The following piece was written to accompany the Pope’s Homily to Rome’s university students.
“We students have to seek the Face of God in everything we study”. With these words Emanuele Raimondo, a law student in Rome, took up a central theme of Benedict XVI’s Homily to students on 17 December. “It is our vocation to search for wisdom, that is, for God”, Raimondo continued. The academic’s role is then to help reveal the Face of Christ to others in “intellectual charity”, illuminating it by the diverse knowledge discovered through study, said the Pope. Rome’s academic community came together for Vespers in St Peter’s on the third Thursday of Advent, meaning that it was also the only night of the year in which the “O Antiphon” invoking Christ as Sapientia – Wisdom – is sung.
When considered together with the Nativity scene in Bethlehem, the Pope said, this invocation points to the “provocative” paradox of Wisdom seen from a Christian perspective. From “the mouth of the Most High”, Wisdom “comes to lie in swaddling cloths in a manger”, the Holy Father explained.
This identification of Wisdom with the Baby Jesus struck a chord with students: “In today’s society when one thinks of wisdom, so often the last thing to come to mind is humility”, said Emanuele Vincent, who also studies law in Rome. “The way the Pope brought the two together was truly beautiful”.
Contrary to what many may think, Benedict XVI said, drawing near to Christ in the manger is not an obstacle to successful academic study. “Education is a way for me to express and share my faith”, said Jenna Hensby, a nursing student from Sydney. “Rather than a stumbling block, it’s actually a platform”.
Hensby participated in the Celebration as a member of the delegation that had come from Australia to pass on the Icon of Mary, Sedes Sapientiae, to a delegation from Africa, its next destination.
The handing over took place at the conclusion of Vespers, a “small symbol of an immense project: that of creating a new bridge of knowledge between Rome and Africa”, said motor sciences student Angela Tozzi, representing Rome’s university students in an address to the Pope. “Remembering that Mary walks with us in our university hallways calls us to place our talents at the service of humanity… to build a new civilization founded on love”.
At the end of the ceremony, the organ’s chords faded into the rhythm of African drums and song, symbolizing the progression of the pilgrimage. Afterwards Christine Tesch, who studies business in Brisbane, expressed the Australian delegation’s hope for the Icon’s journey in Africa: that it might serve as an inspiration in the development of both its “Catholic faith, which is so young and vibrant, and its growing education system”.
The gathering was therefore a chance for the young students to recognize the interrelatedness of a worldwide academic community of the faithful. It also shed light on John Paul II’s original sentiments in commissioning the Icon, as expressed at its presentation: “Every day you are committed to proclaiming, defending and spreading the truth…. Even in research on areas of life which seem quite far from faith, there is a hidden desire for truth and meaning” (Homily to University Teachers, 10 September 2000; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 13 September, p. 1).
For Benedict XVI, it was an opportunity to invite his fellow academics to draw near to that Grotto in Bethlehem, in which lies the only answer to “the Christian paradox”: that with a “Love that infinitely exceeds human and historical dimensions”, the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).
© L’Osservatore Romano English edition