2011-08-19 16:03:44

Pope at El Escorial: the ideal of the University

On the second day of his four day visit to Spain for World Youth Day celebrations, Pope Benedict met women religious, lay faithful, academics and university professors at the XVI century monastery of St. Lorenzo de El Escorial outside Madrid. Emer McCarthy reports:

Pope Benedict XVI’s second day on Spanish soil began to the sound of peeling bells, ringing since early morning from the chapel of the Augustinian monastery housed within the majestic El Escorial complex. The monumental 16th century palace which lies beneath the hills beyond Madrid, was designed by King Philip II of Spain and houses the library in which the Spanish monarch wanted to gather the works of the greatest thinkers of his time. On Friday this UNESCO world heritage site set the stage for Pope Benedict XVI’s encounter with young academics and professors and 1600 young women religious.
“In the silence of the cloister, in our humble service to others we do all we can to help your mission” a young Spanish nun told the Pope, with a trembling voice that echoed around the enclosed courtyard of the “Patio de los Reyes”. The women all under 40 years of age, many of them novices, representing a variety of charisms, had welcomed Pope Benedict with an unexpected clamour, particularly considering that there were - among the Benedictines, the Pauline family, the Missionaries of Charity and the Servants of the Divine Master, - many from contemplative orders who had received special permission to be present at the encounter.
He told them “In a world of relativism and mediocrity, we need that radicalism to which your consecration, as a way of belonging to the God who is loved above all things, bears witness”. This he emphasized “is all the more important today when “we see a certain ‘eclipse of God’ taking place”. The Pope thanked them for their silent service, for their prayer; “Thank you for your generous, total and perpetual “yes” to the call of the Loved One”.
From the sunny courtyard he passed beneath a delicately sculpted portal into the shade of the Saint Lawrence Basilica where in stark contrast to the song of the nuns, he was greeted by the tumultuous applause of over 1,000 young academics. The ‘Professor Pope’, had arrived among his fellow professors. As Pope Benedict made his way up the long central aisle, the men and women drawn from across Spanish Universities, Catholic and non-Catholic, precipitated forward to greet him, their colorful academic hats and robes indicating their various faculties. As Pope Benedict moved forward his delight to be among them was apparent on the broad smile that never left his face.
Professor of Medieval History at Madrid University, Alejandro Rodriguez del la Pena, spoke to the Pope of how “today it is not easy to be a witness to the faith in University circles“ and on behalf of his colleagues asked for advice.
Pope Benedict began by recalling his own first steps as a young professor at the University of Bonn:. “At the time, - he said - the wounds of war were still deeply felt and we had many material needs; these were compensated by our passion for an exciting activity, our interaction with colleagues of different disciplines and our desire to respond to the deepest and most basic concerns of our students”.
He continued “At times one has the idea that the mission of a university professor nowadays is exclusively that of forming competent and efficient professionals” to supply to the jobs market. Pope Benedict noted that often it is said “that the only thing that matters” is pure “technical ability”, a “utilitarian approach” to education which he warned “is becoming more widespread, even at the university level, promoted especially by sectors outside the University”. As professors Pope Benedict said, we know that when this is happens, much is lost with potentially tragic results “from the abuses associated with a science which acknowledges no limits beyond itself, to the political totalitarianism which easily arises when one eliminates any higher reference than the mere calculus of power”. Instead “the authentic idea of the University, on the other hand, is precisely what saves us from this reductionist and curtailed vision of humanity”.
Herein said the Pope lies the vital importance of the professors mission: the honor and responsibility of transmitting the ideal of the University. This is achieved- he said - not simply by teaching, but by the way professors live and embody their faith, by realizing that truth itself will always lie beyond our grasp, by remaining humble and always keeping our gaze fixed on Christ.
“Always remember – he concluded – that teaching is not just about communicating content, but about forming young people. You need to understand and love them, to awaken their innate thirst for truth and their yearning for transcendence. Be for them a source of encouragement and strength”.
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