Pontifical Council for the Pastoral
Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

 

PRESENTATION OF THE CONGRESS 

“International Students and Meeting of Cultures” 

 

H. E. Bishop Joseph Kalathiparambil

Secretary of the Pontifical Council

for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

  

Your Beatitude, Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, dear Reverend Fathers, Religious Sisters and Brothers, dear Pastoral Agents and international university students!

It is with great pleasure that I take this opportunity to present the theme of this World Congress on the pastoral care of international students. It certainly gives me great satisfaction and brings me back to those beautiful years when I myself was a "foreign student" here in this Eternal City of Rome. It was certainly an exciting and enriching experience to study in a multicultural and multiethnic university community, belonging to different continents and diverse cultures, with distinct customs and patterns of life, yet belonging to the same one Catholic Church and humanity. To live in a society of that calibre is always challenging and demands patience, understanding, respect, dialogue, and commitment. 

The Final Document of the I World Congress, organized by our Pontifical Council in 1996, states that being foreigner is a condition that belongs to the contents of the Revelation and is a dimension in which the Church of Christ is called to become "space", "place of communion", and "Sacrament of God" which embraces all men and women into His Kingdom. While the document appreciates the intellectual, cultural and spiritual contribution of the international students in enhancing and enriching the cultural patrimony of the receiving society, it also understands the dilemma, at times faced by them, especially when the local culture challenges their value systems, aggravated by incidents of hostile and xenophobic attitudes and permissive moral practices as well as model and models of the Church being different from what was once familiar to them in their native land.

The participants of the II Word Congress, organized by our Dicastery in 2005, recognized so many positive contributions and also the "cultural shock” and "secularization" as some of the main negative impacts that overshadow the life of the international student. The Blessed Pope John Paul II, in his words to the participants of this Congress, made it a point to highlight this growing phenomenon as an important field of the pastoral action of the Church, as contributing agents both for the development of their native countries and for the Church's mission. 

While addressing the participants of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture in 1983, the Pope said that all sons and daughters of the Church should become conscious of their mission and discover how the power of the Gospel can penetrate and regenerate mentalities and dominant values that inspire cultures, and also opinions and mental attitudes deriving from them. In this Third World Congress, which we have just begun, our Pontifical Council wishes to concentrate as how to develop a well-reflected methodology of approach to this increasingly challenging phenomenon and also a programme of a widely coordinated continental and international net-work for the future of this very critical field of pastoral activity of the Church in the modern times.

When we look at the Programme of this Congress, therefore, one can see how it has been set in a manner to give us practically three full days of intense listening, reflecting and sharing in order to understand the meaning and implications, demands and benefits of the meeting of cultures in the world of international students. This evening, we will listen to the greetings from the Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, His Eminence Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, who calls the theme of the congress "particularly interesting and timely", not only because the cultural tensions affect the dynamics of multicultural and multinational society but also because they influence educational projects, teaching and academic researches. The greetings and experience of fraternal delegations from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran World Federation will certainly contribute to encourage our undertaking.

Addressing the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture in 1997, Blessed John Paul II said that faith in Christ incarnated in history not only internally transforms the persons but regenerates also people and their cultures. In this perspective, His Eminence Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will guide us tomorrow during the morning session to understand and appreciate the interconnectedness and interdependence between the Gospel and CultureThe Gospel of Our Lord is made known and made understandable to the w. orld through its implantation within the existing culture of the time.

In the second half of the morning session, in the Round-Table discussion, the President of the Service of European Churches for International Students (SECIS),  Rev. Fr. Pierre Devos, SJ, from Belgium and the President of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in the United States of America (ACCU-USA), Dr. Michael Galligan-Stierle, will articulate their experience to discuss on how far the meeting of cultures has been positively and negatively affecting the faith and values of the young generation today. The two student delegates from Canada and India will join the panel to evaluate the two presentations from their personal and practical point of view. 

Immediately after the audio-visual presentation on the activities of SECIS in the afternoon, His Excellency the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, United Kingdom, and President of the Commission on Catechesis, School and University of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences, will enlighten us on how the meeting of cultures is seen in the process of evangelization in Catholic schools and universities. The Prelate will base his presentation on the Blessed Cardinal Newman's "Idea of a university".

These two main interventions of the day and the panel discussion will facilitate our personal evaluation and contribution in the Workshops with the given themes for reflections. Please remember that the workshops are extremely important for a good outcome of the Congress. Your collaboration will be very much appreciated.

 The second day is dedicated to underline the vital role that culture plays in the field of education. His Excellency Archbishop Savio HonTai-Fai, Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, will deal with this theme from three points of view: (1) cultural transformations, (2) frontiers of education and (3) inculturation of the Gospel and Faith. Archbishop Hon Tai-Fai will consider the globalization process, which has brought about the standardization of culture and the crisis of cultural identities of persons and institutions in the context of the culture of globalization, affecting the education itself and the education systems.

Following the audiovisual presentations on the activities for international students in various parts of the world, the Round-Table in the afternoon will take into debate the possibility and the challenges of animating a specific pastoral care for international students. Rev. Sr. Mérète L. Klinke, belonging to the Congregation of Charity of Nevers Sisters and Pastoral Agent for students from France, and Mr Mehul Dabhi, President of the International Movement of Young Catholic Students - PAX Romana, based in Paris, will articulate their personal experience on the said theme in the panel discussion. Two students from Germany and Tanzania will contribute to the discussion by evaluating the two presentations and adding their personal concrete experience in the context. 

The workshops in the late afternoon will offer you again the possibility to give the best of your reflections and pastoral experience and to propose a project of a manual of Guidelines for the use of the university pastoral care for international students in future. As the establishment of SECIS was encouraged as a concrete response to the outcome of the First World Congress in 1996, our Pontifical Council wishes to undertake, as a concrete response to the outcome of this III World Congress, the task of working out a manual, taking into consideration your reflections and indications, to better respond to the needs of the international students.

The last day of the Congress will be lighted up by Rev. Sr. Martha Seide, FMA, a salesian sister from Haiti, a professor in Theology of Education at the Pontifical Salesian University "Auxilium"in Rome. She expounds a topic very complex as she is expected to propose to us a model of young leadership in the modern globalized world. She will elaborate her theme on the possibility or not, of carving out one single specific model leadership for the youth today, basing on the situation of the Latin American youth.

The main event, which adds grandeur, joy and significance to our Third World Congress is the Audience with the Holy Father Benedict XVI on Friday 2nd December. This is a unique and solemn occasion for all of us as the Holy Father has once again recognized the importance of this particular pastoral solicitude of the Church, also as a gesture of encouraging the international students and of appreciating the work of those committed to this field of pastoral activity.

May the power of the Holy Spirit inspire and guide all that we speak, discuss and propose during these four days of the Congress.

 

Thank you!