The Easter season leads us to the heart of the Christian mystery: Christ risen from the dead. It is the center of the good news that we, disciples of the crucified and risen Christ, are called to bring to the whole world because, “unless Christ is risen, our preaching is in vain, and your faith is also in vain (1 Cor 15:14).”
It is an opportune moment to speak of the mission of a pontifical academic institution that is closely linked to the Church’s evangelizing mission. It is a link that Pope Francis has emphasized on various occasions, especially in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and in the preface to the apostolic constitution Veritatis Gaudium on ecclesiastical universities and faculties.
In fact, ecclesiastical universities are a privileged place to learn in an articulated way about the foundations of one’s own faith, to dialogue with cultures, with “other sciences and human experiences” and to “… think about how to bring the Gospel proposal to the diversity of cultural contexts and recipients” (cf. EG, 133-134). In this sense, the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum (APRA) makes this task its own by forming apostles — Christian leaders and professionals — who collaborate in the Church’s evangelizing mission, as well as by promoting currents of thought that help to imbue culture with a Christian spirit.
Having said this, the following question appears almost spontaneously: what formation should be offered to the evangelizers of the 21st century? The answer is complex, in a context of a “change of an era,” according to the well-known expression of Pope Francis. As an Athenaeum, we try to respond with a formative proposal matured within a current of thought that springs from the harmony between faith and reason, combined with a process of continuous updating. For this reason, we seek to be strongly rooted in our Catholic identity, merging rootedness in the fundamentals of faith, seriousness and scientific rigor and openness to dialogue with the culture and the needs of man of our own time. All this is embodied in diversified curricula that seek to ensure that the students, in addition to acquiring knowledge in a specific area, achieve the transversal abilities necessary to contribute to society in the times in which we live.
That is why the training offered by the Athenaeum aims to go beyond professional education: it seeks a comprehensive education. As our handbook states, we consider that “academic life is part of a broader scenario of the life of man who questions himself, relates to others and searches for God. Therefore, in the context of academic specificity, APRA aims to help students grow in all of their faculties, seeking the harmonious development of the person in its different dimensions and thus contributing to the achievement of an adequate unity of life” (Handbook, 16).
We also want our modus operandi to be distinguished by our vocation to evangelize. This is a trait that is very much in line with the pope’s call to be a “Church going forth” that wants to “reach out to all the peripheries that need the light of the Gospel” (cf. EG, 20). It is a characteristic that permeates the basic curriculum of each program, but is also accompanied by a series of subjects and activities to deepen and broaden the student’s horizon for evangelization. For this reason, there are courses in spiritual direction; pastoral care of confession; pastoral care of the family; sacred preaching; preaching of spiritual exercises; and refresher courses aimed at learning to read the pontifical magisterium and the great cultural challenges of our time in order to devise strategies for evangelization. In short, these are theoretical-practical activities that help develop some of the attitudes and skills needed to contribute concretely to the tasks of evangelization, among which those related to formation and the evangelization of culture occupy a special place.
In this task, the professors of the Faculties and Institutes are very important. In addition to specialization in their areas of knowledge, they are expected to acquire the pedagogical and didactic skills that will not only help them to transmit their knowledge effectively to their students, but also to help them to grow as persons and as Christians. A particular richness of the current teaching staff is its international background, which represents Catholicity, while facilitating dialogue, acceptance, and openness to different cultures.
The mission takes form in the daily commitment and effort to foster a cohesive Academic Community animated by the search for truth and the desire to evangelize the present and the future.
Fr. José Enrique Oyarzún, L.C. is Rector of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum