Speaking at the Catholic University of America, Pope Benedict said it is timely to reflect on how our Catholic institutions contribute to the good of society through the Church’s primary mission of evangelization.

Pope Benedict at his desk

Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News

Pope Benedict XVI

Catholic Education

The modern “crisis of truth” is rooted in a “crisis of faith,” Benedict XVI told a group of leaders and representatives of Catholic education.

The Pope affirmed this today at the Catholic University of America in the U.S. capital. He was welcomed to the campus by the university’s president, Father David O’Connell, and warmly received by cheering students chanting “CUA loves the Pope.”

“Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News,” the Holy Father affirmed.

But he acknowledged that some question the Church’s involvement in education.

It is timely, then to reflect on what is particular to our Catholic institutions. How do they contribute to the good of society through the Church’s primary mission of evangelization?

“All the Church’s activities stem from her awareness that she is the bearer of a message which has its origin in God himself,” the Holy Father explained. And he went on to say that “the one who seeks the truth becomes the one who lives by faith.”

Question of Conviction

Thus, the Pontiff said, a school’s Catholic identity is “a question of conviction — do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear? Are we ready to commit our entire self — intellect and will, mind and heart — to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God’s creation? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning o! f who we are and what we uphold.”

“From this perspective one can recognize that the contemporary ‘crisis of truth’ is rooted in a ‘crisis of faith,'” Benedict XVI continued. “Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God’s testimony and acknowledge him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth he reveals.”


Though Catholic institutions should witness to the truth of Christ, Benedict XVI affirmed, it is also observable that people are reluctant to entrust themselves to God, he said.

“It is a complex phenomenon and one which I ponder continually,” the Pope confessed. “While we have sought diligently to engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will. Subsequently we observe, with distress, the notion of freedom being distorted.

“Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in — a participation in Being itself. Hence authentic freedom can! never be attained by turning away from God. Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves.”

Catholic identity

The Holy Father said that Catholic identity “demands and inspires” more than the “orthodoxy of course content” — “namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith.”

“Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom,” he said.

In this way, the Pontiff contended, “our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society. They become places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ’s ‘being for others.'”

Serving truth

Benedict XVI further noted! that the Church’s contribution to the public forum is also questioned.

“It is important therefore to recall that the truths of faith and of reason never contradict one another,” he explained. “In articulating revealed truth she serves all members of society by purifying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the consideration of ultimate truths. [] Far from undermining the tolerance of legitimate diversity, such a contribution illuminates the very truth which makes consensus attainable, and helps to keep public debate rational, honest and accountable.”

The Pope thanked the representatives of Catholic education for their witness and professionalism — which brought applause from the crowd.

The Bishop of Rome then lauded the value of academic freedom.

“In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges universities,” he said, “I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church’s ‘munus docendi’ and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.

Appeal to Religious and Priests

The Pope received another round of applause when he made a “special appeal” to religious brothers, sisters and priests.

“Do not abandon the school apostolate; indeed, renew your commitment to schools especially those in poorer areas,” he encouraged them. “In places where there are many hollow promises which lure young people away from the path of truth and genuine freedom, the consecrated person’s witness to the evangelical counsels is an irreplaceable gift. I encourage the religious present to bring ren! ewed enthusiasm to the promotion of vocations. Know that your witness to the ideal of consecration and mission among the young is a source of great inspiration in faith for them and their families.”


At the end of the address, the Holy Father exchanged gifts with the president of the Catholic University of America. He then greeted and shook hands with some of those present.

When he left the building to head to an interreligious dialogue session nearby, he passed by the waiting popemobile to greet the cheering students waiting outside the door. Later, after taking his seat in the popemobile, he had the window rolled down and leaned out to continue waving and greeting the youth along the path.