Archbishop: Church, universities build a better society

By Joyce Duriga
Sunday, April 17, 2016

Leading with Pope Francis’ now-famous words that the Catholic Church should be a “field hospital” healing people’s hearts and souls, Archbishop Cupich outlined his ideas about the church and Catholic higher education during a March 31 talk at St. Xavier University in Chicago. About 150 people turned out at Chicago’s oldest Catholic university to listen to the archbishop.

The “field hospital” comments come from Pope Francis’ 2013 interview with Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro.

“In his interview with Father Spadaro, the pope introduced what has now become famous as a new image of the church: ‘The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds,’” Archbishop Cupich said.

In 2014, Pope Francis called on Catholic universities and colleges to bravely enter the culture and promote dialogue rooted in the gift of the Gospel, the archbishop reminded the gathering.

“What these two statements have in common is a call for the church as local diocese, as institution of higher learning or as charitable works to step out of itself, to read the signs of the times, and to address the needs of real people, or, as the pope writes in ‘The Joy of the Gospel,’ to understand that realities are greater than ideas,” he said.

Archbishop Cupich told the gathering that there are many opportunities for collaboration between the local church and Catholic colleges or universities.

He focused on three areas related to the world today and issues that students face — “passing on a way of knowing that is more humane simply because it is rooted in reality and therefore more willing and equipped to challenge a techno-scientific approach to knowledge”; “fostering and teaching an approach to the economy that is anchored in the common good”; and promoting “an approach to citizenship and public service understood as a profoundly spiritual and moral undertaking, one which aims at promoting the integral development of every human person and of society as a whole.”

In laying out his ideas, the archbishop said that the local Catholic Church relies upon its universities to keep in trust “solid” theological and philosophical traditions of its history that can help itself, students and society understand knowledge in terms of love and attentiveness to others instead of power and quantitative analysis.

For its part, “the local church can provide the university community with first-hand real life experiences that validate how an approach to knowledge as power is at the root of systemic poverty, violence in our neighborhoods and a casual disregard for human life in so many ways,” he said.

Addressing his second point on the economy, the archbishop noted that university students today are entering a working world where profit and productivity trump values such as just wages and care for the poor. Catholic universities in the United States offer some of the best business schools and therefore can provide a moral voice in the popular culture.

“Additionally, by relying on that tradition, they can help our Catholic students, who will be our future parishioners and leaders, to understand the connection between how we view the economy and how they, the students, should view the meaning of their lives,” he said. “Moreover, society as a whole can benefit from this tradition as we provide all of our students with the moral compass they will need as the world’s future business leaders, and decision and policy makers.”

To his final point on the political realm, Archbishop Cupich reminded the gathering that any political activity has spiritual and moral implications.

He also proposed more interactions between Catholic universities and church leaders in this area.

“I have often thought that as the bishops of the United States prepare updates of our document, ‘Faithful Citizenship,’ that we could greatly benefit from the participation of our Catholic universities and colleges, not only in terms of their editing suggestions, but also through a coordination of seminars that would make that document and all of Catholic social teaching more accessible to our parishioners,” he said. “And yet, noting again as Pope Francis reminds us, that realities are greater than ideas, our institutions of higher learning can benefit from the experience of our social service organizations, hospitals, schools, and parishes to insure that the approach to Catholic social teaching is anchored in the real life situation of people.”


  • cardinal cupich
  • catholic schools
  • pope francis
  • education
  • st. xavier university

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