Lisbon, April 1st 2021
Dear Rectors, Presidents and Vice-Chancellors,
As we prepare for the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord, let me send you wishes of happy Easter from the International Federation of Catholic Universities. A year ago, we were awakened to a global health crisis, of which there seems to be no post. We have been affected by fear and uncertainty. We experienced the first lockdowns and were unable to join together with family and friends to celebrate the season. We believed we were masters of the world, but we only inhabit it, as Pope Francis has reminded us. Since then, we have come to know more about this deadly pandemic. We have adapted to an unprecedented reality and have learnt from each other, just as our sense of community has increased. The pandemic has made us painfully aware that we will only thrive if we work together.
Universities were agents, victims and villains of the crisis that has spillt over from health into the economy and onto the general social fabric. Agents because as knowledge centers, universities were crucial in finding solutions to combat COVID. The medical and nursing schools of Catholic universities were at the forefront of global fight against the disease.
Secondly, universities were also victims, having to deal with the looming financial crisis, rising unemployment, a decrease in revenue and a strong need of strong investment in technological infrastructure. Clearly, some of the digital transformation has come to stay, and must be embraced as an opportunity to reach wider audiences. And yet, as laid out in the Congregation for Catholic Education’s Transitional Norms, distance learning cannot be fully considered as an alternative to teaching in the physical presence of students. While remote learning may widen access and free the learner from the constrictions of time and space, it still falls short of the empathic engagement between student and scholar that defines the university.
COVID and other pandemic related financial troubles may very likely lead to a trimming down of the global higher education network in the post-confinement period. This is clearly an additional element of stress to Catholic universities. Travel restrictions and Visa bans are disrupting the sense of global dialogue that is essential to the implementation of Veritatis Gaudium. The rise of the politics of walls is posing a clear and present danger to the very idea of the university. Arguably, there is no university without intellectual exchange, without international cooperation. A Church that goes forth requires universities that are not limited to the nation’s boundaries.
But universities have also been villains, mostly in the way some have listlessly adopted technological devices without a specific strategy, endangering the formative spiritual dimension of higher education. The pandemic coupled with political short sightedness is affecting the Catholicity of universities, the sense of global communion shaping education as human integral formation.
On this year of discontent, we must focus on hope and promise. At IFCU we have reinvented ourselves, transferring our training services to online platforms and continuing to support the work of our global members. Now as before, the Federation shall continue on its forward-looking path in the service of a better society.
May you, stay safe and may the blessings of Easter, lead to a better hope in a common future.
Sincerely yours in Christ
Isabel Capeloa Gil