Most eminent Cardinal Dom Orani Tempesta, O.Cist, and other authorities.
Dear members of the university community: faculty, students, and staff.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude for his Eminence Dom Orani Tempesta, O.Cist., our Grand-President. Dearest Dom Orani: Thank you for your trust in naming me and for your shepherd's promptitude to join us at this moment. Your presence here today witnesses the proximity of the Holy See to our university community, reminding us of our identity and mission. In his person I would like to salute all the dear Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, its clergy and laity that have been present at PUC-Rio since its creation.
Indeed, the Catholic university is an almost emblematic institution in the articulation between Church and society. At the same time that it integrates, as a “university”, the national system of education, following its particular rules. As a “catholic institution”, it keeps in mind the orientations that come from teachings of the Church, as shown in the Apostolic Constitution Ex corde Ecclesiae, the fundamental Letter of catholic universities, as the title poetically indicates: “from the heart of the Church”. And the title of “pontifical” shows our fundamental identity, making us part of the promptitude and mission of the Church universally, which manifests in the figure and duty of the High Pontiff.
However, PUC-Rio has a particularity among the pontifical institutions: the fact that it is a university trusted to the Society of Jesus. Hence, this day is a mark of “renewal in continuity”: with this act, which transcends my poor person, we say the Jesuits as apostolic body remain leading PUC-Rio with the same service provided to the Church and to society, which encouraged Fr. Leonel Franca and all the Jesuits that have worked here;
Therefore, before crossing the line to take on this mission, I would like to express my gratitude to Fr. Josafá Carlos de Siqueira, S.J. Thank you very much for your dedication throughout these 12 years of chancellorship. The community acknowledges you as a man who, along with the sectorial vice-chancellors, was present in the good moments and kept his serenity in the bad moments. I especially consider this last period in which we managed to safely cross the COVID 19 pandemic. Hence, I thank you, in the name of everyone, for your effort in maintaining the care for the essential and building peaceful relationships. Under your chancellorship, the University became greener, achieving a fundamental environmental consciousness that will not be forgotten.
I also thank the Society of Jesus in particular, for their trust in Fr. Provincial of the Jesuits of Brazil, Mieczyslaw Smyda, who is currently traveling abroad but is represented here by Fr. Élcio Toledo (Vice-provincial) and Fr. Sérgio Mariucci (Secretary for Education of the Jesuit Province of Brazil and President at UNISINOS). Hence, I take this mission with serenity: I do not feel alone, because when a Jesuit is destined for a mission, the Society of Jesus comes in and with him. We are an Apostolic body. Therefore, I feel accompanied by my brothers, present either physically, virtually or even spiritually. Out of those who are present here, I would like to call attention to my community brothers, Fr. Abel, Brother Brune, and Deacon Paulo, who will from now on help me closely on this mission.
Following the orientation of their Constitutions, the universities trusted by the Society of Jesus must stand out for their programs of human, socio-environmental, cultural and spiritual education, for the shepherd’s attention to the students and to the people who work, attend or depend on it. They must provide interdisciplinarity, which demands collaboration and dialogue in the university and with other universities. There is, therefore, a particular way of achieving this educational task, something that is specific to the Jesuits in their secular pedagogical experience.
And why do the Jesuits keep on taking this type of mission?
In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI referred to the words that Pope Paul VI had said to the Jesuits in 1974. I quote:
“Paul VI's words remain engraved on your hearts: "Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, at the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been and there is confrontation between the burning exigencies of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, here also there have been, and there are, Jesuits” (Address to the 32nd General Congregation of the Jesuits, 3 December 1974).
It is, therefore, as a frontier between culture and contemporary thought, that the Society of Jesus understands its mission at PUC-Rio which, as a university is catholic, but as a community is plural. Yes, mirroring our society, PUC-Rio is composed of a true diversity of people, with different beliefs and convictions, but those same people are united by the fascinating experience of identifying as a community of teaching, research and extension. We believe in education. It has the power of uniting us.
Hence is the fundamental role of the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, always present at PUC-Rio. Indeed, we should remember that the creation of this University, then “Catholic Schools”, was a collaboration of Cardinal Sebastião Leme, Fr. Leonel Franca, and a group of lay intellectuals such as Alceu Amoroso Lima, who were concerned about the education of the youth at one of the most emblematic times of the 20th century, when Europe was concretely living the World War and Brazil was taking its first steps toward a larger development as a country.
PUC-Rio followed the post-war changes, survived crises at a national context, and now, in the 21st century, endures the pandemic with resilience.
It is true that the pandemic remains a great ordeal. Albert Camus is known as the author of “The Plague”, in which the city of Oran taken over by the epidemic is used as a metaphor for resistance. However, in another of his books, “The Summer. Return to Tipasa” talks about something luminous that remains alive within us, resisting dark times. I quote:
“O light! This is the cry of all the characters of ancient drama brought face to face with their fate. This last resort was ours, too, and I knew it now. In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.”
Indeed, we can believe that amid the winter of this pandemic, a strong hope remains luminous in many hearts, while many have perished. There have been over 600 thousand victims… But evoking that hope tonight is a convocation to mobilize our greatest forces to return to our in-person activities, where a few changes can already be seen.
In the past two years, higher education has been using some technological advances capable of deeply changing our principles, criteria, and ways to live the process of learning. It is right to think that within the next 20 years the universities will face huge transformation.
But that must not come as a surprise to them, as universities were created in times of transition and transformation. They were originally created by the end of the Middle Ages, when philosophy and science were rapidly changing. So they experienced a renaissance in the 19th century, during the industrial revolution. In both cases, the universities were not only a result of the transition, but also the engine of change. Therefore, they are naturally “creative institutions”.
During the 20th century, for instance, in many places of the western world, universities have also been responsible for the revitalization of our democracies. We know that democracy is never complete, it must always be cared for and reconfigured. It is what distinguished it from autocracy. Thus, these patios have witnessed emblematic moments.
We are aware that we are now prepared to face difficult times in resuming our growth after a crisis which, as always in history, demands a new ability to interpret reality. We are in urgent need of a new referential. But answering this hermeneutical and performatic challenge is not a single-person or single-institution commitment: it is the project of a country.
We must then question: how can we contribute?
We are a University of qualified research. We must keep investing in the intelligence and the talent of the youth. They will be the protagonists of post-pandemic society. We are living a fundamental, demanding, and exciting moment for our University.
We are part of the most productive layer of the country. We have 27 departments at the level of the greatest university institutions. It is not unusual to find a PUC-Rio professor’s name on great projects, which is why it is necessary not only to praise this leadership on research, but also to ensure its continuity.
As I have said before, I believe that “the PUC-Rio Model is acknowledged as something peculiar. Its "ecosystem" [...] talks about autonomy and deep unity; liberty of research and socio-environmental justice. Therefore, it talks about excellence in academic research that does not bow to purely market logic, but that aims to cultivate the student’s sensitivity to make commitments to socio-economically more vulnerable people.”
PUC-Rio’s strength is its university community in its strict sense (faculty, students, and staff), but also in its wide sense: alumni, volunteers, collaborators, partners and benefactors; people who identify with and trust our project.
Internally, there is a culture of solidarity that manifests in the collaboration between the academic departments in teaching, research, and extension. An internal culture of solidarity is also consolidated, aiming to maintain the institution’s financial sustainability as a whole: concretely, the most profitable departments assist the more fragile ones.
With a tendency of a decrease in the number of students, this culture of solidarity is always more necessary and it can be felt in practice: in the challenges of academic planning, in the solidary collaboration of faculty and staff. I take this opportunity to thank the faculty: full, supplementary and complementary professors, and the staff.
We hope that the renewal of the current programs and the creation of new ones may help us attract more students. It deeply saddens us to think about excluding brilliant future students of the university experience due to lack of resources. We must find new paths for inclusion with sustainability.
The PUC-Rio model of scholarships is acknowledged and almost unique. Despite the crisis, we hold 35% of scholarships, however with an average of 45% of students with some tuition reduction. Unfortunately, we cannot be as generous as we used to be in past times. But we dream of the possibility of always including poorer and more vulnerable students.
In this direction, we are solidary to all community universities: non-profit institution fighting to maintain its activities despite the concerning socio-economic scene with particularly negative effects over the university system.
Due to all the growing risk of partialization in society, we must think about the relationship between the academic pedagogical dimension and the whole university experience. The renovation of the classrooms will need to be in sync with the most innovative academic pedagogical principles.
Our PUC-Rio must stand out again. It is not only about renewing academic pedagogical equipment, but about each one of us being willing to renew ourselves.
Therefore, we will propose a higher emphasis on the education of all, especially of the professors. They must have access to the most innovative forms of teaching-learning, that will certainly include new methods, but also interdisciplinary exchange. The law of extension already internally moves us to look for new actions. Then I will propose a path of collaborative education as a line of force, involving the whole university, so that the academic excellence is really guaranteed.
We also need to reinforce our practice of great research projects. All projects must be supported and followed so that, in addition to being self-sustainable, they may brind resources and concrete benefits to our university. This will be another line of force that will be proposed in due time.
I share with all the conviction that every solution to our problems, or sensible answers to our questions are at the very PUC-Rio. We are a reservoir of creative energy, of enthusiasm, with a great capacity of generosity and joy that cannot be found anywhere. Therefore, we will propose a path through the values of people. We must value the community and the inner strength of each one of us.
We will certainly also need to know and exchange experiences between other university experiences in the world. This will finally be the other line of force we intend to propose. We are already a University acknowledged by international rankings. We must emphasize this image of a University that is open to other experiences. We have enough maturity and self-esteem to represent our values and our Brazilian culture. Finally, thanks to our base in our dear Rio de Janeiro, we can attract new partnerships and consolidate our culture of openness to the world.
But what shall we do? How shall we implement these lines of force?
First, we need to keep serene. Allow me to remind everyone that, as a thinking community, we must not let the anxiety that strikes our society in general lead us, or embark on precocious initiatives. Now begins a time of proactive discernment, of trust in the strength of the community and of hope.
I am convinced that it would be pretentious to bring complete answers. Therefore, I finally propose that we commit to serenely taking up what I call “fundamental sapiential attitudes”. In our case specifically, there are three: sense of community, deeply listening, and creative fidelity. These are founding values that need to be interiorized by all, no exceptions. At the same time, they are methods - paths in Greek - that can help us from this moment, to revisit our “identity and mission” to, then, glimpse an innovative and sustainable “vision” for the future of our PUC-Rio.
Let’s have a look at the three sapiential attitudes:
1. The first attitude: a sense of community
What is a community? Better to say what it is not: a community is not a simple gathering of people, or a combination of forces, even less the sum of egos. On the contrary, it is subtraction, it is only created from each one’s resignation, when we are a little less self centered, when we take something from our “I” (ego) and make room for “we”.
That may seem unsettling, but creating a community is not about combining each one’s best qualities, because limits are important: they make us understand that we depend on each other, making us more human and open to mutual collaboration.
This sense of community is something that we need to constantly cultivate. As President, I have this concern: to promote and assure the unity of community. This assumes knowing the members personally. Therefore, throughout the months of August and September, I will try to visit every department and complementary unit to welcome every team. Soon the President’s Office will send the directors the indications on this agenda.
2. Second sapiential attitude: deeply listening
On searching for new paths for our University, as a community in constant construction, we must listen to other people, especially the younger ones.
Why must we listen to the youth? Because they have a lot to teach us, as their minds are naturally inhabited by genuine and powerful creativity. If the weight of aging and the excess of negative experiences often incline us to nostalgia and even to disillusion for life, young people bring us the freshness of a view directed toward the future, free of many prejudices that were culturally forged and that secretly inhabit us.
Of course, they have limits and fragilities. We don’t know the effects of the pandemic on their learning experience or on their personal lives. But we do know that they need help. Someone who does not feel love for today’s youth and does not seek to express it by concretely listening to them cannot be an educator. It is true that it is often hard to communicate with them, but if we are humble and unpretentious, we can learn their language.
I am convinced that it is only giving them the protagonism here that they learn, that PUC-Rio will continue to be a creative community, creating complete, purposeful, and happy people.
3. The third attitude: a “creative fidelity”
Having listened to our youth, we must concretely put them at the center of our university community, with concrete actions to connect them innovatively with our tradition.
A creative fidelity can help us propose a rich and diversified educational offer to our students; to give conditions of possibility so that they have their process of education at PUC-Rio serenely, safely, and enthusiastically; in consequence, to assure socio-economic support to those who need it most; assure the access to pedagogical, technological and health equipment to those in vulnerability not only socio-economically, but also emotionally; to encourage national and international experiences; to offer spaces that manifest our commitment to innovation: We need room for things to happen!
In effect, we must continue to care for the campus: make it more sustainable, humanely welcoming, contemplating disabled people, who are often forgotten. Thus, we must make our campus a place for all.
We know well that the campus is a constant memory for former PUC-Rio students, as a place of reencounters, rest, and friendship, an environment that made up their university experience. They take pride in its Alma mater, in that sense. And many of them make us proud by how they act in society. This place of reencounters is where successful paths are made. Its aesthetic distribution is fundamentally important: like a small city (from Greek polis), the campus is a permanent essay of interactions that must inspire healthy personal relationships, innovative public policies, and more humane possibilities of citizen coexistence.
Conclusion: we are orchestrated originalities.
In the past few days, I have been thinking about how rich the metaphor of a great symphonic orchestra and choir may be for us to understand the reality of a university such as PUC-Rio. Each one of us represents an instrument or a voice. We are unique, original. Together, we make up the whole of the orchestra and choir. We are “orchestrated originalities”. Before a concert, each musician tunes their instrument with their pairs and then joins the rest of the orchestra. The same goes for the singers. The concert happens as each one integrates and gives in. It is in its wholeness that the beauty of the symphony manifests. Finally, we feel like “orchestrated originalities”.
It is no different in life: the effort of each day is to be “tuned” with ourselves, with others and with the whole. That is the mystery of the unity that happens in plurality. Therefore, I believe we can adopt Dom Orani’s motto, that expresses Jesus’s great wish: “May all be one!”.
I immensely thank you for your presence, your trust and ask that our university’s motto, Alis grave nil, “with wings, nothing is heavy” echoes in each one of us.
Fr. Anderson Antonio Pedroso, S.J.