Saturday, February 25, 2012

"We are committed to accomplish a far-reaching renewal of our university"

On June 30, 2010, Benedict XVI appointed a Salesian, Monsignor Enrico dal Covolo, as Chancellor of the Pontifical Lateran University. 

Ordinary professor of ancient Greek Christian Literature at the Pontifical Salesian University and Ordinary Member of the Salesian Pontifical Academy of Theology, has edited numerous scientific publications, especially on the relationship between the Church and the Empire, until the so-called “Constantinian turning point”. 

But perhaps here it is all the more relevant to emphasize the spiritual affinity between the holy founder of the Salesians, St. John Bosco, and the rector. 

Not so much and not only because they belong to the same order, but for being in extraordinary synch with regard to their common vocation, viz. the education of the youth that, mutatis mutandis, the saint practiced in Turin of his time by taking care of street children, for whom he was father, mentor and friend. 

Msgr. Dal Covolo, instead, was entrusted an institution that, due to a special prerogative, is the University of the Pope. 

Interestingly, the Chancellor has also at heart what he calls “educational emergency”, in a way similar to the one Don Bosco in fact also sought to address with his action for the youth, to whom he cared to give a solid basic Christian formation first, and then everything else.

This emergency is still so topical that, as reported by the chief of the Vatican Sala Stampa father Federico Lombardi in a news agency AGI dispatch (17 February 2012), such issue was also raised during the meeting convened by the Holy Father for the members of the College of Cardinals and the new cardinals-elect in the Vatican on Friday, February 17th, 2012, as part of a day of reflection and prayer in preparation of the following day’s consistory.
Q. You often speak of “educational emergency” in your speeches: can you tell us something more about it?
A. As is known, the term “educational emergency” was “launched” by the Bishop of Rome to his diocese and its city in a letter, by now famous, dated January 21, 2008. Many agencies, of all kinds and tendencies, have taken up this concept. The Italian Bishops Conference, for its part, has based the 2010-2020 Pastoral Guidelines on it with this title: “Educating to the good life of the Gospel”. Now, after so much literature on the subject, it seems to me that the most important thing to consider is this: that the educational crisis should not be regarded as a calamitous fate that eventually kills the hope of the educator (and thus his-her ability to intervene). Rather, it must be taken as a providential opportunity, which requires for the content and methods of education to be better focused, in the face of the cultural and social peculiarities under the present circumstances. I would like just to mention, without going into further details, three examples of “opportunities” in this educational emergency: a) to study the profile of today’s adolescent and youth, not just the (mostly negative) diagnoses, but seeking to enhance the positive emerging aspects; b) to examine the relationship between education and communication, considering the exceptional importance of the media today, and considering also the fact that - in the face of so much communication - there is a desert of youth loneliness, punctuated by macroscopic phenomena such as suicide and severe marginalization; c) to understand and analyze the reasons underlying youth protest, namely the phenomenon of young indignados, as the Pope started to do in his Message for the World Day of Peace 2012, No. 1.

If it is therefore a critical challenge in our times, how do you, as the head of a university which is also the Pope's university par excellence, intends to address it?

Starting from a basic theological principle, which is a principle of common sense: you can not expect to change others, when we ourselves are not willing to change in the first place. So we have pledged to carry out a far-reaching renewal of our university, which on several occasions I had a chance to talk about, outlining its guidelines and salient operational aspects. We are much consoled by what the Holy Father on June 30, during the ceremony awarding the first winners of the “Ratzinger Prize”, had to say about “the greatness of the challenge inherent in the nature of theology”, as if he was in a way encouraging our renewal effort, which aims at creating a model of university as a “place of universal knowledge”, resting on sound philosophical and theological pillars.

Can you elaborate a bit on this renewal plan?

This is a program started in 2010, with two basic objectives and two operational lines. The two basic objectives - so intertwined as to be considered a single goal - are the study of the educational emergency (phenomenology, etiology, therapy ...), and the training of trainers, as appropriate response of the university of the Pope to the educational challenge. In turn, two operational lines are guiding and will continue to guide us in achieving these goals: adequate campus ministry, globally seen as a sort of effective tutorial support - on a personal and group levels – of the members of the academic community in their comprehensive human and Christian education; and the development of communication, within and without the university. Of course, it is a somewhat brief description, which implies a variety of other underlying aspects that are by no means secondary. 

Q. What are they, for example? Can you just mention some of them?

. To begin with, it would not make much sense to think and/or pursue a renewal of the university, without a clear direction to take and a model to follow, or rather, in our specific case, an idea of ​​​​​​​​ university, and I underline idea, because I am intentionally referring to the famous volume by Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, “The Idea of a University”. Rather than “an idea” of university, Newman actually offers an “ideal” of university, which at first glance it might seem a bit utopian. After all, if on the one hand he sees the university as “a place for the teaching of universal knowledge”, on the other hand he is well aware that no university has fully been (neither will ever be) the place of universal knowledge, because some subject matters are fatally bound not to be taught there. However, Newman introduces “a corrective” for his idea of university not to remain a mere - however fascinating - utopia: philosophy and theology are taken as guarantors for the relationship and synthesis between the various disciplines, and thus a philosophically and theologically grounded knowledge renders anyhow the university the place of universal knowledge.
Don’t you think it is a rather ambitious plan? And what about the teachers?

In fact, uncoincidentally this aspect relates exactly to the above “training of trainers”. That's why we believe that in our university the training of trainers should pursue, as ultimate goal, the formation of mentality capable of a philosophical-theological synthesis, the true soul of fides quaerens intellectum (viz. faith requiring intellect). This will have to be the goal all our faculties and institutions, as part of the dialogue between faith and reason, between “the science of God” and “the science of man”. Only then will our university be called worthy of its name, and be a place of universal knowledge.

t would seem to be a quite remarkable effort: how will you hope to succeed?

By introducing research, evaluation and promotion of quality, with all the initiatives related to it, as permanent objective of our university. In other words, to ensure appropriate training of trainers, it is essential for the culture of quality to become the style of our ordinary academic life. After all, I'm not inventing anything, in the sense that our approach is based on a book published in the second half of 2011 by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, entitled just so: “The culture of quality. Guide to the  
Ecclesiastic Faculties”, by the Congregation for Catholic Education (Vatican City 2011, pp. 234.). I see it as a reliable point of reference for us, as well as an excellent guide for self-assessment: we must actually get convinced that the most effective protagonist of the culture of quality is each and every one of us.
It does sound all so beautiful and desirable, at least on paper ...
Look, for that matter, the profound renewal that I mentioned earlier is not just limited to the academic and cultural or educational domains, but to the whole organization of the university, so that a special commission, chaired by the pro-rector, is busy carrying out a thorough revision of the statutes, by-laws, and in general all the regulations of our university. On the other hand we must never forget that we are second causes, and that we must do our part to the best of our ability, but that the last word is always with the Lord, because without his help we can do nothing. But if we are determined to do his will, acting for the good, how think that He will deprive us of His assistance? This famous aphorism is attributed to Don Bosco: “Remember that education is something pertaining to the heart, and that God alone is its master, and we will not succeed in anything, unless God teaches us its art and gives us its keys”. During the VIII International Symposium of University Professors (Lateran, June 23, 2011), former rector of this university and now Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola, reflecting on the issue 'university', used to say that the question what kind of university? is an emblematic reflection of the question of questions: what kind of man? The raison d'etre of a university and the ways it is proposed, concluded Scola, help shape the character of man as the protagonist of our society. That's why in my welcome address to the first year students who come to study from all over the world in the heart of the Catholic intelligentsia, I felt duty bound to make it clear to them that we provide a wisdom that does not coincide with the mere learning of a discipline or a profession (lawyer, philosopher, theologian...), but a wisdom which is a passion for the truth, for the meaning of life, which is a profound comprehension of what is good and what is evil. In this university, students will learn to understand from the Church of Christ - who is mother and teacher – for Whom and for What it's worth spending the days God has granted us in this wonderful adventure called life. And precisely to this purpose I decided to beef up and revamp the team of campus ministry, by entrusting it to my secretary, prof. Don Mirko Integlia.

At the end of the day, a better society from better men ...

That's right. In my homily to usher in the academic year last October, we asked for the Father to send, through the Son, His Spirit upon us. It will make easier for us to communicate, understand each other, most of all it will make easier and more spontaneous for us to love each other, appreciate each other, and if necessary to pardon each other. Because an academic institution like ours, albeit so full of noble traditions, cherished by the Pastors of the Church and set like a valuable gem among the pontifical universities in Rome, is primarily made of people, and every person has a heart . If we allow the Holy Spirit to pour with His divine bounty, our heart will swell with goodness, kindness, benevolence, and thus concord and harmony between truth and charity, between minds and hearts, will flourish. It seems to me that the timing could not have been more propitious. Therefore it is up to us to take advantage  of the present situation, by appreciating the current emergency as an “educational opportunity” rather than as a “disaster” or a “fatal misfortune”.