Scholars flock to Rome for symposium for Catholic universities


In the aftermath of former President Viktor Yanukovych’s controversial decision to postpone Ukraine’s admittance into the European Union in favor of a bilateral treaty with Russia, students from the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) took to the streets of Lviv in solidarity with the Euromaidan demonstrations in Kiev, calling for an end to political corruption and human rights abuses.  Professors and staff members also joined the protests, many of which escalated from peaceful marches to violent riots due to police aggression.  UCU publicly declared its stance of civil disobedience against the Yanukovych administration last December yet remained faithful to its commitment for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

“Civic education aims at enabling one’s capacity to see and to respond to values,” Volodymyr Turchynovskyy, Director of the International Institute for Ethics and Contemporary Issues at UCU, said.  “In the specifically Ukrainian situation one of the best indicators is the ability of the graduates to resist and combat the widespread corruption.”

Turchynovskyy offered his insights at the “Sources of the Civic” Symposium in Rome September 26-27.  The gathering of scholars and administrators from various Catholic universities in Europe was organized by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies.  Participants explored the philosophical foundation of civic education as well as the economic, social, legal, and cultural dimensions of student life.

The symposium is an annual event for the Catholic Universities Partnership (CUP), a Nanovic program which unites Notre Dame with 8 European institutions in the spirit of collaboration and fruitful dialogue.

Regarding the importance of CUP to ND’s mission, Anthony Monta, Associate Director of the Nanovic Institute, alluded to Father Edward Sorin’s international vision for the university and Father Theodore Hesburgh’s participation in the civil rights marches of Martin Luther King, Jr.  “Notre Dame has been involved in civic engagement since its beginning,” he said.

Speakers delivered lectures on the metaphysical aspects of civic engagement such as intrinsic human dignity and the challenges faced by religious-based education.  As a panelist during the symposium, Turchynovskyy argued that the pursuit of academic excellence should not be undertaken for its own sake.

“It’s by respecting what is worthy of respect, by loving what is truly lovable,” he stated, “by searching for the truth and serving others in their effort to fulfill their vocation that the mystery of education and formation takes place.”

The Nanovic Institute reports that “in recent years, the topic of civic education has received considerable attention from transnational institutions in Europe, such as the Council of Europe [CoE]” in the wake of the “average citizen’s loss of interest in politics, lack of knowledge about democratic processes, and declining engagement in the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“I believe this is the first time Catholic universities in Europe have addressed this issue in a concerted way,” Monta said.  “It’s the beginning of what we hope will be a long conversation about the role of Catholic universities in the fate of democracy in Europe.”

Within its 2010 charter on democratic citizenship and human rights education, the CoE considered “empowering [students] with the readiness to take action in society in the defence and promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law” as a fundamental goal for member states.  Jean-Christophe Bas, Director General of Democratic Citizenship and Participation, represented the CoE at the symposium.

The symposium aimed to elaborate on the special charism of Catholic institutions of higher education in providing a holistic formation concerning moral responsibility and meaningful political participation.

“[The middle ground of activity] is where citizens, who may disagree on hot-button issues, can nevertheless get together to work for some tangible common good,” Monta said.  “Catholic universities are in a great position to help nourish the motives that propel young people toward taking part in the life and direction of their communities this way.”

Turchynovskyy believes that the Church should be a voice in defense of dignity, justice, and transparency.  He notes that UCU priests ministered to the activists during the recent unrest in Ukraine, offering spiritual consolation for the wounded and protecting people from the riot police.

“A Catholic university should resist this sliding towards demonization of dissent and promote social solidarity across the various kinds of divisions,” Turchynovskyy said.  “On the other hand, a Catholic university should stand firm in urging social reforms and coping with the problems that led to the turmoil.”

A panel of policymakers and scholars concluded the symposium and reflected upon the future of European democracy.

“When we put ourselves into conversation with other Catholics in different parts of the world who face similar temptations, we constantly find ourselves strengthened in mind and heart,” Monta stated.  “And as much as they learn from us, we certainly learn from, and are even inspired by, them.”

Jeremy Dela Cruz is a senior majoring in French and philosophy with a minor in Portuguese.  Contact him at