New Rector of Lateran University Takes Stock

"Theology Is Asked to Fulfill a Double Service," Says Bishop Fisichella

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ROME, FEB. 25, 2002 (ZENIT.org-Avvenire).- Rome´s Auxiliary Bishop Rino Fisichella, 50, was recently appointed the new rector of the Lateran University.



Founded in 1773, the Lateran (http://www.pul.it/nsindex.htm) depends directly on the Holy See. It has four schools (theology, philosophy, canon law and civil law), as well as the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.

The university has more than 6,000 students and several dozen institutes around the world which depend on it.

Q: Bishop Fisichella, what are the Lateran´s aims?

Bishop Fisichella: We must start from our nature: We are the Pope´s university. Our mission is to give cultural, theological and philosophical support to the Holy Father´s teaching, but with a peculiarity.

We are called to accept the magisterium but also to mediate it in the cultural realm, which means that we not only repeat but personally assume the challenge to elaborate our own cultural plan.

Q: In what particular areas?

Bishop Fisichella: Today we are faced with some important crucial points: I am thinking of the problem of truth, given different conceptions of life and law; the subject of nature and man´s relation to it; and, more generally, the important questions of anthropology.

Given these settings, our university must increasingly become a place of research. We must be able to delineate new ways, while adopting the typical methods of scientific research. We cannot restrict ourselves to studying the past or analyzing the present. The real challenge is to elaborate proposals that look to the future.

In this connection, I would like to stress the richness of the Lateran in its openness to the world. We are a university in which 95 countries are represented. We have premises and institutes that are connected to us in all the continents. Therefore, we are in direct contact with the "cultures" -- a most stimulating situation for anyone who wishes to interpret reality.

Q: The problem of science and its limitations is always current.

Bishop Fisichella: I think theology is asked to fulfill a double service. On one hand, it must be careful not to "demonize" science. It is a result of man´s creative intelligence which we must recognize in all its worth. Moreover, theology itself belongs to this realm.

At the same time, however, we must forcefully affirm that science cannot be considered to be neutral. This is a prejudice that must be demolished: There is no research outside the acceptance of the interpretative principle of reality.

It is a mistake to identify progress with scientific research as such. There is progress only when research is geared to the good of the individual and the community. Therefore, research cannot escape from the ethical responsibilities of what it does. Theology must help this discernment by offering that dimension on the meaning of man, his most profound essence, which empirical sciences cannot give.

This is why today more than ever theology must assume a purposive role in these areas.

Q: You referred earlier to the confrontation of cultures, a very debated subject since Sept. 11. What can the Lateran´s experience teach?

Bishop Fisichella: A place like the Lateran is able to make a great contribution to acceptance among cultures. The fact that an American, Korean or Ugandan student live together is a very beautiful expression of the catholicity of the faith. It gives visibility to the fact that cultures meet and respect one another.

However, that is not all. Above all, [the Lateran] hopes to be a place where all cultures discover that they are open to a greater truth. This is the real challenge in the confrontation between different worlds: to make room for thought to be able to face what is new.

Q: Does this also apply to inculturation of the faith?

Bishop Fisichella: Of course, and it is a fundamental task today. I say it from my experience. For 20 years I have taught courses on the credibility of Revelation, and I have seen how important it is to help each individual understand this concept by making use of the categories of his own culture.

However, let us not fall into the illusion of having to become I-don´t-know-what. With inculturation, we do not begin from zero. It is a commitment that has always characterized the life of the Church.