Speaking at the opening Mass of the International Federation of Catholic Universities assembly, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh said, ‘I encourage you not to be afraid to celebrate and openly proclaim the ethos of your universities – connected as they are to Christ and to the Church’s mission – to bear much fruit!’
The General Assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities takes place for the first time this week at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, on the theme ‘Catholic Universities, Working in Solidarity as Responsible Agents from the Local to the Global’. More than 200 university presidents, vice- presidents and international development officers to the College, as well as Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, have gathered in Maynooth to participate in the assembly.
Archbishop Martin began his homily saying, ‘”I am the vine. You are the branches. If you remain part of me, if you belong to me, then you will bear fruit. If not, then you will have no life in you; you will wither and die.” What a powerful way to describe the relationship God wants with the Church. It is an organic, biological-like unity: cut off from God we can do nothing; in communion with God, we can bear fruit in plenty. Rooted in baptism, nourished by the Eucharist, pruned by penance, watered and sustained by God’s word, we can produce a bountiful harvest.’
Addressing the University leaders, Archbishop Martin said, ‘we gather here from all over the world to pray for the success of your Conference which is entitled: “Catholic universities, working in solidarity as responsible agents from the local to the global”. The theme of your Conference is in harmony with the message of today’s gospel. It reminds us not only about the richness of being together, of sharing and collaboration, but also about the vision and goal of such collective endeavour – which is to empower mission; to bear fruit in plenty; to spread the good news to the ends of the earth!
‘Your federation thrives on the exchange of ideas and skills, on cooperation in academic research, and on shared reflection … I encourage you not to be afraid to celebrate and openly proclaim the ethos of your universities – connected as they are to Christ and to the Church’s mission – to bear much fruit!
‘It is a great honour for me, as Chancellor of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth to join in welcoming you to Ireland, and to this unique campus which encompasses a thriving secular university, an historic Pontifical university and the national seminary for the formation of our priests. At this ‘crossroads’, here at the heart of Ireland, young adults of all faiths and none, meet and interact, sharing their ideas and hopes for the present and future, engaging with a rapidly evolving culture and learning to discern amidst the often contradictory messages which push, and pull, them – this way and that.’
Archbishop Martin continued, ‘This is a challenging time to be a leader in a Catholic university. The world yearns for the Good News – today, more than ever – but Gospel values are often threatened by a popular relativism which questions any appeal to objective truths or stable moral reference points and which even relegates the fundamental right to life itself beneath the right to individual choice.
‘This is indeed a time for believers to become engaged in the new evangelisation, and active as missionaries for Christ. Here in Ireland there is a tremendous sense of anticipation as we count down the days to the World Meeting of Families and the visit of Pope Francis. The theme of the World Meeting is: the Gospel of the Family – Joy for the World! It is a message not only for ‘faith-full’ Catholic families and those who are broadly supportive of Church, but it is Good News also for those who have become indifferent to faith, and even those who feel excluded or alienated from Church, rejecting or actively resisting all that we stand for.’
He went on to say, ‘Your task, as Catholic Universities, includes offering spaces for dialogue and encounter between faith and culture where your students can learn and test ideas, while being nourished by the very best of Christian scholarship. Not far from here, 160 years ago, Blessed John Henry Newman founded his Catholic University. For Newman, a Catholic university was a space to cultivate the mind and to foster an intellect that is comprehensive and versatile enough to be able to instinctively evaluate “things as they pass before us”. A liberal education for Newman, was about forming the intellect to have a ‘connected view or grasp of things’ rather than simply to be dazzled by all that is new and different.
Your work, my brothers and sisters, is therefore vital for what Pope Francis calls, “a Church that goes forth”! In his foreword to Veritatis Gaudium, he reflects on these critical times for the world, marked as they are by anthropological and environmental crisis. The joy of truth, he reminds us, is not an abstract idea, but is Jesus Himself. The human heart is indeed restless until it encounters and dwells within God’s Light, and shares that Light with all people (VG 1).’