18-April-2008 -- Vatican Information Service |

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VATICAN CITY, 17 APR 2008 (VIS) - At 5 p.m. local time (11 p.m. in Rome), the Pope went to the Catholic University of Washington where he met with representatives from the Catholic academic world. The event was attended by a total of around 600 people, including 235 rectors of Catholic universities and colleges, 195 diocesan heads of education, as well as professors and students.

"Education", said the Pope in his address, "is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News".

"Set against personal struggles, moral confusion and fragmentation of knowledge, the noble goals of scholarship and education, founded on the unity of truth and in service of the person and the community, become an especially powerful instrument of hope".

The Pope highlighted the need "to reflect on what is particular to our Catholic institutions" and to ask: "how do they contribute to the good of society through the Church's primary mission of evangelisation?"

He went on: "A university or school's Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction - do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear? ... Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools?"

"The contemporary 'crisis of truth' is rooted in a 'crisis of faith'", he said. " Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God's testimony and acknowledge Him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth He reveals. ... Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in - a participation in Being itself. Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God".

The Holy Father explained how the Church's mission to evangelise "involves her in humanity's struggle to arrive at truth. In articulating revealed truth she serves all members of society by purifying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the consideration of ultimate truths".

"With confidence, Christian educators can liberate the young from the limits of positivism and awaken receptivity to the truth, to God and His goodness. In this way you will also help to form their conscience which, enriched by faith, opens a sure path to inner peace and to respect for others".

"When nothing beyond the individual is recognised as definitive", the Pope warned, "the ultimate criterion of judgement becomes the self and the satisfaction of the individual's immediate wishes".

Then, after thanking the academic authorities for their "dedication and generosity" and "selfless contributions" which "serve both your country and the Church", Benedict XVI recalled that "any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church's 'munus docendi' and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.

"Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice", he added. "This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church's Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution's life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual".

The Pope had special words of encouragement for teachers of catechesis, both lay and religious. "Religious education", he said, "is a challenging apostolate, yet there are many signs of a desire among young people to learn about the faith and practice it with vigour". In conclusion, he encouraged religious and priests not to "abandon the school apostolate; indeed, renew your commitment to schools especially those in poorer areas".

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