Vatican City. On 25 February 2023, in Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis meets Rectors, Professors, Students, and staff of the Roman Pontifical Universities and Institutions. There are about 3,000 people, including the Superior General of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, Mother Chiara Cazzuola, the Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences «Auxilium»; the Dean, Sr. Piera Ruffinatto; and a joyful representation of young female and male students, FMA, Professors, and staff.

According to the 2022 Report of the Pontifical Universities and Institutions present in Rome, there are almost 16,000 students from more than 120 countries; more than 2,000 teachers; 22 institutions, including universities, colleges, institutes and faculties, located in various Regions and Districts of the Capital and its suburbs.

The Report, presented on 23 February in the Sala Marconi of the Dicastery for Communications of the Holy See, was produced with the contribution of the representatives for communication of the different Universities and Institutions that make up the Conference of Rectors (CRUIPRO), and collects the main data regarding the pontifical universities, from their mission at the service of the Universal Church, to the number of students formed each year, including some comparisons with the civil universities of Rome. The Document was also created as an opportunity to enhance the potential that the Internet represents among the various academic communities for the evangelization of culture.

“Make a chorus!” is the exhortation of the Holy Father that immediately resonates in the air, and the metaphor that pervades the Discourse con with which Pope Francis addresses the academics. “The university, in fact, is the school of agreement and consonance between different voices and instruments. It is not the school of uniformity: no, it is the agreement and consonance between different voices and instruments. St. John Henry Newman describes it as the place where different knowledge and perspectives express themselves in harmony; they complete, correct, and balance each other.”

He then invites to cultivate this harmony first of all in ourselves by orchestrating “the three intelligences that vibrate in the human soul: that of the mind, that of the heart, and that of the hands, each with its own timbre and character, and all necessary. Language of the mind that is united with that of the heart and that of the hands: what one thinks, what one feels, what one does.”

He dwells in particular on the last one, ‘the intelligence of the hands’. It is the most sensorial, but by no means the least important. In fact, it can be said that it is like the spark of thought and knowledge and, in some ways, also their most mature result.”

The Pope explains the concept with an anecdote and linguistic references, to give concreteness to his message: “While the hands take, the mind understands, learns, and lets itself be surprised. And yet, for this to happen, sensitive hands are needed. The mind will not be able to comprehend anything if the hands are closed by avarice, or if they are “holey hands”, wasting time, health, and talents, or even if they refuse to give peace, greet, and shake hands. We will be unable to learn anything if the hands have fingers pointing without mercy at the brothers and sisters who err. And it will not be surprised at anything, if the same hands cannot join and be raised to Heaven in prayer.”

He then invites the different components of their own communities to ‘be a choir’, and the various institutions represented, to take note of the weaknesses due to today’s context and the post-pandemic, which tend to tire and slow down the transmission of the evangelical joy of study, teaching, and research. However, he urges us not to settle for ‘short-term solutions’, and “not to think of this growth process simply as a ‘defensive’ action, aimed at tackling the decline in economic and human resources. Rather, it should be seen as an impetus towards the future, as an invitation to accept the challenges of a new era in history. Yours is a very rich inheritance, which can promote new life, but which can also inhibit it, if it becomes too self-referential, if it becomes a museum piece. If you want it to have a fruitful future, its custody cannot be limited to maintaining what has been received; it must instead be open to courageous and, if necessary, even unprecedented developments.”

The assembly was struck by the unprecedented reading of the Risen Christ which dominates the Hall, a work by the artist Pericle Fazzini commissioned by Saint Paul VI, with which Pope Francis concludes his speech and takes his leave saying, “Please: never soloists without a choir. ‘It is the turn of all of you!’ and at the same time: ‘It is your turn!’ This is what the hands of the Risen One say to all of you and to each of you!”

“We too were there to accept the invitation not to settle for short-term solutions, but to look forward to the future, to welcome the challenges of a new era in history.”  This is what the students, teachers, and staff of the “Auxilium” carry in their hearts and in their minds as they return to the halls of study and of intellectual, professional, and above all, human and Christian growth.


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