Vatican News
Pope Francis addresses students at the Pontifical Lateran University on 31 October 2019 Pope Francis addresses students at the Pontifical Lateran University on 31 October 2019  (ANSA)

Pope to Catholic Universities: Educate students to social, relational responsibility

Pope Francis receives members of the International Federation of Catholic Universities, and reminds them that the fruits of study must have a relational and social purpose.

By Vatican News

“New Frontiers for University Leaders: The Future of Health and the University Ecosystem”. This is the theme of a forum being held in Rome, dedicated to the topics and challenges currently driving university transformation.

University challenges

Pope Francis outlined some of those challenges in his discourse. They include preparing new generations to become qualified professionals, but also “proponents of the common good, creative and responsible leaders in social and civil life, with a proper vision of the person and the world”, he said.

Universities today “need to consider what contribution they can and must make to the integral health of the person and to an inclusive ecology”, said the Pope.

Catholic universities, in particular, need to become places “where solutions for civil and cultural progress for individual persons and for humanity, marked by solidarity, are pursued with perseverance and professionalism”, he said.


The Pope noted how the development of “technoscience”, or the way humanity interacts with technology, is “destined increasingly to influence people’s physical and psychological health”.

We need to remember that all teaching “entails asking ourselves about the why”, he said. “It requires a reflection on the foundations and purposes of every discipline”. Abstracting knowledge from its ethical dimension would mean abandoning the task of teaching, said the Pope.


Facing the questions of “why” involves the “typically epistemological character of education which concerns the whole span of knowledge”, continued Pope Francis. “The link between knowledge and purpose refers to the theme of intentionality and to the role of the subject in every cognitive process”. Completely impersonal experiences do not exist, he said.  

In this light, universities have “an intellectual and moral energy whose responsibility goes beyond the person to be educated and extends to the needs of all humanity”, added the Pope. 

University ecosystems

The moral imperative of the International Federation of Catholic Universities, said Pope Francis, is to achieve “a more united international academic community”, in order to develop “a universal spirit aimed at increasing the quality of the cultural life of persons and of peoples”.

University ecosystems develop, said the Pope, “when every member of the university, by focusing on the whole person, cultivates a particular awareness of the context in which people live and grow, and of all that contributes to their advancement”.

Mind and Heart

The formation of leaders achieves its goal, continued Pope Francis, when it imbues the academic years with developing both “the mind and the heart, conscience, together with students’ practical abilities”. The fruits of study must always have “a relational and social purpose”, stressed the Pope. 

Saint John Henry Newman

Pope Francis concluded with a quote from Cardinal John Henry Newman, patron of the Federation of Catholic Universities.

The Church, wrote Newman, “fears no knowledge, but she purifies all; she represses no element of our nature, but cultivates the whole”.

04 November 2019, 12:16