Communique from the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M.
I have returned from Washington, where Father Christopher Robinson, who heads Catholic Campus Ministry, and I had the privilege of attending several Papal activities during his historic visit to the United States. The experience was thrilling, and I would like to share it with you.
Father Robinson was in Washington when the Pope arrived and witnessed the excitement of his motorcade passing. We both had tickets to the Mass at the Washington Nationals Stadium and a smaller gathering of presidents and superintendents of Catholic educational institutions.
The Holy Father extended his greetings and Apostolic blessing to our university community, referring to you as bearers of wisdom and expressing his profound gratitude for the selfless contributions and generosity of those in the education field. His remarks were warm and pastoral, uplifting and inspirational. Most importantly, they were relevant to a number of issues American Catholic institutions face and several that resonate strongly with DePaul's mission and values.
During an interfaith meeting of religious leaders, the Pope recognized that in the United States students of all religions learn with and from each other. He believes "a united society can indeed arise from a plurality of peoples," and invited "all religious people to view dialogue not only as a means of enhancing mutual understanding, but also as a way of serving society at large.
By bearing witness to those moral truths which they hold in common with all men and women of goodwill, religious groups will exert a positive influence on the wider culture, and inspire neighbors, co-workers and fellow citizens to join in the task of strengthening the ties of solidarity." We could not have imagined a more precise endorsement of our commitment to diversity.
In his remarks to Catholic education leaders, Pope Benedict XVI urged religious orders not to abandon their work with schools, to renew their commitment to schools in poor areas and ensure that education remains accessible to people of all social and economic strata. The thunderous applause he received affirmed that Catholic institutions of all kinds remain as dedicated to those in need as we are here at DePaul.
Catholic identity was another key theme in his remarks. He said our identity is not just a question Catholic student enrollment, statistics or course content. Rather it "demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith."
It is the Pope's role to challenge us to strive toward ideals, and he did so in remarks directed at university presidents. "In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges and universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you."
Yet, he challenged Catholic universities never to hide behind "academic freedom" as a reason that students cannot be taught and exposed to the Church's own great intellectual treasury. He reminded us that American universities are well known for a positivist philosophical tradition that the Church finds insufficient to give life a full meaning. He reminded us of the Church's long history of metaphysics, and encouraged us to be sure that our students have the opportunity to develop a philosophy of life that will serve them through all the challenges of their lives ahead.
The Pope was forthright in commenting on sexual abuse by American clergy, a tragedy for the individual victims and the Church as a whole. He met privately with victims to acknowledge the pain and harm they had suffered in an effort to foster the difficult healing process, and spoke strongly to the bishops about their own responsibilities in this regard. At Mass, he asked all Catholics and Catholic institutions to work hard to make the Church a place where everyone is safe and to restore trust and faith among Catholics.
If you would like to read texts of the Pope's statements during his American visit or see video of his appearances, you can visit the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at: http://www.uspapalvisit.org or the Vatican at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/travels/2008/index_stati-uniti_en.htm
The Pope visited Washington and New York specifically because of their 200th anniversaries as dioceses, but he was quite clear in his homily at Mass that he intended his visit as a visit to the entire nation, and to speak to all of us who participate in the life of the Church. His strongest words to universities were words of thanks, where he literally looked up from his text and lingered on that sentiment.
His gratitude for those involved in the work of Catholic education was clearly heartfelt, and he wanted us to know his respect for the institutions and work that has been built here in the United States. If we continue to reflect upon the import of his words for DePaul, it should always be done in the context of the clear gratitude and respect that he so wanted to convey.