CATHOLIC Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines President Archbishop Socrates Villegas has reminded Catholic schools that the pursuit of academic freedom should not be at the expense of denying Christian truths.

In a speech at De La Salle University last Feb. 13, Villegas invited Catholic universities to a “renewed personal encounter” with Christ to faithfully carry out their mission in a society obsessed with consumerism.

“[They] must mediate understanding for the faith in Philippine settings where faith is increasingly ignored or now even unwelcome,” said Villegas in his speech titled “The Role of the Catholic University in the Philippines Today” during the convention of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines.

The Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop echoed Pope Francis’ message in his first encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, saying Catholics should return to the joy of the Gospel that could be found only in Christ—the heart of the Church and the ultimate truth.

“[Catholic universities] must do so with humility but without fear, with wisdom but without arrogance,” he said. “No salary can replace this joy. No personal preference can replace its imperative. No rankings can replace its immeasurable importance.”

Villegas urged Catholic educators to manifest Christ’s example in performing their privileged task over academic freedom and despite the pressures of teaching.

“[E]ven as truth is rigorously and critically sought in academic freedom, it must be faithfully taught as Jesus, the Teacher himself, would have taught in our complex world,” he said. “Jesus himself, the Truth, must be the guide of our Catholic universities in participating in the urgent task today of New Evangelization.”

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Pursuit of common good

Villegas also expressed alarm over the “yawning superficiality” of “bored” students in Catholic universities amid pressing national issues like poverty, injustice, violence, and corruption.

“We have many heroes of the private good, many of them educated in our Catholic universities. It saddens because they are unable to escape it, unable to transcend the private for the genuinely social,” he said.

To shun this culture of apathy among students, Villegas said Catholic universities must reassess their ways of teaching and involve themselves in social issues through research and critical discussions.

“The Catholic university must struggle to find the light of the common good with more conscious determination and system. This is the common good that is not merely an option but a compelling imperative in social justice,” he said.

The lack of concern for the common good, along with the weakening of individual character and other serious contemporary problems, compromises the meaning and dignity of human life, Villegas said.

Catholic universities should evaluate the norms of the modern world using a Christian perspective and help foster cultural progress despite an “economy of exclusion” premised on “idolatry of money,” he added.

“This calls the Catholic university in the Philippines to accord special attention to the actual relation between the Gospel and Philippine cultures… [It] must address the impacts of what appear to be an uncritical rationalism, an insidious amorality, a moral cynicism, secularization, and globalization.”

‘Union in otherness’

Through interfaith dialogues, Villegas said people of different religions could still collaborate toward the attainment of the common good, citing goals such as improving the quality of education, alleviation of poverty, and preservation of peace and the environment. This can be done with the help of Catholic universities.

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“[O]ur Catholic universities, wherever they are in our country, are invited to help facilitate this dialogue not only within their academic halls, but in parishes, civic gatherings, and in the media,” he said.

“[T]he task in dialogue is to help individual Catholics understand their faith better, and in the love that faith impels, to open themselves to peoples of other faiths through a dialogue of life,” he said.

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