Universities of Eastern Europe” “

1200 delegates and 50 university rectors " "from 40 countries to meet in Rome (17-20 July)" "" "

1200 delegates (including professors, students and chaplains) from state, private and pontifical universities in 40 European countries, led by some fifty rectors and 30 bishops from dioceses with university campuses, are due to attend the Symposium on “University and Church in Europe”, to be held in Rome from 17 to 20 July (cf. Sir 49/2003). The meeting is being co-hosted by the Council of the European Episcopal Conferences (Ccee) and by the Commission for universities of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. The future Constitution, the process of enlargement taking place and the Pope’s latest apostolic exhortation underline the “grave responsibility” that the universities have “towards the young generations, in the effort to give a new cultural identity to Europe”. Convinced of this is Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski , prefect of the Congregation for Catholic education, according to whom “to fully play their role in the creation of a knowledge-based Europe, European universities will only succeed in becoming an authoritative point of reference at the international level if they are able to re-formulate their humanizing character in contemporary terms, in a critical and constructive dialogue with the various cultures and with the multifarious disciplines of human knowledge”. Numerous delegates from Eastern Europe are attending the Symposium: we have collected some of their experiences. “Before” and “after” the Wall. More than “university chaplains”, “priests for students”, who are also involved in other pastoral fields, and hence with limited time at their disposal for university activities: that’s the situation in the Czech Republic, where the university apostolate is a recent innovation: the first meeting of priests involved in this sector took place just four months ago. Of the 15 universities in Lithuania, only 6 have their own chaplains with proper chaplaincies, while the rest are covered by university pastoral centres; the activities include conferences, seminars for Christian teachers, spiritual exercises for students, and summer camps for students and teachers. In Slovakia, the “activists of the underground church” began a “systematic youth apostolate”, which was stepped up after the collapse of Communism in 1989: priests “transformed their occasional visits to university hostels into a real pastoral ministry”. Towards “new models”. In Latvia, which regained independence only in 1991, a “Youth Day” is being planned for July, and university pastoral activities exist not only in the Catholic faculties and in the institutes of higher studies, but also in the parishes. In Poland, a pilgrimage of students to Czestochowa is annually held, at the beginning of each year: it’s an ancient tradition of the Church in a country that can count on the presence of 36 university chaplains. The Polish Church organizes summer camps, mountain rambles, holiday retreats, as well as ordinary youth activities (courses in preparation for marriage and for the other sacraments…), promoted also in collaboration with the ecclesial movements. “New models” are also “being studied” in Croatia, where, following the constitution of the Croat state (1990), the faculties of theology were reinstated in the universities and the dioceses began organizing the university ministry (Zagreb alone has some 63,000 students). In Hungary, too, during the decades of Communism, priests were expelled from the universities, and it was not until this year that the bishops could once again nominate university chaplains. Catechesis, catechumenate, but also ecumenical and formation projects: these are some of the activities being pursued in Hungarian universities, for which the Church organizes (and has done for 11 years now) an annual national Congress with a final document that is sent to bishops. Romania, by contrast, is a country with an Orthodox majority (87%), in which Catholics do not exceed 7% of the population. Yet the Romanian Church runs 11 university chaplaincies (one per diocese: 6 Latin and 5 Greek-Catholic). There are some 3,000 Catholic university students, but “after the Wall” no state university has any facilities for worship: the parishes and theological institutes remain.

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