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Commitment to Justice 2005 Conference
The Catholic University of the 21st Century: Educating for Solidarity
Paul Locatelli, S.J.
On October 6, 2000 in his talk entitled, “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education,” Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, introduced “well-educated solidarity” as the new standard for Jesuit education for the 21st century.
Specifically, he noted that the real measure of our Jesuit universities lies in who our students become in the emerging global reality, with its great possibilities and deep contradictions. Tomorrow’s “whole person,” he thought, cannot be mature or complete without an educated awareness of global society and culture with which to contribute socially and generously in the real world. Our graduates must have, in brief, a well-educated solidarity. We must raise our Jesuit educational standard to form a “whole person of solidarity for the real world.”
This seminal and bold vision inspires a new sense of purpose for Jesuit colleges and universities around the world. Many are using this standard to evaluate their mission, programs, and pedagogies. Nonetheless, this new standard raises questions, ambiguities, and even controversy.
In an email to several faculty with the subject line, “From Jargon to Gibberish,” a Santa Clara faculty member wrote “to protest several recent descriptions of our commitment to fostering ‘solidarity.’” These descriptions, he said, “strike me as vague and sloppy. . .I think we should be embarrassed about displaying them to the world while we are proclaiming our quest for academic excellence.”
Subsequently, after a number of exchanges among faculty, he wrote another email entitled, “Solidarity Salvaged?” In it he alleged that Father Kolvenbach’s whole person of solidarity formulation was “hopelessly obscure. . .When we promulgate our jargon in a way that burdens outsiders who encounter it, aren’t we marginalizing them and violating the norms of solidarity?”
Other faculty joined the discussion. One response noted that “the term [solidarity] has been adopted by the Society of Jesus to describe the biblical and humanist concern for social justice. It implies, moreover, the element of our identification with concerns of the poor advocated by Pope John Paul II among other [places] in his play Our God’s Brother.”
In this paper I discuss how solidarity is a virtue just as charity, justice, and hope are. Also, I argue solidarity is not simply a euphemism for political movements or economic systems, nor is it an ideology. And I will raise two significant questions: One, how can we, as universities, legitimately integrate solidarity into our academic and educational mission? And two, how will – and why should – students acquire a well-educated solidarity that leads to fashioning a more humane and just world? In other words, what does well-educated solidarity and academic excellence do for our students in today’s world?
In response, let us begin with Father Kolvenbach’s ideal pedagogy for a well-educated solidarity. He urges students to “let the gritty reality of this world into their lives, so they can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering, and engage it constructively.” He notes that “solidarity with our less fortunate brothers and sisters. . . is learned through ‘contact’ rather than through ‘concepts.’ When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change. Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the degradation and injustice that others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry, reflection, and action.”
What is the “gritty reality” that we must allow to infect our colleges and universities?
Our responses to the South Asia tsunami, the recent earthquake in the Kashmir region of India and Pakistan, and Hurricane Katrina provide some examples of stunning moments in time when we realize how interconnected we are and how much we want to be united in helping and consoling those affected. Katrina, in particular, made us painfully aware of the correlations among poverty, race, ethnicity, and class, with more than 25 percent of the citizens of New Orleans living in abject poverty, and of them, 84 percent were African-Americans. The underlying causes, be they prejudice, ignorance, neglect, or something else, that heightened that crisis and its aftermath may well be one of the greatest social justice challenges for us today.
Roughly 170,000 people have died and 127,000 are missing following the terrible South Asia tsunami. Yet, how does that one-time event compare to the on-going gritty reality of this world where there are growing levels of poverty and inequality, where more than one billion people still live on less than a dollar a day, and where, each year, three million people die from the HIV/AIDS pandemic, leaving tens of millions orphaned. Add to this the scandal in Africa where 4.8 million children die annually before the age of five. That’s nine per minute every day of the year. Even worse, Africa is the only region in the world where the mortality rate among children is rising.
Ongoing scandalous realities like these require critical analysis of their root causes and educated solutions to address such devastating problems. They are the ones that Fr. Kolvenbach want us to include in our teaching, research, and learning because, as he notes, global problems require global solutions. And, a well-educated solidarity will prevent us from becoming de-sensitized to these realities.
Ignatian Origins of Solidarity and Academic Excellence
The conjunction and creative tension between solidarity with the poor and academic excellence has been part of Jesuit education since the time Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus in 1540. Excellence in learning was paramount for Ignatius. He studied at the universities of Salamanca and Paris, which were then among the finest educational institutions in Europe. And he wanted the same excellence for all Jesuits, and, in opening colleges, for their lay students as well.
Originally, education was not a work of the Society of Jesus. Rather, Ignatius insisted that the mission of the Society was to go to any place in the world and, for the greater glory of God, initiate any work with the hope that such service achieved the greatest good for individuals, communities, and the Church.
But eight years after founding the Society, the people of Messina, Sicily, petitioned Ignatius to establish the first Jesuit college, or high school, for lay students. Educating the poor and rich children of Messina, he felt, would improve all their lives and the culture of the city, and so Ignatius approved. Ignatius had great faith in education. In 1554, when Peter Canisius, S.J., asked him what Jesuits could best do for Germany, he responded, “colleges.” By 1556, the year Ignatius died, another thirty-five educational institutions in Europe and India were founded, including the renowned Gregorian University in Rome.
The Ignatian aim for Jesuit education remains the same: to form well-educated, morally- responsible and reflective humanists who will leaven their communities with knowledge, wisdom, and virtue. The formation of contemplatives in action is the ideal. Love is the end of contemplation, and love is seen more in actions than in words. Social action emanates from their imagining realistic possibilities for the greater good of society, and it flows ultimately from communion with the Divine and the recognition of God in all creation.
The Catholic University and the Commitment to Excellence
Academic excellence must always be the sine qua non of Jesuit education. Excelling academically is a hallmark of Catholic education and Ignatius insisted that Jesuit universities thrive within the context of Catholic education.
In Ex Corde Ecclesiae, “From the Heart of the Church,” Pope John Paul II reminded us that the great medieval universities of the West, such as the universities of Bologna in the 11th century, and Paris and Oxford in the 12th century, originated in the Catholic tradition of learning and inquiry.
As the Church played a central role in the development of the great medieval universities of Europe, today it must play a similar creative role for American Catholic universities while always respecting the principles of institutional autonomy and academic freedom.
Universities are the places where the Church does its best thinking, learning, and teaching. At the same time, universities must enhance academic inquiry by preserving continuity with their faith tradition, which Ex Corde Ecclesiae identifies as “the search for an integration of knowledge, a dialogue between faith and reason, an ethical concern, and a theological perspective.”
There have been some aberrations to this commitment as, for example, in cases of Galileo and, in the 20th century, the Jesuit John Courtney Murray. However, in both cases, the hierarchy eventually vindicated both scholars. Importantly, Catholic orthodoxy is not fundamentalism and ought not impose limitations on scrutiny and investigation, but rather instill the freedom to grapple with the broadest and deepest questions about cultures and justice within their global realities, and, in interreligious dialogue, to broach questions about the perplexities of life and death, good and evil, and the mystery of God.
Catholic university communities must simultaneously search for truth in any field of knowledge and encourage a Catholic imagination that is agile in dealing with every area of learning. Within a plurality of religions and cultures, Catholic social and intellectual teachings and Catholic theology must have a critical place in the search for truth and knowledge.
As Pope John Paul II insisted in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, “Every Catholic university, as a university, is an academic community which, in a rigorous and critical fashion, assists in the protection and advancement of human dignity and of a cultural heritage through research, teaching, and various services offered to the local, national, and international communities.”
All of us readily agree that research and teaching are necessary and proper for any university, but a third dimension, service to communities, is not as readily accepted as a value in itself. But such service goes directly to the point of using knowledge wisely and constructively to fashion a more humane and just society rather than only to ensure the most efficient political or profitable economic systems. As John Paul II put it in Ex Corde Ecclesiae:
A Catholic university, as any university, is immersed in human society; as an extension of its service to the Church and always within its proper competence, it is called on to become an ever more effective instrument of cultural progress for individuals as well as for society. Included among its research activities, therefore, will be a study of serious contemporary problems in areas such as the dignity of human life, the promotion of justice for all, the quality of personal and family life, the protection of nature, the search for peace and political stability, a more just sharing in the world's resources, and a new economic and political order that will better serve the human community at a national and international level. University research will seek to discover the roots and causes of the serious problems of our time, paying special attention to their ethical and religious dimensions.
In this context, the meaning of solidarity begins to take shape. Let’s explore, in part, the historical and contemporary understanding of solidarity .
Understanding the Virtue of Solidarity
For the Catholic university, solidarity begins with a Christian anthropology and a Christian humanism nested in God’s creation. A theology of solidarity indicates humanity’s covenant relationship with God. In addition, humanity became truly a “new creation” when God became one with us in the Incarnation – “the” origin and epitome of a new solidarity. In the person and life of Christ, God identifies with the least in human history, shatters human sinfulness, and redeems us.
In the context of Christian anthropology, solidarity invites us to transcend the human condition, not by sacrificing personal liberty, but by realizing our freedom and full potential in the community, and assisting others to do the same. It is important to restore the sense of transcendence and the sacred, and not let human life be devalued, manipulated, or lost. Human solidarity thus becomes communion which, more than interconnection or interdependence, is a way of living together as one human family.
The foundation for solidarity as a virtue began around the turn of the 20th century. Since then, Catholic social thought has used solidarity to insist always on the human dignity of each person, to refuse to permit individuals to be dehumanized, and to promote the common good. It also locates political economy within society, and not vice versa. Both society and political economy must be ontologically and ethically oriented toward cooperation and harmony among people and nations for the common good.
The bishops at the Second Vatican Council, in Gaudium et Spes, stressed the need for cooperation and solidarity for the Church and society alike. They noted we are to make our own “the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted.” Prophetically, they insisted that we find no more eloquent proof of solidarity than in engagement and conversation with the entire human family about the pressing global issues of “hunger, poverty, illiteracy, oppression, war, international rivalries, and the whole purpose and meaning of human existence.”
Following the Council, Paul VI proclaimed the “spirit of solidarity” as essential for integral human development. And John Paul II taught that solidarity is a gift from God in creating and redeeming the human race. His Christian anthropology understood solidarity as seeing each person as a gift from God, to be loved just as God loves. And love inspires the sense of responsibility. His position reiterates, for the contemporary world, the rich tradition of Christian anthropology and humanism. And, it echos Ignatius’ vision of love and action.
In Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, John Paul II emphasized that solidarity is a virtue which is not just some “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress” at another person’s plight but rather “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. . . to the good of all . . .because we are truly responsible for all.” He challenged individualism on the grounds of our common humanity and freedom.
In 1975, Jesuits adopted the integrating principle of the service of faith that must promote justice, but they also recognized that the justice of socio-political economy and the justice of the gospels must converge. As they noted: “reconciliation with God demands the reconciliation of people with one another.”
Twenty years later, Jesuits worldwide again affirmed that the commitment to justice is an essential ingredient of faith. And like faith and justice, solidarity transcends any ideology, philosophy or political movement. Rather, rooted in Scripture, tradition and human wisdom, the justice of solidarity requires working on not only on fashioning more humane and just socioeconomic and political structures, but also on the full range of human and international human rights, the growing inequality and massiveness of poverty, the environment and creation itself, the tragic marginalization of nations, the need for freedom, peace, reconciliation, security and human life itself as well as a concern for refugees, women, and today we must add for children.
These are not simply concerns of the Catholic Church or Jesuits, but problems common to all. They are genuinely catholic (with a small “c”) in the sense of applying universally to our global society.
Moving beyond Social Justice to the Justice of Solidarity
Solidarity defines relationships between individuals, professions, communities, churches, and nations as communion with each other and God; it is also grounded in our reconciliation with God. It calls for moving from social justice to the justice of solidarity, as both a theological and social imperative, based on agape, on love in friendship. As one scholar noted, “if justice is conceived in the biblical sense of God’s liberating action which demands a necessary human response – a concept of justice which is far closer to agape than to justice in the classical philosophical sense – then justice must be defined as of the essence of the gospel itself.”
Since the justice of the gospel is agape, our friendship with God is integral to our friendship with all of humanity and the creation that sustains humanity. With love as the foundation, the justice of solidarity is not an accumulation of “my justice” and “your justice,” competing with each other, but rather it is “our justice.” And we have an ethical and moral responsibility for the entire human family, from the well-to-do to those suffering and dying from hunger and thirst, disease and broken hearts, from natural disasters or genocide, as in Rwanda and Darfur. This communion as one human family encompasses but is greater than economic, political, cultural, technological, religious, or any other form of interconnections and interdependence.
Solidarity begins as a theological virtue that differentiates Catholic social and intellectual understanding of life from the excesses of two great mindsets of the past century: liberalism and individualism. Specifically, Marxist communism and neo-liberal individualism are challenged by the perspective of solidarity. Marxism ignores the human dignity and rights of each person on the one hand, and the social and moral responsibility for the common good on the other. When Pope Benedict XVI warned that the West is in the grip of a “dictatorship of relativism,” he was challenging the extreme of self-indulgent individualism and excessive consumerism. Relativism, another name for the excess of neo-liberal self-interest, eviscerates the only genuine basis for human rights, which depends on the belief that every human being has transcendent value.
The solidarity of justice extends beyond being a theological virtue since its aim is to fashion a humane and just society. Its social benefits, then, extend to the entire human family by encompassing the full range of human relationships. The systems and processes, be they political, economic, scientific, cultural, educational, to cite only a few, must be for the common good of peoples, cultures, and nations while respecting the dignity of each person.
As one engineer at Santa Clara noted, solidarity can connect theology and science. It leads us to recognize the universe as nonlinear and a highly complex set of relationships which only God can create, but only science can, in some aspects, explore and explain, for example, by chaos theory and quantum mechanics.
The political philosopher John Rawls and economist Amartya Sen help to clarify the transition from justice as fairness to a justice of solidarity. Rawls urges us to imagine that the original condition of humanity is not a community but a social contract. Relationships operate like a mildly regulated market, a modified utilitarian social contract, where everyone has the opportunity to participate, even though the results cannot be guaranteed. His understanding of justice aims to promote fairness by establishing social structures and rules that benefit, at least minimally, the least advantaged members of society.
Sen, the 1998 Nobel Prize winner for economics, goes beyond the justice as fairness of Rawls to the justice of solidarity. For Sen, persons are owed their freedom in justice. Freedom is not understood in an ideal or an historical way. Rather, it is a freedom that ensures human dignity and the broad range of social and political institutions that sustain each person’s freedom within society. He adds the dimensions of human freedom for each person and society to economic development. His ethical framework for socio-economic development leads to a prosperous and just society for the poor and the rich.
Educating for Solidarity
Educating for a prosperous society of faith and justice was eloquently summarized by Ignacio Ellacuría, the martyred Jesuit president of the University of Central America, in 1982. His idea of a university offers a perspective on the first question – How can we, as a university, legitimately integrate solidarity into our academic and educational mission? – and a transition to the second question:
A Christian university must take into account the Gospel preference for the poor. This does not mean that only the poor study at the university; it does not mean that the university should abdicate its mission of academic excellence – excellence needed in order to solve complex social problems. It does mean that the university should be present intellectually where it is needed: to provide science for those who have no science; to provide skills for the unskilled; to be a voice for those who do not possess the academic qualifications to promote and legitimate their rights.
Ellucuría provides us a practical perspective on the virtue of the solidarity of justice. He still challenges us to ask and to educate for responses to: “Who is our neighbor?” and “How do we become neighbors to all in society?” These questions underlie the gospel iteration of the two great commandments and the parable of the good Samaritan.
This is the solidarity of justice in agape – integrating the justice of the gospel with social justice – that leads to my second question: How will – and why should – students acquire such a well-educated solidarity that leads to fashioning a more humane and just world?
The gaudium de veritate that was so precious to Saint Augustine, which identifies the joy of searching for, discovering, and communicating truth “in every field of knowledge,” no longer goes far enough.
Father Kolvenbach envisioned a dialectical relationship between “contact” and “concept” that ultimately leads to accompaniment as the new dimension of Ignatian pedagogy. Contact requires engagement with the poor and suffering, including intelligent reflection on that engagement. Concept is intellectual inquiry, thinking critically about the great questions and gritty reality of our time and cultures.
Exploration is at the heart of both contact and concept, and in the dialectic they mutually enhance each other. At one level, the mind is challenged to change when the heart is touched by direct experience with cultures, including their gritty reality. But at another level, experience with reflection in the search for truth leads to further intellectual inquiry and to the habit of doing the right and virtuous thing. This dialectic has the greatest potential to spark the imagination with great hopes and the desire to transform the world.
The idea of contact is, with its pedagogy of engagement, an enhanced derivative of community-based learning, but he explicitly adds the necessity of moral, and sometimes actual, accompaniment with the poor. Research confirms that students who engage in “contact” gain in “their ability to identify social issues, a sense of connection to the community, openness to other points of view, commitment to social justice, and the perception that problems are systemic rather than the fault of individuals who suffer from the problems.”
Other research reports that engagement with the off-campus community motivated students to work harder and stimulated them more intellectually. Their international understanding and civic responsibility increased and racial prejudice decreased. Students in ethics classes exhibited significant increases in moral reasoning compared to those without community contact.
In this dialectic, students discover truth about gritty reality. They also understand themselves and the world better because they see life as others see and understand it. This has the greatest possibility of inspiring them both to think more critically about issues and to accompany others – morally and/or actually – by using their knowledge and talents to act in solidarity. Or as Ellucuría so well articulated it, “to be present intellectually where we are needed,” and “to be voices for those without voice.”