Lord Rector, Distinguished Academics, Dear Students and Staff Members,
I thank you for inviting me to visit this University, the youngest of Rome, and I give my warm greeting to you all. I thank the Rector, Professor Mario Panizza, for his words of welcome, and I wish you every good for the work and mission of this Athenaeum. The academic instruction and formation of the new generations is a primary exigency for the life and development of society. I have listened to your questions, for which I am grateful; I read them beforehand and I will seek to give answers taking my experience also into account.
Our society is rich in goods, in actions of solidarity and of love in relations with our neighbour: so many people and so many young people, certainly among you, are committed in volunteer work and in activities at the service of the neediest. And this is one of the greatest values of which to be grateful and proud. However, if we look around us, we see that there are many, too many signs of enmity and violence in the world. As Giulia rightly observed, there are many signs present of “violent action.” I thank you, Giulia, because the Message for this year’s World Day of Peace proposes, in fact, non-violence as style of life and of political action. In fact, we are living a piecemeal world war: there are conflicts in many regions of the planet, which threaten the future of entire generations. How is it that the International Community, with its organizations, is unable to impede or to stop all this? Do economic and strategic interests have more weight than the common interest for peace? These are certainly questions that find a place in Universities’ classrooms, and they resound first of all in our consciences. See: the University is a privileged place in which consciences are formed, in a heated debate between the exigencies of the good, of the true and of the beautiful, and the reality with its contradictions. A concrete example? The arms industry. For decades there has been talk of disarmament, important processes in this connection have even been implemented but, unfortunately, despite all the speeches and commitments, many countries today are increasing their expenses for armaments. And this — in a world that is still fighting against hunger and sicknesses –, is a scandalous contradiction.
In face of this dramatic reality, you rightly ask, “What must be our answer? –certainly not an attitude of discouragement and mistrust. You young people, in particular, cannot permit yourselves to be without hope; hope is part of yourselves. When hope is lacking life in fact is lacking, and then some go in search of a deceitful existence that is offered by merchants of nothing. They sell things that bring momentary and apparent happiness, but in reality they introduce a way without exit, without future, true existential labyrinths. Bombs destroy bodies; drugs destroy minds, souls and also bodies. And here I give you another concrete example of present-day contradiction: the gambling industry. Universities can give a valid contribution of study to prevent and oppose gambling addiction, which causes grave harm to people and families, with high social costs.
An answer that I would like to suggest to you — and I have present Niccolo’s question — is that of committing yourselves, also as a university, in projects of sharing and of service to the least, to nurture in our city of Rome the sense of belonging to a “common homeland.” Many social needs and many situations of hardship and poverty speak to us: we think of persons that live on the street, of migrants, of all those that need not only food and clothes, but insertion in society as, for example, those who come out of prison. By coming to meet these social poverties, we are rendered protagonists of constructive actions which oppose the destructive actions of violent conflicts, and which also oppose the culture of hedonism and waste, based on the idols of money, of pleasure, of appearing … Instead, by working with projects, also small ones, which foster encounter and solidarity, a sense of trust is recovered at the same time.
In every environment, especially in that of the University, it is important to read and address this change of epoch with reflection and discernment, that is, without ideological prejudices, without fear or flights. Every change, including the present one, is a passage that brings with it difficulties, toil and sufferings, but it also brings new horizons of goodness. Great changes call for re-thinking our economic, cultural and social models, to recover the central value of the human person. In the third question, Riccardo made reference to the “information that in a globalized world is spread especially by the social networks. In this very complex ambit, it seems to me necessary to engage in healthy discernment, on the basis of ethical and spiritual criteria. It is necessary, that is, to question oneself on what is good, making reference to values proper of a vision of man and of the world, a vision of the person in all his dimensions, especially in the transcendent.
And, speaking of transcendence, I would like to speak to you as person-to-person, and give witness of who I am. I profess myself Christian and the transcendence to which I open myself and look at has a name: Jesus. I am convinced that His Gospel is a force of true personal and social renewal. Speaking thus, I do not propose to you illusions or philosophical or ideological theories, nor do I wish to engage in proselytism. I am speaking to you of a Person who came to meet me when I was more or less your age, who opened horizons for me and changed my life. This Person can fill our heart with joy and our life with meaning. He is my fellow traveller; He does not disappoint and does not betray. He is always with us. He puts Himself with respect and discretion along our life’s path, above all, He supports us in the hour of loss and defeat, in the moment of weakness and sin, to always put us back on the way. This is the personal testimony of my life.
Do not be afraid to open yourselves to the horizons of the spirit, and if you receive the gift of faith – because faith is a gift – do not be afraid to open yourselves to the encounter with Christ and to deepen your relationship with Him. Faith never limits the ambit of reason, but opens it to an integral vision of man and of reality, preserving one from the danger of reducing the person to “human material.” Difficulties do not disappear with Jesus, but they are addressed in a different way, without fear, without lying to oneself and to others; they are addressed with the light and strength that come from Him. And, as Riccardo said, you can become “operators of intellectual charity,” starting with the University itself, so that it is a place of formation to “wisdom” in the fullest sense of the term, of the integral education of the person. In this perspective the University offers its peculiar and indispensable contribution to the renewal of society.
And the university can also be a place in which the culture of encounter and the reception of people of different cultural and religious traditions is elaborated. Nour, who comes from Syria, made reference to the “fear” of the Westerner in relations with a foreigner in as much as it might “threaten Europe’s Christian culture.” Apart from the fact that the first threat to Europe’s Christian culture comes, in fact, from within Europe, the closing of oneself in oneself or in one’s culture is never the way to give back hope and to bring about a social and cultural renewal. A culture is consolidated in openness to and encounter with other cultures, so that it has a clear and mature awareness of its own principles and values. Therefore, I encourage teachers and students to live the University as an environment of true dialogue, which does not level the differences or exasperate them, but is open to constructive confrontation. We are called to understand and appreciate the other’s values, overcoming the temptations of indifference and of fear. Do not be afraid of encounter, of dialogue, of confrontation.
While you carry forward your course of teaching and study in the university, try to ask yourselves: is my forma mentis becoming more individualistic or more supportive? If it is more supportive, it is a good sign, because you will go against the current but in the only direction that has a future and that gives future. Solidarity, not proclaimed in words but lived concretely, generates peace and hope for every country and for the whole world. And you, by the fact of working and studying in the University, have the responsibility to leave a good mark in history.
I thank you from my heart for this meeting and for your attention. May hope be the light that always illumines your study and your commitment. I invoke upon each one of you and upon your families the Lord’s blessing.