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Catholic universities educating for political engagement
(Vatican Radio) Among its many tasks, the Catholic university must work to form its students as political workers for the common good through the promotion of research, social outreach and teaching, said Cardinal Peter Turkson.
The president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace spoke on the mission of Catholic universities in the education of Catholics engaged in politics at the national Conference of the Association of Catholic Universities of the Philippines, held in Davao City on Thursday.
Research, he said, should be dedicated to the solutions of problems that threaten human co-existence and the common good. Social outreach should begin in the local community and extend globally. And instruction, he said, should first and foremost focus on critical thinking skills and an understanding on how to move from theory to practice.
The three-day conference, which ends on Saturday, was organized on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris.
Read Cardinal Turkson’s full text below:
The Education of Catholics Engaged in Politics: The mission of Catholic universities
If you had invited me to address the topic of “Educating Catholics Engaged in Business”, I would have gladly shared this manual of ours, Vocation of the Business Leader.1 But invited to speak about Catholics engaged in politics, I do affirm how much we would like to produce a Vocation of the Politician. You have given me the opportunity to explore some of its basic ideas. As I share them with you, I look forward to the discussion and your suggestions. This Conference, then, is a golden opportunity to collaborate on the future manual.
Last October, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the Encyclical Pacem in Terris of Pope John XXIII, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace hosted a three-day conference. The first day reflected on the role of Catholic Universities with regard to Catholics involved in politics. On the second day, Pope Francis addressed us. Pacem in Terris, he said, is an important reminder: “There cannot be true peace and harmony if we do not work for a more just and united society, if we do not overcome egoism, individualism and interest groups – on all levels.” This, we will see, is the true essence of the political vocation. Its absence creates a political crisis which gave rise to tlhat first day’s discussion of the educational crisis.
So I will start my presentation with the foundations of political and social life presented in Pacem in Terris. These are human dignity and relationship, which are part of our God-given, created nature and provide the moral basis of all authority. Political activity comprises both policy concerns and day-to-day politics, carried out by people in many other roles besides elected politician and appointed public official. But work in the political sphere is often extremely challenging. Equally challenging is the socio-cultural environment with all its ideological currents.
To meet such challenges and form Christians for political life, the Church offers the significant support of Catholic Social Teaching. I will outline its main tenets and some additional elaborations offered by Pope Francis. Finally I will explore some of the ways in which Catholic Universities can support the formation of Catholic participants in political life through their research, their social outreach and of course their teaching.
Co-existence is our Human Calling
I begin with a central theme of Pacem in Terris. Although the Cuban missile crisis and the threat of nuclear war were the proximate occasion for its promulgation in 1963, Pope John’s Encyclical does not address the crisis and threat directly. He does not press for nuclear disarmament and the banishing of war. He does not argue from war to peace.
Instead, Pope John elaborates the idea of political coexistence, which he roots in the irreducible value of human dignity and in the undeniable fact of human relationships. Relations, like coexistence, begin in the family and the immediate community and expand to society, to national and international levels. On all of these levels and in all of these forms, the dignity of the person needs to be safeguarded by cultivating the virtues of truth, justice, love and freedom. For the rights of persons are prior to society, and society must recognize them. Indeed, relationships are not something we happen to be in, and dignity is not something that we may or may not have.
Relationships and dignity are what we are as human beings, and no one else and nothing else in heaven or on earth is so constituted. As creatures created with inalienable dignity, we exist in relationship with our brothers and sisters, and outside of such relationships, less than human is what one sadly finds oneself to be. It is for this reason that these two fundamentals – dignity and relationship –also ground the moral legitimacy of every authority: local, national or international.2
So in his Encyclical, his final will and testament, Blessed Pope John begins and continues and finishes with the dynamics of relationship within every person and between people. He begins with the individual person and the dyad, and he does not stop until he reaches the whole human family, and all its institutions, and the universal common good they should serve.
The Catholic Notion of Politics3
Thus, according to Pacem in Terris, the fundamental requirements of human coexistence are respect for the rights that flow from the dignity of all persons as creatures of the Divine Creator, and their vocation to live in relationship for their own wellbeing and for the common good. The task of politics, then, is to order this coexistence for the common wellbeing. Politics is rooted in two basic inclinations: in our naturally good desire to relate and to associate, and in our God-given calling to participate in creating and ordering the world around us for the good of all. So, relationship and order lie at the heart of our Catholic belief in the need and virtue of politics.
This means that a Catholic understanding of politics begins with the gift of Creation. In goodness we are made social and political by nature. It is misleading to think of politics as a consequence of sin and the Fall: for Catholics politics begins in Eden with the deep human desire to relate, to associate, and to order the world around us. These are the human instincts for the good that form the beginning of our politics. Of course, when the disorder of sin – personal and social – enters our relationships, co-existence is also distorted, and we need the ordering of politics all the more. But let us be clear that politics does not originate with sin. It originates in our vocation to coexist in the world, leading us to establish and restore order in the world for our common good; and in our graced capacity for virtue. That is why Catholic Social Doctrine teaches that the common good is the reason that political authority exists.4
Furthermore, politics does not begin with the nation-state and trickle down to the rest of us. Rather, politics begins within the life of family and in related but progressively wider institutions, such as the workplace, the association, the school and university. Through family, parish, school and workplace, we learn increasingly how to relate, to associate and to order the world around us for the good of all. That is where the political vocation is first nurtured. A healthy political system serves human social life and aims at that life of communion which is characterized by relationships of charity and justice. “Politics is a consequence of goodness and sin, it represents the very best and the very worst of which we are capable… Associating and ordering are desires rooted in goodness, they are not just about sin. So relationality and order lie at the heart of a Catholic belief in the necessity and virtue of politics.”5 And the common-good task of politics comes with a preferential option for the poor, in which the needs of those with least resources or greatest needs must come first in the process of making law and policy. As Pope Francis said to the students and teachers of Jesuit High Schools in Albania and Italy: “Working for the common good is a Christian duty! and often the way to work for that is politics.”6
Indeed, all the modern Popes have called for a politics of the common good: a commitment to forming relationships of civic or political friendship, even between opposing groups, is absolutely necessary for protecting the well-being and dignity of the human person.
This point was earlier elaborated by Pope Benedict in Caritas in Veritate when he urged us to strive effectively to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours. This is the institutional path of charity; he also called it the political path of charity. It is to inculcate and follow the Gospel in public life. For “man’s earthly activity, when inspired and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family.”7 As an institutional path of charity within society, politics is a very lofty vocation, if we know how to exercise it!8 Politics therefore corresponds to our natural inclination; but it also responds to the Christian commandment of love of neighbour.
Moreover, the vocation to politics is not limited to those we usually call “politicians”. In other languages than English, la politique (French), la politica (Italian) or la política (Spanish) means both “policy” and “politics”. Adopting these inclusive meanings, the sense of politics should include policy. This encourages us to think about all who exercise authority for the common good.
Guided by this wider sense of “politics”, we should not think of “politicians” only as elected representatives such as parliamentarians or members of legislative assemblies. We should think of the full sweep of people and roles in public life, whether elected, appointed or taking part without these formal designations – everyone from heads of state and cabinet ministers, through the military, journalists and educators; judges, police and other justice system agents; to consultants, researchers, advocates and lobbyists, and others who contribute to policy-making and to action in the public interest.
But most attention goes to politics and politicians in the narrow sense – those people in the legislature and the government buildings. And the contemporary experience of such politics is not so rosy. In many countries, surveys about different roles in society put politicians at the bottom of the heap. While occasionally admirable, politics has often become ugly, scandalous, cruel, callous, corrupt and heartless. It resorts to underhanded practices to accede to power and keep it, and to lay hands on the national wealth. It has become selfish and overbearing. In Catholic parlance, politics bears heavy traces of the fall and sin!
It is no surprise if this preponderantly negative image and experience causes some Christians to shy away from politics, to consider it unwholesome and leave it to others to undertake. At the same time, many politicians who are Catholic seem to reserve religion for their private life and behave, in their public role, like those who do not share our faith and teaching.
And yet, political life is an expression both of the basic natural inclination to associate and to order the world around us for the well-being of all, and of our love of neighbour. It is a vocation to exercise virtuously and in genuine, positive freedom in order to prudently form laws and generate policies for the common good. It is a means of evangelizing the social order and of bringing about a civilization of love. It means participation, with all sorts of challenges, in the mission of the Church in society. In the words of Gaudium et Spes: “Those with a talent for the difficult yet noble art of politics, or whose talents in this matter can be developed, should prepare themselves for it, and forgetting their own convenience and material interests, they should engage in political activity.”9
This then is the challenge before us. What can the Catholic University do to rehabilitate this important vocation and form Catholics as political workers zealous for the common good?
Resource for Good Politics
The modern Popes from John XXIII to Francis have repeatedly called for the formation of new generations of Catholics involved in politics;10 and they all have pointed to Catholic Social Doctrine or Teaching as the most vital resource. Conveniently collected nearly ten years ago in compendium form, it comprises a tradition of teaching in relation to the body politic that talks “about hope, truth, freedom, love and justice as animating forces for politics, economy and civil society,” and “seeks to inspire very ordinary everyday practices of these virtues.”11 The guidance which the Church offers to public life and to all those responsible for the public good, and the resource materials which Universities can use to educate and form politicians, are found in Catholic Social Teaching (CST).
Let me offer a very brief summary of this great resource from the Compendium and then the presentation of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium.
The Compendium provides four foundations or pillars, which serve as “primary and fundamental parameters of reference for interpreting and evaluating social phenomena.”12 These permanent principles lie at the heart of CST. They are summed up in a chapter entitled “The human person and human rights”. Let me simply read them to you slowly:
- the dignity of the human person, which is the principle and foundation (§§ 105-59)
- the common good, which includes the universal destination of goods (§§ 164-84)
- subsidiarity, which includes participation (§§ 185-91)
- solidarity (§§ 192-96), to which the Church in Africa would surely add reconciliation.13
These foundations, pillars or principles go from close and immediate relationships to those mediated by politics, economics and law; from relationships among communities and groups to relations between peoples and nations. They are principles of a general and fundamental character, since they concern the reality of society in its entirety. They are permanent in time, they are universal in meaning. So politicians should rely on them, and Universities should make good use of them in preparing young people for a vocation in public life.14
CST provides principles, not concrete policies; for it is beyond the competence of the Church to provide policy details and technicalities. “The free interplay of faith and reason enacted within a context of pluralism means politicians must be free to use their prudential judgment to form law."15 Some politicians are disappointed by the lack of “concrete policies” from the Church and her social teaching. This situation serves to underline the great urgency for formation of the politician in prudence and other virtues, as well as the availability of support resources and research groups or centres.
Now in his recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis brings the basic social teaching of the Church into its third part, called “The common good and peace in society.” Here he recasts the four fundamental pillars into practical guidelines which Catholic politicians can use to orient their efforts, and which Catholic educators can use to educate and form future politicians.
Pope Francis begins by identifying four “constant tensions present in every social reality” and then, in direct response to each of these, he proposes four very apt attitudes or guidelines:16
* In response to the tension between fullness and limitation, Pope Francis declares “Time is greater than space” (§§ 222-225) .
* Because conflict cannot be ignored or concealed but must be faced, we need to know that “Unity prevails over conflict” (§§ 226-230).
* Given the constant tension between ideas and realities, let us choose: “Realities are more important than ideas” (§§ 231-233).
* The response to the innate tension between globalization and localization is that “The whole is greater than the part” (§§ 234-237) .
What should these four pillars and the perspectives of Pope Francis mean in the daily work, the daily decisions, of a Catholic politician or public servant? A beautiful answer is given by my predecessor as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the saintly Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuân of Viet Nam. He articulated “The eight beatitudes of the politician”:
* Blessed be the politician who has a high knowledge and a deep consciousness of his role.
* Blessed be the politician who personally exemplifies credibility.
* Blessed be the politician who works for the common good and not his own sake or interest.
* Blessed be the politician who remains coherent: true to himself, to his faith and to his electoral promises.
* Blessed be the politician who works for unity and, making Jesus the fulcrum of unity, thus defends it.
* Blessed be the politician who works for the realization of a radical change: by fighting against intellectual perversion, by refusing to call good that which is evil, by not confining religion to the private sphere, by establishing the priorities of one’s own choices on the basis of faith.
* Blessed be the politician who is able to listen. Who listens to the people before, during and after the elections; who listens to his conscience; and who listens to God in prayer.
* Blessed be the politician who has no fear of the truth nor of the mass media, because at the time of judgment he will answer only to God, not to the media!
These eight beatitudes can serve as an examination of conscience for Catholic politicians who are honestly willing to assess their fidelity to the pillars of Catholic Social Teaching and the guidelines of Pope Francis.
The Roles of the Catholic Universities
With this understanding of the political vocation, then, how can the Catholic University form Catholics as political workers for the common good? There are of course many ways of understanding the role of the university, and indeed the mission of the Catholic university, as you well know. For purposes of our discussion, I find the following distinction among three roles to be quite useful: research, social outreach, and teaching.
First, I would look to university research to dedicate the various fields and methods of knowledge to resolving the problems threatening human co-existence and well-being. This research will be profoundly practical because it will influence the content and the methods both of social outreach and of teaching. Here are some concrete examples of how university research can help to prepare politicians.
* Universities must maintain a non-negotiable commitment to the search for truth – both for its own sake and for the stimulus it may give to more just and creative public policy.
* Especially now in our media-driven world, research by universities must reach behind the noisy headlines, to shine the light of truth on war, political economy, poverty, human migration and the ecological crisis. These issues have been at the heart of the Church’s social teaching, and they define this generation’s greatest political challenges.
* In the political field, it will be important for researchers to develop methods for reading and interpreting reality that help one to discern the objective demands of social justice in concrete situations.
* Through a commitment to excellence in research, universities can broker and foster new forms of public friendships between scholars and practitioners, between policy makers and politicians.
This commitment to political friendship is found in the work, for example, of the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office in South Africa, of the Pedro Arrupe Institute of Political Formation in Palermo, and many others.
Secondly, social outreach is the University’s necessary exercise of responsibility for the society in which it is located – in that sense, its own putting-into-practice of what research brings to light about the surrounding social situation. And of course the word “surrounding” begins locally17 but finally extends globally. The interaction with the local surroundings is complex because the university is a complex institution: an employer and an investor, a property owner and a social actor.
Moreover, the University is the place par excellence of dialogue in society, where opposing viewpoints and clashing interests can be helped to discover common ground on which to make progress towards real solutions. CST is “a language of faith and reason…, but is not sectarian: it genuinely seeks a cooperative relationship between believers of all kinds and non-believers for the sake of the welfare of all. It believes in social pluralism, but insists that social pluralism be seen as a context for building constructive civil friendships across dividing lines.”18
The University can also motivate others, beginning with the family, the parish and other organizations, to form good Catholics who become excellent politicians. That duty of formation does not need to end when a student who cares about politics graduates. Universities could be playing a vital role in nurturing relationships and dignity through offering spaces for peer support and reflection for those involved in the challenges of politics.
Thirdly and best known is the University’s role of teaching or instruction. Christian education, says Pope John, has no gaps; and it reaches out to embrace every type of duty.
* First and foremost Universities should teach new generations how to think critically and with judgement, and also teach the skills needed to act in the common good, and so move from theory to practice.
* They should keep alive traditions of thought on politics, virtue and the common good, explored in their different cultural forms.
* Universities should open a space of intellectual imagination beyond the logic of market, and beyond a narrow politics of fear, short-termism and coercion.
* They should seek to help people overcome the debilitating separation between faith and life: a feature that unfortunately characterizes the lives of many today.
* It is also necessary to be professionally and technically competent. In particular, one must be able to create a harmonious and well-ordered synthesis between spiritual values and the scientific, technical and professional elements. The love of God and the refinement of conscience must go hand in hand with one’s own continuous ethical and professional formation. An obvious step is to introduce Catholic social teaching wherever possible in the syllabus (for example, St. Thomas University in Minnesota).
Now referring again to Vocation of the Business Leader, if that were my topic, I would be addressing myself principally to commerce faculties and schools of business administration, which are part of most Catholic Universities. And I would be encouraging them to incorporate Catholic social teaching into the curriculum and make the “Vocation” handbook available to professors and students (as has been done widely in the United States).
But if I had ”Vocation of the Political Leader” in hand, which faculty or department would I be addressing? Or to put the problem another way: if you survey the Filipino politicians active today, what faculties or programmes do you think they would be graduates of? It would be interesting to know! But even before doing a survey, I think we can already guess that politicians come from each and every corner of the educational enterprise. A few might even be ”self-taught” without having graduated from any educational institution.
So this is what we have to accept: future politicians will be studying throughout the University, in an unpredictable fashion and without any possibility of gathering them into a specialization. And we can see this as an essential characteristic of formation for political life. As discussed earlier, it covers both politics and policy, and the engagement of an immense spectrum of roles and avocations. So the appropriate education will not be a single curriculum with a narrow focus; as the Holy Father once observed, “Sometimes [politicians] have to put out a fire, but the vocation of the politician is not that of a fire-fighter.”19
Instead, the whole Catholic University must be oriented to producing excellent politicians keen, prepared and courageous to live their vocation fully, in service of the common good of the area for which they are responsible, and also the common good of the whole Philippines, and of all Asia, and of the whole globalized world. The demands of truth, justice, love and freedom require the insights and the labour of all our intellectual disciplines, of our whole university curriculum in collaborative endeavour.
So, dear Rectors and Faculty, while you invited me to speak about something specific, the topic really touches the mission of the University as a whole, indeed, the mission of Catholic University education as such.
A year ago, I was interviewed by a Spanish Catholic magazine for a special issue whose title consisted of two simple questions: “Catholic, and politician too? Politician, and Catholic too?” The double question points to a tension which Pope Francis addressed in his foreword to a booklet entitled Catholics and Politicians: an Identity in Tension.20
The then Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires referred to the 2nd century Letter of Diognetus21 to explain the identity in tension of Catholic politicians as residing in their dual identity or manner of belonging:
* as sons and daughters of a pólis, that is, belonging to a people both culturally and historically specific; and simultaneously
* as Christians, a leaven for the pólis.
And this, for the Cardinal, should make for a cross-fertilization between the two identities, “bringing about the evangelization of culture and the enculturation of faith”.22 However, “it is insufficient and reductive to think that the commitment of Catholics in society can be limited to a simple transformation of structures, because if at the basic level there is no culture capable of receiving, justifying and putting into practice positions deriving from faith and morals, the changes will always rest on a weak foundation.”23 So living as both Catholic and politician is not about changing structures nor about performing functions within them; rather, it is about communicating and sharing the vocation to dual identity and belonging. Ultimately, it is about being an agent of the Gospel in the world. It is about evangelizing the social order, as leaven.
Finally, to accompany the political formation of the Christian, I share with you this entreaty of Pope Francis:
“I ask God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply the appearances – of the evils in our world! Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.24 We need to be convinced that charity ‘is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones).’25 I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare. Why not turn to God and ask him to inspire their plans?”26
With this prayerful question of our Holy Father – why not turn to God and ask him to inspire the plans of all our politicians, our current ones and our future ones? – I thank you very much for your kind attention and ask God to bless the reflections and exchanges of this Conference.
1 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vocation of the Business Leader: A Reflection, 3rd ed., 2012, pp. 28.
2 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1930.
3 Much of this section is based on Anna Rowlands, What does CST have to offer to politicians, pp. 9. http://www.christiansinparliament.org.uk/uploads/What-does-CST-have-to-offer-to-politicians.pdf
4 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 2004, §168.
5 Rowlands, What does CST have to offer to politicians, p. 5.
6 Pope Francis, Dialogue with Students of Jesuit Schools in Italy and Albania, 7.06. 2013.
7 Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, §7
8 In a speech to Catholic university professors, Pius XI explained that politics is “il campo della più vasta carità, della carità politica, a cui si potrebbe dire null’altro, all’infuori della religione, essere superiore” (Message, 18.12.1927).
9 Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, § 75.
10 Cf. Benedict XVI’s discourses in Cagliari (September 2008) and Trivento (May 2011). Pope Francis, Dialogue with Students of Jesuit Schools in Italy and Albania, 7.06. 2013.
11 Rowlands, What does CST have to offer to politicians, p. 1.
12 Pope Francis, Evangelium Gaudium § 221 quotes Compendium § 161.
13 Before groups can move from bitter opposition to solidarity, there may need to be a stage of reconciliation grounded in truth.
14 Cf. Compendium, § 161. Flowing from the four foundations, we find the fundamental values of social life (197-203): The relationship between principles and values; Truth; Freedom; Justice; or Love: “the way of love” is “the highest and universal criterion of the whole of social ethics” (§§ 204-208).
15 Rowlands, What does CST have to offer to politicians, p. 4. “But the political world requires participants who are willing to act, who are capable of making choices that will substantively affect the lives of citizens they are ruling over, or on behalf of whom they exercise political power. It is not sufficient for such public officials to simply ruminate about the best course of action to take, or conjecture as to how one might go about addressing a difficulty in public policy. Indeed, the virtue of prudence, one might argue, affects most especially those in the public realm, for it is a virtue, St. Thomas suggests (following Aristotle), which is found most essentially in those charged with ruling.” (Richard J. Dougherty, “Prudence and the Public Servant: Theory and Application,” Conference Paper, Terrence J Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law and Public Policy, University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis).
16 Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Nosotros como ciudadanos, nosotros como pueblo: Hacia un Bicentenario en justicia y solidaridad 2010-2016, Buenos Aires: Editorial Claretiana, 2011, cap. 4.
17 For example, in Nairobi, Kenyatta University’s Community Outreach and Extension Programmes include Students’ Community Service Programmes, Community based projects, Response to National crises, and Youth Training in trade skills.
18 Rowlands, What does CST have to offer to politicians, p. 4.
19 Bergoglio, Archdiocesan Social Pastoral Conference, 16.10.2001.
20 Latin American Conference of Bishops (CELAM), Católicos y Políticos: una identidad en tensión, Argentina, 2006.
21 Cf. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/richardson/fathers.x.i.ii.html “For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs… Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike ... and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land.”
22 Bergoglio, Católicos y Políticos [translation ours].
23 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in Political Life, 2002 §7.
24 Cf. Commission Sociale de L’épiscopat Français, Réhabiliter la politique (17.02.1999); cf. Pius XI, Message, 18.12.1927, quoted in footnote 7, above.
25 Caritas in Veritate, § 2.
26 Evangelii Gaudium, § 205.