By Sarah Mac Donald - 24 July, 2018
The prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, along with 200 university presidents, vice-presidents and international development officers are in Maynooth this week for the General Assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities.
It is the first time the Irish college has hosted this high-profile gathering which is due to discuss ‘Catholic Universities, Working in Solidarity as Responsible Agents from the Local to the Global’ over four days this week.
Mass to open the General Assembly was celebrated on Monday afternoon in the College Chapel in Maynooth by Cardinal Versaldi. Archbishop Eamon Martin, Primate of All Ireland, preached.
In his homily, Archbishop Martin, who is Chancellor of St Patrick’s College, said the federation thrives on the exchange of ideas and skills, on cooperation in academic research, and on shared reflection.
“During these days you will engage in a constructive critique of what it means to be a Catholic university, responding to the challenges of the 21st century,” he told the assembled delegates.
Describing Maynooth as a “unique campus” which encompasses a thriving secular university, a historic pontifical university and the national seminary for the formation of priests, he said that at this ‘crossroads’ at the heart of Ireland, “young adults of all faiths and none meet and interact, sharing their ideas and hopes for the present and future, engaging with a rapidly evolving culture and learning to discern amidst the often contradictory messages which push, and pull, them – this way and that.”
This is a challenging time to be a leader in a Catholic university, Dr Martin acknowledged.
“The world yearns for the Good News – today, more than ever – but Gospel values are often threatened by a popular relativism which questions any appeal to objective truths or stable moral reference points and which even relegates the fundamental right to life itself beneath the right to individual choice.”
This is a time for believers to become engaged in the new evangelisation, and active as missionaries for Christ, the Archbishop of Armagh stated.
He also highlighted how in Ireland there is a tremendous sense of anticipation as the countdown to the World Meeting of Families and the visit of Pope Francis gets under way.
“The theme of the World Meeting is the Gospel of the Family – Joy for the World! It is a message not only for ‘faith-full’ Catholic families and those who are broadly supportive of Church, but it is Good News also for those who have become indifferent to faith, and even those who feel excluded or alienated from Church, rejecting or actively resisting all that we stand for,” he said.
The Archbishop told the visiting academics that in the 21st century, the ‘vineyard of the Lord’ cannot remain walled off from the influences and challenges of a fast-paced, multimedia world.
“This is our time and our space for mission; it is also the context in which your deliberations as a federation of Catholic universities take place.”
He continued, “Your challenge – your opportunity for mission – is to network together in solidarity in order to respond to the questions and needs of today’s world – from the local to the global. It is your mandate and your privilege to nourish and equip those who bring the message of Christ into the public sphere.
“Your task, as Catholic universities, includes offering spaces for dialogue and encounter between faith and culture where your students can learn and test ideas, while being nourished by the very best of Christian scholarship.”
The Primate recalled how 160 years ago, Blessed John Henry Newman founded his Catholic University in Dublin.
“For Newman, a Catholic university was a space to cultivate the mind and to foster an intellect that is comprehensive and versatile enough to be able to instinctively evaluate ‘things as they pass before us’.”
He added, “A liberal education for Newman was about forming the intellect to have a ‘connected view or grasp of things’ rather than simply to be dazzled by all that is new and different.”
Ahead of the opening of the General Assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities, President of St Patrick’s College, Rev Professor Michael Mullaney said, “Our deliberations will seek to explain how the cause of the human person is truly served if knowledge is joined to conscience. This unity of knowledge and conscience is what drives Catholic universities.
“Our shared task is to be responsible and ethical actors in addressing the contemporary challenges to human dignity, justice, environment, climate change, migration, economy and politics to create a more humane world and protecting our shared planet.”
Professor Mullaney added that the “complexities of globalisation and the global problems of poverty, the ecological crisis and climate change, require sophisticated analysis for ethical solutions. Catholic universities must play an increasing role in the development of these solutions and in equipping graduates to take their place in the promotion of the human dignity of every person and the common good of all.”