Pontifical Council for the Pastoral
Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

His Eminence Cardinal Ryłko Stanislaw

President of the Pontifical Council for Laity

(Unofficial translation)  


I am greatly honored to take part in the III World Congress of Pastoral Care for International Students, and particularly for having been called to introduce the session dedicated to the relationship between culture and education.

Some years ago Pope Benedict XVI, in a letter addressed to the faithful of Rome, availing of his customary realism pointed out the complexity of the present day task of education: Educating … has never been an easy task and today seems to be becoming ever more difficult. […] Hence, there is talk of a great "educational emergency”.[1] This emergency, as the Holy Father teaches, is at the same time cause and effect of the profound anthropological crisis of the post-modern world, a “crisis of man”, which is the direct consequence of the “crisis of God”: “We live at a time of uncertainty about what it means to be human. […] Only those who know God, know man. […]Without knowledge of God, man is easily manipulated.”[2]

The inadequacy of the contemporary anthropological conception generates an uncertain culture, which is dominated by a “liquid” relativism that deprives the human experience of a solid foundation. First among all is the “issue of truth” and the “issue of God”, creating a lot of difficulties to any kind of education. This fact confirms the extremely close bond between culture and education. Blessed John Paul II made this very clear in one of his famous discourses: “The primary and essential task of culture in general, as well as of each culture, is education. In substance the task of education is to help man become all the more human, that he  may “be” more and not solely that he “have” more, and consequently may he by means of what he “has”, by all that he “possesses”, ever more “be” completely man”.[3]

Today’s “educational emergency” precisely draws its origin from the renunciation to knowledge’s dimension of wisdom, which upholds the harmonic and integral development of man’s “being”, a characteristic conception of the Jewish-Christian cultural tradition. However this is nowadays seen by the post-modern western world as a weight which one needs to be freed from, rather than a treasure to be preserved and developed.

Such a situation has repercussions on all educational institutions, and particularly on universities. They have been known to be the historical protagonists of development and of the transmission of culture, however for some time now they have been immersed in a crisis, which “is not primarily organizational or institutional, but a spiritual and cultural type of crisis”.[4] Among the more evident symptoms of this confusion we find the tendency towards the fragmentation of knowledge and partiality as well as the contradiction of cultural proposals, which are deeply conditioned by the restricted perspectives of the so-called “weak thought”, whilst the “strong” issues on truth and on the sense of life are silenced.

The Church is therefore directly called upon by the educational challenge, which is an integral part of its mission, as John Paul II taught us: “A faith that does not become culture is a faith which is not fully received, not totally thought, not faithfully lived”.[5] For what concerns the university, Benedict XVI recently reminded us that, “it was not by accident that the Church promoted the universities, for Christian faith speaks to us of Christ as the Word through whom all things were made (cf. Jn 1:3) and of men and women as made in the image and likeness of God.”[6] In fact, to be able to educate, before the necessary technical competencies, an adequate competency on man is required, on his nature, on his deep aspirations, as well as wisdom of which the Church is depository for the benefit of the whole of humanity: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. […] Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”[7]

The extraordinary anthropological value of the Christian thought springs forth from the intimate structure of the act of faith: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”[8] The pedagogy of encounter is the pedagogy of the Lord, the real “Master”, the “Pedagogue”[9] who freely communicates divine life to man, that is to say, by establishing with each one an authentic relationship by means of the Church. This is the origin of the Christians’ attitude to transmit a culture which is humanly comprehensive and integral, and their capacity to assume all of the “educational risk”[10] which freedom involves. From here also arises the importance of the educational figure, which cannot only be a neutral intermediary of technical competencies: “Young people need authentic teachers; [...] persons who, above all, are convinced of our human capacity to advance along the path of truth.” [11]

Benedict XVI summarized the essential qualities of the educator in three key points.[12] First of all the real master is aware that “the path to the fullness of truth calls for complete commitment […] the entire human existence: it is a path of understanding and love, of reason and faith […]This unity leads to consistency in life and thought, that ability to inspire demanded of every good educator”. Secondly the true master knows “that truth itself will always lie beyond our grasp. […] In intellectual and educational activity humility is an indispensable virtue”.  Finally, aware of his own limitations, the educator always keeps his “gaze fixed on Christ, whose face radiates the Truth which enlightens us. Christ is also the Way which leads to lasting fulfillment; he walks constantly at our side and sustains us with his love.”

Precisely on account of these universal principles, the Church is called to show its catholicity by responding to the demands of education in the era of globalization, which in the context of the international students’ education emerge with particular evidence; the Church in fact is called to evangelize every culture, as John Paul II taught us: “If it is true that the faith does not identify itself with no culture and is independent with respect to all cultures, it is no less true, that exactly because of this, faith is called to inspire and to impregnate every culture”.[13] The Church is in fact guardian and guarantor of the same foundations which are at the basis of all the vital and inevitable questions that dwell in the heart of man. Pope Benedict XVI says: “What gave Europe’s culture its foundation – the search for God and the readiness to listen to him – remains today the basis of any genuine culture.”[14]

[1] Benedict XVI, Letter to the faithful of the Diocese and City of Rome, 21st January 2008, in: “Insegnamenti” IV,1 (2008), p. 116.

[2] Address during the Ecumenical Prayer Service at the Church of the former Augustinian Convent in Erfurt, 23 September 2011, in: “L’Osservatore Romano”, 25th September 2011, p. 8. 

[3] John Paul II, Speech to UNESCO, 2nd June 1980, no. 11, in: “Insegnamenti” III,1 (1980), p. 1644.

[4] E. Corecco, The Church and its Universities, in: “Il Nuovo Areopago” 4 (1988), pp. 27-28.

[5] John Paul II, Speech at the National Congress of the MEIC (Ecclesial Movement of Cultural Commitment), 16th January 1982, no. 2, in: “Insegnamenti” V,1 (1982), p. 131.

[6] Benedict XVI, Meeting with young university professors, 19th August 2011, in: “L’Osservatore Romano”, 20th August 2011, p. 11.

[7] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, no. 22.

[8] Benedict XVI, Encyclical letter Deus caritas est, no. 1.

[9] Cfr. Saint Cyril Of Alexandria, The Pedagogue, PG 8, 247-684.

[10] Cfr. L. Giussani, The educational risk, Milan 2005.

[11] Benedict XVI, Meeting with young university professors, cit

[12] Ibidem.

[13] John Paul II, Speech to the National Congress of MEIC (Ecclesial Movement of Cultural Commitment), no. 2, cit.

[14] Benedict XVI, Speech at the Collège des Bernardins, 12th September 2008, in: “L’Osservatore Romano”, 14th September 2008, p. 8.