By Dr Ann Marie Mealey, Commission member and Director of Catholic Mission – Leeds Trinity University

(This article was fist published as a blogpost by Leeds Trinity University)

photo of Pope Benedict XVIWe are saddened to learn of the death of Pope Emeritus XVI.  This news will sadden those who had a deep appreciation of his theological writings and those who had the privilege of attending the papal visit to the United Kingdom in 2010.

Students at Leeds Trinity studied some of the writings of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and pondered the implications of his teachings for the modern world. Deus Caritas Est (God is Love, 2005), Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope, 2007) and Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth, 2009) have been debated in our classrooms at LTU for several years and will undoubtedly continue to shape those students who have now graduated and work in our local schools, charities, and businesses. 

The teachings of Caritas in Veritate very much link with our own mission as a Catholic University as they remind us that every person who interacts with us at the university must be respected and cared for. This means taking the necessary steps daily to ensure that the good of all is maintained and guaranteed.  Paragraph 7 of Caritas in Veritate reminds us that:

‘[t]o love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it. Besides the good of the individual, there is a good that is linked to living in society: the common good. It is the good of “all of us”, made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society. It is a good that is sought not for its own sake, but for the people who belong to the social community and who can only really and effectively pursue their good within it.’

Put simply, to show love is to be naturally drawn into the field of justice and peace. This teaching is essential for universities such as Leeds Trinity. And we must continue to find ways of expressing our profound respect and support for those who work and study in our universities, as without these principles underpinning our work, we cannot claim any distinctiveness or claim to be genuinely living our mission and values.

But in addition to this support and respect, we need to teach and empower our students to believe that they can make a difference in the world.  Graduate employability is not simply about getting students into jobs, at LTU it is also about empowering our students to question the structures and circumstances in businesses, charities, communities, and classrooms that keep people disempowered, marginalised and questioning their own true potential.

On this point, the teaching of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is again helpful. In Spe Salvi he reminds us that we must always be open to asking new questions and looking at old problems in a new light. He states: 

‘[…] new generations can build on the knowledge and experience of those who went before, and they can draw upon the moral treasury of the whole of humanity[…].  […] [E]very generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs; this task is never simply completed. Yet every generation must also make its own contribution to establishing convincing structures of freedom and of good, which can help the following generation as a guideline for the proper use of human freedom; hence, always within human limits, they provide a certain guarantee also for the future’ (paragraph 24-5).

When viewed in light of what Catholic Universities are trying to achieve, this provides a sound platform for the critical engagement that is sought after from employers. Graduates who can take approaches from previous generations and ask whether they are now providing a suitable moral compass for the future are extremely valuable to any organisation.  Challenging the status quo, asking fresh questions, providing ethical solutions, and having the convictions to see these through are valuable both in moral and business terms.

Along with these teachings, our LTU students who attended the papal visit to England in 2010 will remember Benedict XVI perhaps for the rest of their lives. His humility, openness towards them and willingness to engage with students of all ages was very endearing indeed. The reports were overwhelmingly positive as he seemed confident and very much at ease bringing the theology of the Catholic Church and its riches to bear on the contemporary world and its challenges. Known for his love of students, learning and scholarship, many who knew this Pope personally reported that he never forgot the names of his students and continued supporting them long after they graduated.

Of course, there are certain aspects of Pope Benedict XVI’s work that continue to be debated and will continue to be written about by scholars. Nevertheless, few can doubt the enormous contribution to theological teachings and Catholic scholarship more generally that he leaves behind. As the Bishop of Leeds, Marcus Stock puts it, ‘Benedict’s teaching as the Successor of St Peter and his theological writings have given the Church a profound legacy that will be appreciated every more deeply now and in the years to come.’

But for those who do not belong to the academy or to the Church, there is another lasting teaching that the late Pope leaves behind.  Who can forget the memory of him being courageous enough to voluntarily resign from his position in 2013 and admit that he no longer had the ‘strength of mind and body’ to continue the role in such a demanding world? This action of courage played out on a world stage as one of the world’s religious leaders expressed his wish to step down from his position.

For anyone in leadership who is feeling much guilt and worry about having the courage to bow out of a position of enormous responsibility, this example is both humbling and thought-provoking. Having the ‘courage to be imperfect’ is something that is certainly worthy of consideration by everyone, and something that the late Pope Benedict XVI leaves not only to the universal Church but to the whole of humanity.  With gratitude and thanks, may he Rest in Peace.