at 9:45 a.m. Saturday.

“We consciously chose them to reflect both aspects of the encyclical – the philosophical thinking in part one and the practical application of Catholic teaching in the second part,” Cahill said, referring to Anderson in the former and Brosnahan in the latter.

“We consciously wanted the two to complement each other,” Cahill said. “Of course, they’re not polarized. … There’s supposed to be this intimate connection between theory and practice.”

The nine papers being presented and about six more papers, written by students who couldn’t present, will be judged in an essay contest. The contest has three categories – one for freshmen and sophomores, one for juniors and seniors and one for graduate students. The winner in each division will be awarded $1,000, and the runner-up will receive $500.

Students can submit essays to Kidder until May 4. Essay winners will be announced May 18.