The March issue of New City carries a report of the 2007 Pope Paul VI lecture. This was given last November, by Vera Araujo. What I did not realise at the time of the lecture was that Vera Araujo had a background in Focolare's "Abba School" (their academic think tank!) and in the "Economy of Communion", a movement for econcomic development arising from Focolare's spirituality of unity. Her lecture can be seen as a reading of Paul VI's encyclical Populorum Progressio in the light of Focolare's spirituality of unity.
I was able to find a transcript of Vera Araujo's address on the CAFOD website, but only after "googling" for "Paul VI lecture 2007". From the transcript, I take the following question and answer. My comments in red.
Q6: Thank you for a beautiful presentation in the style of Dom Helder (Camara). Vera Araujo had favourably described something of Dom Helder Camara's pastoral approach during her lecture. She described, for example, how he used to travel around Recife on buses rather than by car, how he used to eat in cafes or bars rather than in expensive restaurants. As Dom Helder would recognise, this globalised world is marked by structures of injustice and structures of sin; poor people don’t just suffer, poor people are exploited by rich nations. Where does ‘transforming solidarity advocacy’ - to turn this world upside down - fit into the picture of building a universal cohesion between rich and poor, between exploited and those who exploit? One can perhaps see where this question was coming from!
Good and evil have always co-existed. We have always have had to take account of the situation in which we live. But the greatness of every human person lies in the possibility of being able to change the situation they find themselves in. Many times when I am with young people, the most important thing I want to get across to them, is how much they can bring about change. Institutions, structures are built by individuals. As there are structures of sin there are also structures for good, structures of solidarity, structures of love and it is always we as human beings who create these structures. So this capacity for change exists within us. It is together we can build and bring about a difference.
The situation in which we find ourselves today demands of us more than ever before that we start to build human relationships, build communities. It will be these communities which are true, made up of deep relationships which will then in turn be able to express themselves in terms of laws, in terms of new structures. It’s something that will take a long time. It will take decades, maybe even hundreds of years. But if we don’t start, it will take thousands of years. Someone has to start.
Let’s be optimistic and optimism is also realism . It means believing in our capability of being open to others, of being open to the action of God in the course of history. If we don’t have this optimism we will become depressed; we will be incapable of taking our world in hand and making it a better world for ourselves and for our children and all those who come after us. We don’t want to be marked down in history as a lost generation because I fear that our ‘modern’ times will be judged harshly by history. So we have to change the direction and turn the situation around. But the answer does not go there!
There is also an interesting interview with Professor Gerald John Pillay, Vice Chancellor of Liverpool Hope University. The interview was occasioned by the award of an honorary degree by Liverpool Hope to Chiara Lubich, founder and President of Focolare. Liverpool Hope University is a joint Anglican-Roman Catholic foundation, being formed from previously existing Anglican and Roman Catholic colleges. Two things caught my attention in this interview.
The first was Professor Pillay's view that "secularisation" of the universities had not come about at the time of the Enlightenment (many of the leading lights of the enlightenment were, in his view, people of deep faith). Professor Pillay believes this secularisation to be a largely post-world war phenomenon, citing the existence of theology departments all over the Western world in the 19th century as evidence for this view (how many of those departments are now "religious studies" departments, I wonder?).
"But I think now that a post-secular culture is emerging. We had a post-religious culture and now we have a post-secular culture. People are much more comfortable speaking about spirituality today and one senses a deep spiritual longing in people."
Whilst one can see signs that support Professor Pillay's view, I suspect that many of us engaged in public debate would be much less optimistic about the extent of the emerging post-secular culture.
The second was the strength of Professor Pillay's vision for Liverpool Hope University. According to the interview, he hopes that the University can reintroduce the study of theology as a way of humanising society and restore it to its original position as "Queen of the Sciences". One can see here echoes of Pope Benedict XVI's concern at the loss of the sense of God from society. This vision has been enriched by Professor Pillay's encounter with Focolare, an encounter which has occurred as a result of the award of an honorary degree to Chiara Lubich. He noted that Focolare is due to open its own university, with the name Sophia University, in November this year.
"Of course, our universities must be about knowledge, but they must also be about wisdom, because scientia has dominated the model of the modern university, science and technology, but sapientia, which is what the Scriptures speak about, is to do with meaning and purpose and about the humane and the deeper things in life which go beyond science and technology. This is why I was very attracted by the idea of the university with the title Sophia, wisdom".
The risk of an ecumenical institution like Liverpool Hope University is that it just adopts, in a downward moving sort of way, the "lowest common denominator" of the participating denominations. This interview suggests that the opposite may be happening - that there is instead a kind of upward moving adherence to a "highest common factor". I would expect that this can only be enriched by the engagement with Focolare.