Pontifical Council for the Pastoral
Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Christian Witness and Dialogue

(Unofficial translation)      


H. Em. Cardinal Zenon GROCHOLEWSKI

Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education


Eminencies, Excellencies, Representatives of the sister Churches and Ecclesial Communities,

Agents of the pastoral care of students, dear Students, Participants in this Congress,

I am deeply sorry that due to an anticipation of an official travel, I cannot be present in this III World Congress on the Pastoral Care of International Students. However, I am greatly pleased to send my greetings to all the participants. First of all, I would like to thank H.E. Msgr. Vegliò, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, for having invited me to come. I also wish to address in a special way the Superiors and officials of this Dicastery and all those who have worked to carry out this important event. Congratulations for this initiative, which has now reached its third edition, and which allows a fecund confrontation of pastoral and formational experiences.

The theme of the present Congress: “International Students and the meeting of cultures”, is particularly interesting and timely. The Congregation for Catholic Education, in its service to scholastic and university institutions of the Church, attentively follows these problems, which affect not only the dynamics inherent in the presence of various nationalities and cultures in its own institutions, but also influence educational projects, teaching and academic research. For this reason, for some years now, the Congregation has started an extensive reflection on the role of intercultural education in today’s context of pluralism, after the 2008 celebration of, among others, a successful International Assembly on this theme[1].

The phenomenon of student mobility

The phenomenon of mobility among students is not new. It already existed in ancient times, when young bachelors of the Roman aristocracy were invited to Greece to complete their formation. Athens, Alexandria, Rome and the main centres of the Roman empire saw students from the various parts of the known world study rhetoric or law or get trained in the school of accomplished and prominent educators and philosophers. Moreover, it is impossible not to remember the multicoloured presence of students in the big medieval universities of Paris, Bologna, Salamanca, to mention some of them, and the goliardic literature that has given us a delightful  interpretation of a vivacious world that was already “intercultural” in varying degrees. St. Augustine and St. Thomas, pillars of the theological and philosophical thought of Christian West, although in extremely different periods – the first during late ancient times, the second during the Middle Ages –, had experienced being “international students”.

In today’s context, however, the mobility of students assume new characteristics, situated in a wider and more complex sphere, marked by globalization, informatic revolution, profound changes in relationships and in international relations. Today, students move not only to reach centres of excellence, as in the past, but also because they are pushed by a need to be trained, which cannot be satisfied in their own country, deprived of adequate educational and academic structures. In addition to these motivations, there is also student mobility which is the result of educational and cultural policies that promote contacts and meetings through projects and programmes of exchange between schools and universities of different countries. Thus, the panorama of mobility is complex and multiform and is a challenge and an opportunity precisely in the field that is being studied in this Congress: the meeting with cultures.

Towards a meeting between cultures: the Catholic contribution

Intercultural themes receive special attention on the part of governments and international organizations. UNESCO’s big projects on intercultural and inter-religious dialogue are well-known. So are the educational and cultural policies of the European Union and the Council of Europe, which, among other things, extensively promote student exchanges between different countries. In these projects, the meeting between cultures is considered not only as a consolidated reality, but also as a positive factor that can and must encourage, through mutual acquaintance, social cohesion and peace. Such a situation necessarily impels us to reflect on and interrogate ourselves regarding the relationship between cultures, or rather between persons representing them.

Every culture worthy of such a name, in fact, is an effort to reflect on the mystery of man, a way of expressing the transcendental dimension of life. Accepting one’s own culture as a structuring element of his personality is a universally-experienced fact. In the field of culture education has the responsibility of transmitting awareness of one’s own roots and supplying points of reference that would allow the definition of one’s personal position in the world.

From this perspective, education and the school are called to provide the young generations with the necessary elements to develop an intercultural vision, which requires a real change of paradigms at the pedagogical level. This is because it leads towards the envisioning of a common destiny, so as  to be able to acquire attitudes of conviviality, cooperation, sympathy, through an itinerary of civilization that is to be travelled together. It certainly is not a simple model or one that is easily accomplished. On one hand, it imposes a search for ethical foundations that should characterize the common cultural experience. On the other hand, it asks to avoid the loss of one’s own identity and the adoption of general models that could lead to fragmentation and be transformed into factors of instability.

In this perspective, dialogue assumes a fundamental role, as Blessed John Paul II wrote: “Dialogue between cultures [] emerges as an intrinsic demand of human nature itself, as well as of culture. It is dialogue which protects the distinctiveness of cultures as historical and creative expressions of the underlying unity of the human family, and which sustains understanding and communion between them. The notion of communion [] never implies a dull uniformity or enforced homogenization or assimilation; rather it expresses the convergence of a multiform variety, and is therefore a sign of richness and a promise of growth[2].

The Holy Father Benedict XVI, with the intellectual lucidity that distinguishes him, shows us how important Christian action is on the cultural plane, by affirming that “today more than ever, reciprocal openness between the cultures is a privileged context for dialogue between people committed to seeking an authentic humanism, over and above the divergences that separate them. In the cultural arena too, Christianity must offer to all a most powerful force of renewal and exaltation, that is, the Love of God who makes himself human love”[3].

Thus it is a question of not giving up one’s own identity, but of bringing what is specific to Christianity, that enriches and humanizes cultures, to the meeting and exchange.

In the more specific field of education, the Pope asks to have “the courage to proclaim the ‘broad’ value of education, in order to form solid people who can collaborate with others and give meaning to their lives”. And referring to intercultural education, he states that “in this realm courageous and innovative fidelity are required that can combine a clear awareness of one’s own identity with openness to others because of the requirements of coexistence in multicultural societies”[4].

Therefore, the there are two challenges that the Pope points out to us: on one hand, the challenge of Christian witness. On the other hand, that of pedagogical and academic research, committed to finding a “grammar” of dialogue and of meeting in the name of common humanity, but without giving up one’s own identity. 


I wish all participants that these days of work, study and sharing of experiences be fruitful in facing the aforementioned challenges and in proposing useful indications so that the pastoral care of students in its intercultural dimension, fully included in the dynamism of the new evangelization, may turn out also to be a promoter of mutual enrichment and of collaboration among all for the good of mankind.

May this Congress also be a strong signal of the need for further commitment that requires intelligence, dedication, generosity, analytical capacity, and is nourished with courage and joy in building a future that is rich in hope. Thank you.

[1] The Proceedings were published in Seminarium  48 (2008) dossier 2-4, 267-574, as well as in the volume Congregation for Catholic Education, Educazione interculturale e pluralismo religioso (“Atti e Documenti”, 31), Vatican Publishing House 2009. On 25 January 1986, the Congregation sent the circular letter on “the pastoral care of human mobility in the formation of future priests” to the Diocesan Ordinaries and to the Rectors of their Seminaries (Enchiridion Vaticanum, vol. 10, pp. 8-15,  nn. 5-24).

[2] B. John Paul II, Dialogue between cultures for a civilization of love and peace, Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2001, n. 10.

[3] Benedict XVI, Speech to the Members of the Pontifical Council for Culture, 15 June 2007.

[4] Benedict XVI, Speech to the Participants In The Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Catholic Education, 7 February 2011.