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November 5, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 19   •   Oakland, CA
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The Vatican's point man for the physical and social sciences cautions that teaching well is especially challenging in contemporary society.

"Each generation should consider how to convey its culture to the next, if the most important thing that a living being must do is generate another being who is the same or better." The teacher faces the hurdle of both having imperfect knowledge yet serving as "a small but necessary aid, as a secondary dynamic agent" to the student, said Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo discussing the challenges of being a teacher.

He spoke at Saint Mary's College in Moraga as the 2012 Montini Fellow in Catholic Higher Education. Bishop Sorondo is the chancellor of both the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

He examined in detail the Christian understanding of human beings, drawing from many great thinkers, starting with Aristotle and returning often to Thomas Aquinas. "When we place moral virtue above actions, we discover more easily the truth about the good that must be practiced. (Pope) Paul VI said that today's man needs role models and life models more than teachers."

In the Christian tradition "teaching, like healing, is in some way a sacred reality."

Bishop Sorondo said that the sound basis for education "stems partly from scientific knowledge and partly from philosophical and theological knowledge, because the human being is not only a rational animal, a social person, but also a child of God, called to be a citizen of the true homeland."

The pontifical academies headed by bishop Sorondo draw together top experts in different fields to explore complex subjects and to provide some guidance for human action. In recent years their studies have included business ethics, genetic food modifications and climate change among others. However, their reports are not Church policy.

Bishop Sorondo did sketch out a major change in Catholic thinking brought about through the Second Vatican Council. Before it "what mattered most were personal conduct and the virtues that aimed at the perfection of the individual … This was the time when the values associated with the family, marital fidelity, friendship and honor were elevated above all others. Without voiding this scale of values the Council … added a new set of values based on social engagement with those persons whom we do not necessarily know."

This doubles the Christian's moral obligations, to include both personal behavior and social obligations to people — and future generations — whom we don't know in our city and the world.

"In the hierarchy of the Church, perhaps (Pope) Benedict XVI is the most convinced person of the growing problem of destruction of our habitat. Since the beginning of his pontificate, his motto has been 'If you want peace, respect Creation.'"

Bishop Sorondo added "the relativistic, nihilistic and aetheistic tendencies of some modern movements that our current Pope Benedict XVI criticizes with increasing force … have been matched by the progressive return of the ethical, metaphysical and theological question coming not only from several traditions of contemporary philosophy, but also and above all from science itself."

Bishop Sorondo spent a week on the Saint Mary's campus, sharing ideas with faculty and students, under aegis of the Bishop John S. Cummins Institute for Catholic Thought, Culture and Action. Bishop Sorondo was invited to Saint Mary's for the week by the retired Oakland bishop.

As part of the day a panel of seven leaders in Bay Area religiously-affiliated colleges explored the challenges facing Catholic higher education.

Saint Mary's President Brother Ronald Gallagher, FSC, said that maintaining its spirituality "is very essential" to Saint Mary's because many students are drawn to the college because they are seeking to fill that need in their lives.

Oakland's Holy Names University President William J. Hynes described one of HNU's needs is "'better cohesiveness around our core charisms."

University of San Francisco President Rev. Stephen A. Privett, SJ, enumerated the challenges facing religious-based colleges as fewer paying students, less government money, lower returns from endowments and greater competition from on-line education.

Other participants included: James Donahue, president of the Graduate Theological Union; Judith Maxwell Greig, president of Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, and Sister Mary Peter Traviss, OP, emeritus associate professor at USF.

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