The Catholic University of America


I sincerely thank Father O'Connell, president and rector of The Catholic University of America, for granting me this honoris causa doctorate. Your kind words are much appreciated. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the entire community - faculty, staff and students - of this university. I am most honored and humbled to receive such an undeserved distinction.

With this honoris causa doctorate you have desired to pay tribute to my work as prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. I think the tribute must be paid first of all to the late Pope John Paul II, who called me to this office and who dedicated so much of his time and energy to the Church's consecrated persons. He gave hundreds of addresses at the general chapters of different religious congregations, wrote letters to many orders and institutes, organized encounters with the religious men and women in many of the nations he visited, and worked out a series of teachings on consecrated life. Every February 2nd, John Paul II presided over the Mass at Saint Peter's Basilica for the members of the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. In 1984 he wrote the apostolic exhortation Redemptionis Donum (The Gift of Redemption) to all religious men and women about their consecration in light of the mystery of salvation. Four years later, he addressed them with another letter on the occasion of the Marian Year. In 1994 he dedicated the Synod of Bishops to "the consecrated life and its mission in the Church and in the world." Two years later, he published the postsynodal apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata (The Consecrated Life). Finally, in 1997 he established the celebration of the World Day for Consecrated Life.

He was indeed well aware that "the consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission, since it 'manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling' and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse" (John Paul II, Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, N.3).

The tribute can also be paid to His Holiness Benedict XVI, who remains committed to helping consecrated life flourish for the good of the entire Church. As one of his closest co-workers, I can testify that he considers this one of the priorities of his pontificate.

If you allow me, more than just receiving this distinction as the prefect of a congregation, I would like to receive it as a religious who represents all consecrated persons. In the end, it is they who so convincingly preach the beauty of the sequela Christi through their testimony. It is they who reach out to millions of people in their material and spiritual needs with their generous and one-of-a-kind contribution in the fields of evangelization, education, parish work, social justice issues, health care, and pastoral services to the poor, orphans, the elderly, the sick, the homeless, immigrants and the working class.

Your work in higher education as diakonia of truth is an eloquent and fundamental expression of the Church's diakonia to mankind. "Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News," Pope Benedict said in this very city four months ago. "First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth" (Benedict XVI, Meeting with Catholic Educators in the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center of The Catholic University of America, 17 April 2008).

During the very first month of his pontificate, on Nov. 16, 1978, John Paul II addressed the general superiors of women's religious orders and called consecrated men and women "light for the Church and for humanity."

This might be especially true in the case of religious persons who are Catholic educators. Through your witness and teaching, you are bringing new generations to the light of all that is beautiful, good and true, and therefore, to the source of all beauty, goodness and truth.

Together with all the other consecrated men and women, John Paul II used to hold his lighted candle during the rite of the lighting of candles at the beginning of every February 2nd Mass at Saint Peter's Basilica. I think that was a good symbol of what the late pope tried to do throughout his life as a consecrated man: he was presenting his life as a light for the Church and for humanity.

As educators let us also keep our candle lit to glorify God, build the Church, and serve all people.

Thank you for your welcome and invitation. May God continue to bless all of you!

Cardinal Franc Rode, C.M.