Greeting professors, staff and students from the University of Parma, Italy today, the Holy Father cautioned of the dangers of isolating students and the university from the whole of society, especially through information technology. Additionally, he spoke of the great reformer, St. Peter Damian and the current need to reform the university.
When Pope Benedict XVI met with the rector, professors, students and staff of the university at midday on Monday, he recalled the life of St. Peter Damian (1007-1072), who studied at Parma, before becoming a great cardinal and reformer. The Pontiff was careful to emphasize the saint’s life as a hermit. Though he lived alone, Benedict XVI noted that he was able to balance “the two fundamental poles of human existence: solitude and communion.”
Students today are in danger of losing this balance, the Holy Father explained, due to the increased use of information technologies. “On the one hand, they run the risk of a growing reduction in their capacity for concentration and mental application on an individual level; on the other, that of isolating themselves individually in an increasingly virtual reality.”
In doing so, students close themselves off to “constructive relations with others."
With so much uncertainty in our world today, academic studies should not only focus on understanding scientific research, but also give young people “the opportunity to mature intellectually, morally and civilly, through the great questions that challenge the conscience of the contemporary man,” the Pope said.
In order to make these changes, Pope Benedict turned once again to the reformer, St. Peter Damian.
“All authentic reform must be, first and foremost, spiritual and moral; that is, it must start from people's consciences,” he explained. “If we want a human environment to improve in quality and efficiency, we must first ensure that each person begins by reforming him or herself, correcting that which can harm the common good or hinder it in any way."
The goal of St. Peter Damian’s reform was “to ensure the Church became free, primarily in spiritual terms, but also in historical ones.” Similarly, the Pope noted that the “validity of university reform finds its confirmation in freedom - freedom to teach, freedom to pursue research, freedom of the academic institution from economic and political power.”
This is not achieved by isolating the university or its members from society, but by becoming truly free. This is accomplished when a person, community or institution “fully responds to its own nature and goals."