Pontifical Council for the Pastoral
Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

H. E. Msgr. Salvatore FISICHELLA

President Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization 

(Unofficial translation)      


Ancient philosophers wrote that amazement is the beginning of every philosophy, which means that without wondering at the reality that surrounds us we cannot be able neither of new knowledge nor of fully understanding ourselves and the world. I am particularly glad to share with all of you this moment of reflection. Having spent twenty years as a professor of fundamental theology and eight years as Rector of a Pontifical University allowed me to have in many ways a privileged experience. My audience has always been international. Usually, there were students from at least 120 nations. Finding a common language to be understood has always been the big challenge. I am not talking of the language itself, but of the words which express concepts and ideas and allows to communicate and share the thought.

I think how much important was in the past the experience that has characterized our centuries of history and established the premise of what we are achieving today with this conference. Two examples come spontaneously: the pilgrimage and the university. Even before the university was created, the Church proposed to his faithful the pilgrimage. Of course, it was first a religious experience, and yet this was combined, not extrinsically, with the cultural one.

From there on, spaces opened up that could give the knowledge of nature, of sacred places, of cities and cultures of the known world. Certainly, to arrive up to Santiago was no mean feat and was equivalent to reach the limit of the known world, beyond which there was nothing but sea and areas unheard of. Pilgrimage and culture were not opposed, but summarized in a harmonious vision of life that would favor the development and personal growth. Curiosity and pleasure of knowing the world were the normal desire of those who began the pilgrimage. The effort and the commitment for the journey, together with the dangers encountered, were certainly supported by religious motivations. However, these did not prevent to be fully immersed in completely cultural experiences that allowed to learn different customs, ways of living and thinking, thought firmly united by the faith in Jesus Christ.

And yet, the pilgrim was also very curious, attentive to everything he encountered and eager to learn. In a word, a person who admires the items of market stalls, listens to musicians and jesters, who stay at fairs and listen to stories and legends of various kinds. If, on the one hand, the miracles of the saints are told to him, on the other, he learns about the great deeds of Charlemagne, Orlando and many Knights whose graves he encounters in his path. Do not forget that that pilgrim watched how churches were built, and many times, contributed in exchange for room and lodging. At the same time, however, he saw how to dyed the wool or how the wicker was interwoven, how the iron was forged or the meat was salted, how people met were dressed during winter and summer, or how to bread animals unknown to him.

In other words, he would learn how corporations and municipalities were organized, how markets and fairs were structured, by which ways the consumption of delicious spices from the East or the leather products coming the Nordic countries were carried... in short, a person who, in spite of all, would become a witness and interpreter. Even if he did not want, his pilgrimage was a deep cultural experience and he himself became a living part of passing of traditions and customs, the basic elements for every culture. The relative serenity of his home, his village and his town was broken by the flow of knowledge, information and languages ​​that would cause the insatiable thirst for knowledge that is unique for each person. The second example is that of the university.

In 1200 in Paris for the first time the Church opens the doors of the monasteries, where the knowledge was jealously guarded, and brings it in the squares. The university teacher is sought after and surrounded by his disciples eager to learn. And here something extraordinary happens: it all starts with the “question”. The "cur", the "why", is the backbone of academic lecture which, starting from the question and the problematic, searches of ways for the possible solution. Master and disciples travel together along the only road to truth.

Living without this background would not be positive, because we are all children of a tradition that remains alive because it is able to enter the cultures, to understand them and transform them, in the light of a unitarian thought that brings back a radical innovation that only the revelation of the Son of God made ​​man could express. I hope that these days of sharing could be marked by this passion for knowledge and the desire to learn ever more.