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POPE-SAPIENZA (SECOND UPDATE) Jan-16-2008 (1,030 words) With photos posted Jan. 15 and 16. xxxi

In undelivered speech, pope urges scholars, students to seek truth

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Even before protests led him to cancel his visit to Rome's Sapienza University, Pope Benedict XVI knew there would be some people who questioned why the leader of the Catholic Church should be delivering a formal address to a secular university.

In the text prepared for his suspended Jan. 17 visit, the pope wrote that he would speak as a "representative of a community that safeguards a treasure of knowledge and ethical experience that is important for all humanity," and he encouraged all involved in the university to seek the truth.

The Vatican published the remarks the pope had prepared for his visit a few hours after a group of Sapienza students attended the pope's Jan. 16 general audience to show their support.

The students held up signs saying "University students are with you" and another saying that, because the pope was not going to the university, the university was coming to him.

Pope Benedict's visit to the university was canceled after 67 professors wrote a letter protesting his visit on charges that the pope was "hostile to science" and after a group of students threatened to demonstrate while he was speaking.

The Vatican had said "it was deemed opportune to defer the visit" because of the protests.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, said in a letter to the university rector that while the climate necessary "for a dignified and tranquil welcome" would be lacking because of the protests by a small portion of the university community the pope still wanted to share his thoughts with those who were interested.

The university, which claims to be the largest in Europe, was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII and became independent in 1870.

In his prepared remarks, the pope wrote, "What should the pope do or say at the university? Certainly, he must not try, in an authoritarian way, to impose on others' faith, which can be given only in freedom."

The pope wrote that his role in speaking at a university that includes believers and nonbelievers is to encourage professors, researchers and students "to seek the truth, the good, God" and to not allow power, technology or selfish interests to silence consciences or belittle those seeking meaning in their lives.

"The danger in the Western world today is that man, precisely because of the greatness of his knowledge and power, gives up in the face of the question of truth," he said.

In the prepared text, Pope Benedict acknowledged that church people have not always been right about everything.

"Various things said by theologians over the course of history or put into practice by church authorities have been shown to be false," he said, but the example of the saints and the Catholic Church's influence on the development of humanism and of various cultures "demonstrates the truth of this faith in its essential nucleus."

Interacting with those who do not believe, he said, the church is dedicated to promoting a search for truth and the common good, a search it believes can be found fully only by recognizing Jesus Christ as savior.

Andrea Frova, a professor of physics and one of the organizers of the professors' letter of protest, told the Italian newspaper Il Giornale that he and his colleagues were "offended by the fact that a pope hostile to science" was invited to give a major lecture at a formal university event.

The professor said it did not make sense "to entrust the inauguration of our academic year to a foreign head of state who also is the head of the Catholic Church."

In addition, he said, the fact that the pope was invited to speak last at the event meant that there would be no opportunity for public questions, comments or debate.

But mostly, Frova said, the 67 professors -- most of whom are scientists -- objected to the invitation because "this pope has always had a closed, even hostile, attitude toward science."

Frova said, "Even in his last encyclical, Ratzinger (the pope) sets science and faith in opposition: His argument is that if science arrives at conclusions that are in any way opposed to faith, science must retreat."

In that encyclical, "Spe Salvi" (on Christian hope), Pope Benedict wrote, "Francis Bacon and those who followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that man would be redeemed through science. Such an expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive. Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it."

The protesting Sapienza professors also objected to remarks that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger made about the church's 17th-century condemnation of Galileo Galilei. They quoted him quoting another author defending the church's condemnation, although they did not point out that the future pope said he found the author's remarks "drastic."

In fact, in the speech, he had said, "Faith does not grow from a resentment and refusal of rationalism, but from its basic affirmation."

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, papal vicar for Rome, issued a statement Jan. 16 inviting Romans to gather in St. Peter's Square Jan. 20 for the pope's midday Angelus as "a gesture of affection and serenity" and to demonstrate "the joy we experience in having Benedict XVI as our bishop and our pope."

The cardinal said the opposition of a small group of university professors and students does not reflect "that love, that trust, that admiration and gratitude for Pope Benedict XVI that is in the heart of the people of Rome."

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano sent Pope Benedict a letter of support late Jan. 15, saying, "I am convinced this event would have offered a precious opportunity for reflection on themes of great relevance for Italian society, as well as all societies."

The president said the "manifestations of intolerance" and the threat of demonstrations were "inadmissible" and incompatible with the climate of freedom and dialogue that should mark a university.

END


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