Address to the University of Zagreb

March 21, 2019

The links between the Society of Jesus and the university world date back to the 16th century, the time when Ignatius Loyola and his first companions met at the University of Paris. One could say that the Society of Jesus was conceived in a university environment, although not originally in order to found universities. During the first years of the Society, Ignatius willingly sent young Jesuits to existing universities such as Coimbra and Padua, Louvain and Cologne. However, before long the Society started to create its own educational structures, which later became universities. Ignatius realized the great apostolic potential of education and did not hesitate to rank it above other “ordinary services”, bringing greater glory and service to God and, at the same time, promoting the more universal good. Ignatius inaugurated his commitment to higher education because the good that could be achieved through educational structures was more “universal”.

Ignatius and the first Jesuits saw in the letters and sciences a way to serve people and show the path to God. This vision of faith has never contradicted the service of the universal good that engages all those involved in the search for truth, regardless of their faith or religion. Therefore, in the Jesuit academic tradition, which has shaped many universities all over the world, there is no incompatibility between the aims of all universities and the Christian and Ignatian inspiration that is specific to us.

The University is a community committed to the unceasing search for truth, critically recognizing the provisional nature of our formulations. This task is also very dear to the Christian faith and to us Jesuits. We always want to understand better the world in which we live, in order to serve the more universal good.

Contemplating the world around us, we witness the scandal of increasing levels of inequality that generate violence, forced migrations, racial discrimination, grinding poverty, authoritarianisms and populisms that make false promises of social redemption. Sadly, we also witness the impossibility of stopping the deterioration of the environment, due to a lack of responsibility in the care of our Common Home.

This vision represents an epistemological challenge for our scientific work, which seeks to shed light on our reality, to discover the roots of injustice and to propose alternatives for economic and social transformation. The vision should also inform our teaching. From this way of seeing, this stance vis-à-vis reality, we embody the preferential option for the poor, by which the university becomes a project of social transformation to generate a full life.

The university does not exist for itself, but for society and for its transformation for the better. When the university is conceived as project of social transformation, it moves towards the margins of human history, where it finds those who are discarded by the dominant structures and powers. Such a university opens its doors and windows to the margins of society, welcoming a new breath of life that makes the efforts of social transformation a source of vibrancy and fulfilment.

As we contemplate the world today, we must also look toward tomorrow. Involvement in the university, as we understand it in the Jesuit tradition, should have a creative capacity, which is demonstrated above all in its ability to anticipate its time, to be several steps ahead.

This is particularly important in an era of globalisation and rapid changes accelerated by the digital culture. The University is a privileged place to discern trends and the possible effects of different currents of globalization, to promote those that produce a full life. We must discern where globalization through the standardization of cultures can put multiculturalism at risk, and where on the contrary it is able to multiply multicultural spaces and promote opportunities for interculturality. The university also seems to provide a privileged place to explore the spiritual experience of religion as a dimension of cultures, encouraging the overcoming of fundamentalism.

Educating people for world citizenship - which opposes the tendency to create a monocultural global space - means recognising diversity as a constitutive dimension of a full human life. In this sense, the Society considers accompanying the formation of all young people, but especially those who decide to serve in politics, to be one of the greatest contributions we can make to improve the situation of human societies around the world.