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Message to the University World, Guatemala

1983, March 07

On Monday Evening, 7 March, in the Apostolic Nunciature, the Holy Father consigned a message, addressed to the teachers and students of the country, to the representatives of the Guatemalan university world, with whom he met. Following is the text of the message.

Rector, Professors, Dear university Students.

In the context of my visit to Central America, Belize and Haiti, I wish to address this written message to you in order to reflect together on the special relationship which unites the Church and the university. This is also intended to be a proof of the great interest dedicated by the Church to the indispensable mission of the university in present-day society, above all in a period which is so mindful of the integral advancement of man.

As you well know, the university was born in Europe, in the very bosom of the Church, as an almost natural extension of the roles carried out by the Church in the field of teaching, education, research and cultural service. Beginning with modest schools, originating in the cathedrals and monasteries, faculties and centers of higher learning gradually developed, at first supported and then instituted and confirmed by the Church in their academic prerogatives and autonomies. Little by little, prestigious university communities developed, such as Bologna, Paris, Oxford, Prague, Krakow, Salamanca, Coimbra, which have exercised a commendable role in the development of European culture, which would not be what it is without their impulse and their contribution.

When the action of Europe extended toward these lands, the Church wanted to create universities or higher schools to respond to the needs of the New World. Thus Many universities were founded, several of which have become famous: those of Santo Domingo, Lima, Mexico City, Sucre, Quito, the Xaverian University of Bogota, the one of Cordova, and that of St Charles of Guatemala, from which others subsequently were derived. Excellent teaching has been imparted in these, as much in theology as in philosophy, letters, arts, humanities, medicine, law, mathematics, astronomy, botany. At the same time prestigious libraries were created in the principal university centers of the continent.

To defend man, his rights, and freedom

But my intention is not to make an apology of a period which, as every period, knows successes and difficulties, but to emphasize the role which the Church has tried to fulfil in this age-old experience through the universities. From the very beginning it has aspired to cultivate the sacred and profane sciences in order to investigate the works of God and to serve society. The universities have educated such great men of the Church, doctors, educators, experts in law and jurisprudence, who have been at the service of the community. In a word, the universities contributed everywhere to raising a class of people highly qualified to satisfy the specific needs of the societies of the New Continent.

The Church often recalled that the role of the university was to defend man, his rights and his freedom. Suffice it to recall here the prophetic voice of the great Bishop Francisco de Manoquin who, one hundred years before the creation of the prestigious university of St. Charles in Guatemala, proclaimed the university’s Christian and human mission: and he did everything possible to facilitate his future creation, even leaving a gift to this end.

For him, the university ought to be consecrated to the progress of divine and human sciences, and to the defense of man’s rights.  This spirit, constantly recalled by the Church, contributed to the flourishing of a new culture, open to the service of the Latin-American man and to the advancement of his identity. From these Universities have come in great measure the men and women who have formed the Latin- American nations and who have determined their autonomy and cultural vocation, always sustaining the community spirit of the peoples of this continent.

These universities always contributed to the spread of a humanism rooted in the rich cultural humus of you regions. In the scientific field, we recall Jose’ Celestino Mutis, of the Colegio Mayor di Rosario of Bogota, a great botanist and specialist in Copernicus’ astronomical discoveries. We also think of the great poet and Latinist Rafael Landivar, of Guatemala.

It is impossible to forget the explorations of the missionaries and Christina researchers of the great pre-Columbian civilizations, such as the Mayan, whose marvelous monuments, cosmology, mathematical and astronomical knowledge as well as their deep sense of the sacred, were subsequently discovered. Thus these cultures are better understood and studied today and the influence exercised on us by these ancient civilizations is verified.

Search for truth

One could say, then, that the history of the universities in your countries has been united to the life of the Church for a long time. If circumstances and political evolutions subsequently have been able to break these ties and arouse reciprocal lack of understanding, it is necessary to recognize nevertheless that between the university and the Church there exists a real con-naturalness.

In fact, the university and the Church are devoted, each in its own way, to the search for truth, to the progress of the spirit, to universal values, to comprehension and to the integral development of man, to the exploration of the mysteries of the universe. IN a word, the University and the Church want to serve man unselfishly, trying to respond to his highest moral intellectual aspirations. The Church teaches that he human person, created in God’s image, has a unique dignity which must be defended against all treats, above all the present ones, which attempt to destroy man in his physical and moral being, both individual and collective.

The Church addresses itself in a very particular way to the present university students to tell them: let us together try to defend man, whose dignity and whose honor are  seriously threatened. The university, which by vocation is an unselfish and free institution, appears to be one of the few institutions of modern society which along with the Church is capable of defending man in himself; without deceit, without other pretext and for the sole reason that man possesses a unique dignity and deserves to be esteemed for himself.

This is the superior humanism taught by the Church. This is the humanism which I propose to you for your noble and urgent works, university students and educators. Allow me therefore to exhort you to use all the legitimate means at your disposal: teaching, research, information, dialogue, in order to bring to term your humanistic mission, converting yourselves into builders of this civilization of love the only one capable of sparing man from being man’s enemy.

Fruitful Dialogue

It is also necessary, on both sides, to favor today the conditions of a fruitful dialogue between the Church and the universities. In the fullness of their just autonomy in juridical and civil contests which cannot be those of the past, the universities can have no little interest in considering attentively and with greater depth the very rich anthropology developed and expressed by the Second Vatican Council for modern times in inspiring documents such as the Constitution Gaudium et Spes, which appears as a response not only to the hopes but also to the anguish of modern man, thirsty, as perhaps never before in history, for freedom and brotherhood. The Catholic universities, in consistency with their proper mission, must deeply study and divine-human foundations and the universal value of this anthropology.

However, every man and woman of good will is warmly invited to share this moral and spiritual vision of man which our era is called to promote with all its energies if it wants to overcome contradictions and avoid the drama of absurd wars and fratricide. If not, man will continue shamefully to exploit man, submitting him to the cruel game of interests of ideologies.

This language - I am verifying it in my meeting with men and women of culture and science – leaves no one indifferent. Everyone understands that in order to defend man unselfishly and to promote his true progress it is necessary to overcome divisions, to separate higher learning from party clashes, in a word, it is necessary to fill the mind with truth and justice.

The university would betray its vocation if it were to close itself to the sense of the absolute and of the transcendent because it would arbitrarily limit the search for all reality or truth and it would end up with prejudging man himself, whose highest aspiration is to know Truth, Good and Beauty, and to hope in a destiny which transcends him. Therefore, the university must be converted into a witness of truth and justice and must reflect the moral conscience of a nation.

University students, intellectuals, educators can exert considerable influence in the struggle for social justice, an objective to be pursued with courage and vigor, by means of the same justice, achieving all the improvements imposed by ethics in economic and social relations, and at the same time avoiding the destructive violence of revolutionary clashes. The university has at its disposal an immense moral power for defending justice and right acting in conformity with its means; scientific competence and moral education. The university must also try, as much as possible, to increase the extension of the benefits of higher education to all the classes and to all the generations able to avail themselves of it.

This is certainly an ambitious programme, difficult to realize all at once, but it is an ideal project which must inspire the university’s future developments, the reform of programmes and the renewal of the university’s orientation.

Catholic university has special role

I address a special reminder to Catholics to welcome this orientation generously and to invent ways for a new dialogue between the Church and the university, scientific and cultural world. This undertaking seems to me to be vital for the Church and for your nations. In fact, what future can we expect if man is sacrificed and he destroys himself?  Only an anthropology based on the unconditional love of man and on the respect for his transcendent destiny will allow today’s generations to overcome cruel divisions and to struggle against the lack of physical, moral, and spiritual dignity which currently dishonor mankind.

Catholic universities today have a special role to fulfil in the deepening of a liberating anthropology which considers man in his body and spirit and they can enter a new dialogue with all men and women of good will. Beginning with their vocation and their Christian identity, Catholic universities will be able to respond effectively to the current great challenge.
I also address an urgent reminder to those Catholics who usually work in the universities and research centers, that all of them unite to defend man, considered both individually and collectively, at the present moment and in the future. I am convinced that my reminder will meet with a firm and generous response on the part of all the Church leaders: the religious, the laity, men and women of every age.

Thinking of these very serious issues of our era, I decided to create the Pontifical Council for Culture (cf. L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 28 June 1982), to give the Church an impulse in such important matters and at the same time to testify to the great interest of the Holy See in the dialogue of cultures and in the intellectual advancement of man.
To you, the leaders and members of the university world of this geographical area, I renew my profound esteem for your high and important mission, and I ask him who is the fullness of truth and man’s destiny to direct your ways and orient them to the good of mankind and to elevate them toward a height of transcendency. 

Source of the English text: Osservatore Romano, English Weekly Edition, 1983, April 28, pp. 8-9.