The Catholic University of America

April 17, 2008

Holy Father Gives Historic Address on Catholic Education at CUA

Pope Benedict XVI addresses Catholic educators as Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., listens.

Before a packed audience of more than 400 Catholic educators gathered at The Catholic University of America, Pope Benedict XVI greeted his audience as "bearers of wisdom," invoking the prophet Isaiah's words as the opening for his speech: "How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring good news."

Indeed, the Holy Father stressed education's integral place in the Church's mission to proclaim the Good News, making the link between reason and faith an integral part of his address. Stressing the high expectations society places on Catholic educators, Pope Benedict XVI told the audience that such expectation "places upon you a responsibility and offers an opportunity." (To read the full transcript of Pope Benedict XVI's address, click here.)

The pope arrived on campus to a few thousand CUA students who had arrived hours earlier on the lawn behind the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, hoping to see the Holy Father. The crowd erupted as they caught the first glimpse of the motorcade, the cheers hitting a crescendo as the pope stood on the stairs of the Pryzbyla Center, arms extended toward the students. Peter Osgood, a senior and winner of CUA's papal essay contest, offered the Holy Father a bouquet of yellow roses. Pope Benedict XVI blessed the hands of the young man, who next year will begin medical school.

A choir of 17 CUA undergraduates and graduate students, clad in formal attire, sang the 8th-century chant Laudes Regiae: Christus Vincit, as the Holy Father entered the university center's Great Room for the address to a standing ovation. The university's president, Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., offered the opening words of welcome, noting that as the national university of the Catholic Church, Catholic University was a most fitting platform for Pope Benedict XVI's address.

Father O'Connell greets the pope prior to his speech at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center.
The pope spoke of "the difficulty or reluctance many people have today in entrusting themselves to God," especially the younger generation. Thus, he told the audience, "A particular responsibility for each of you, and your colleagues, is to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith."

At the center of this act of faith, he said, is the knowledge that "the truths of faith and reason never contradict one another." This balance between faith and reason served as a central theme of the Holy Father's address, which he directed toward societies where "secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and faith."

The pope emphasized the crucial role of educational institutions in the Church's primary mission of evangelization. He also made several appeals toward continued outreach by Catholic educators in inner cities and poorer areas - a petition that prompted a burst of applause from the audience - "where there are many hollow promises which lure young people away from the path of truth and genuine freedom."

Peter Osgood (center), a senior and winner of the CUA papal essay contest, listens as the pope speaks.

Pope Benedict XVI gave his address while seated in a chair designed by four CUA architecture students especially for the Holy Father's visit. Following the pontiff's address, Father O'Connell presented him with a framed photograph of McMahon Hall, the second oldest building on campus, and the gold commemorative medal of the pope's visit. Given to Catholic university presidents and diocesan education leaders in attendance, the medal features the official logo of Pope Benedict XVI's U.S. visit, as well as the seal of the university on the opposite side.

In a private meeting before the papal address, Father O'Connell also presented the Holy Father with a white silk zucchetto, or skullcap. It is customary that if the pope is presented with a new zucchetto at a scheduled meeting, he will exchange the one he is wearing for the one offered. The pope's original zucchetto will be displayed, along with the chair he sat in during his address, before being stored in CUA's archives.

"The address of the Holy Father to Catholic educational leaders gathered at The Catholic University of America on April 17 was masterful," Father O'Connell said.

"It was a marvelous blend of gratitude, encouragement and guidance. The themes and emphases that he chose to present - Catholic education as an encounter with Jesus Christ, the sacrifices required to offer Catholic education at every level, truth, the dialogue between faith and reason, Catholic identity and mission, academic freedom and responsibility - these have all been very much on the minds of Catholic educators," he said.

MEDIA: To arrange for interviews, contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy in CUA's Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.

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