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PONTIFEX MINIMUS: PRESIDENTIAL REFLECTIONS ON THE CATHOLIC INTELLECTUAL TRADITION

By Dr. Michael W.  Higgins, President and Vice-Chancellor of Corpus Christi-St. Mark's at UBC 

Pope Francis’s new text takes aim at a dangerous global threat – Donald Trump

Talk about bad timing. The recent encyclical by Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, had a far from auspicious launch. It appeared at the same time as he sacked his Prefect for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, following allegations of financial skulduggery.

In addition, various Catholic critics took umbrage at the connotations of male exclusivity in the Italian word fratelli (meaning “brothers,” although arguably the term is often used in its universalist sense rather than gender-specific meaning) resulting in one impassioned critique by a young British Catholic journalist, Liz Dodd, who found it “heart-rending that the Pope, in a letter with the potential to gut modern constructs of human ecology, would fold … all the Church’s remarkable women into an amorphous, assumptive maleness. Again.”

She has a point and it speaks to the frustrating tone-deafness to translation that one finds repeatedly in papal documents. But it would be a shame of seismic proportions to allow anger at semantic usage to eclipse the prophetic power of this deeply personal summons to social solidarity.

If Franklin D. Roosevelt’s observation that “the Presidency is not merely an administrative office … . It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership” is valid, it can be convincingly argued that the papacy is not merely a doctrinal office but a place for moral leadership. With this encyclical, Pope Francis can rightly assume that mantle.

Following on his encyclical on the environment or our common home, Laudato Si, a work widely praised by scientists, activists and politicians irrespective their religious convictions, Fratelli Tutti builds on the spiritual and anthropological legacy of the Pope’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. In fact, he travelled to the walled town of Assisi on the feast of the saint and signed and released his document in this revered Umbrian town on a hill.

The Pope makes clear his indebtedness to the Italian friar whose openness to Islam, whose love of peace, whose solidarity with the Earth and all its inhabitants, and whose personal repudiation of wealth to live as the poverello remain as abiding models of behaviour and right thinking for this Francis, Peter’s successor in Rome.

A substantial document in content and length, Fratelli Tutti makes a compelling case for shared human meaning around communal values, social and economic equity, cultural sensitivity and genuine forms of democratic governance – in many ways boilerplate Catholic social teaching that builds upon the work of his immediate predecessors going back to John XXIII in 1963 – but this document is more personal in tone, more pastoral in focus and driven by a moral urgency in the face of unprecedented global challenges.

The dark eminence of the encyclical is U.S. President Donald Trump. He remains throughout unnamed – in fact, in keeping with papal convention no names are mentioned, no political or religious bodies specifically identified – but his presence is palpable. Pope Francis is the Trump antitype.

Francis observes that in many countries “hyperbole, extremism and polarization have become political tools employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism.” In this, Mr. Trump is the consummate master.

When the Pope writes of a “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” on the rise, Mr. Trump’s record is indisputable. When Francis writes of those who build “a culture of walls, walls in the heart, walls on the land ... they end up as slaves within the very walls they have built,” he has the star of The Apprentice in mind.

When the pontiff deplores the ascendancy of verbal violence, when “defamation and slander become commonplace,” he knows who the wizard of vitriol is, the one given to a “frenzy of texting.” And when an isolationist and self-absorbed politics would undermine multilateral agreements and international institutions such as the United Nations, diminishing the “family of nations” as a consequence, the philistine on the Potomac comes to mind.

For sure, there are many political leaders who would fall under the Pope’s rubric of lament – such as Rodrigo Duterte, Nicolas Maduro, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban, Xi Jinping – but only Mr. Trump manages to be top of the class in each category. His philosophy of personal and political success is unabashedly Manichean: there are, as his father Fred taught him, only killers and zeros, and “the Donald” has spoken openly of there being only losers and winners.

When Pope Francis speaks of the exercise of “political love,” of practising “a lofty form of charity that ennobles his or her political activity,” it is impossible to see the Trumpian modus operandi.

Encyclicals are not conceived as political documents per se. They speak in lofty terms, more exhortative than practical. But Fratelli Tutti breaks the mould, and calls for a new boldness and reckoning in a moment of dark horizons.

This content was originally published by The Globe and Mail on October 15, 2020. Source: Opinion - Pope Francis’s new text takes aim at a dangerous global threat – Donald Trump
 

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Summer Institute

Ready to be inspired and kickstart your own learning? Take advantage of the St. Mark’s Summer Institute, where you will attend virtual classes in real-time over a three-week period and then have many weeks left in which to finish coursework at your own pace. New and returning students have the option of completing a Catholic Core course, an elective course, or both.

Courses run Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from July 5-23, 2021. Students have until late August to complete their coursework.

The Summer Institute offers all who are interested - including those who work in education, parish ministry, healthcare, and other professions - the opportunity to engage deeply in reflection and discussion and earn course credits, in a more intensive format than the usual three-month term.

SCRI 505: Introduction to Scripture (Fr. Nick Meisl)
Morning class, 8:30am - 12:00pm
Courses run weekdays from July 4-15, 2021.

Discover a basic introduction to Scripture for students without previous background in Scripture. This course covers both the Old and New Testaments in their own contexts, thematic parallels between them, and gives attention to how the Catholic intellectual tradition engages these textual traditions.

Afternoon class (Elective course) – More details to come

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Spotlight on student experience

"Deciding to take the Catholic Core Courses at St. Mark’s College, particularly during Covid-19, has been one of the smartest decisions of my life. At first, I felt some trepidation as I last undertook an academic course 9 years ago; however, the entire experience has been so positive and enlightening, I am delighted I did and would definitely encourage others to undertake them as well.

The learning environment is very collegial and supportive; in our classes, our contributions were always valued, not only by the professors, but also by our classmates. It is a wonderful way of learning from each other and forming new relationships. My teaching ministry will definitely be informed by my study at SMC: I am actually looking forward to sharing what I have learned with my students and colleagues. My faith life and appreciation of the liturgy has benefitted, too, from these studies on Scripture and Theology and the readings we have done in class; my choice of bedtime reading material now isn’t novels but the Bible and Apostolic Exhortations! Every Christian Education teacher should take the Catholic Core at St. Mark's College - it’s a great place to learn and grow in your faith!"

- Ann Marie McGrath, Educator
Summer Institute 2020[/letter]

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SUMMER INSTITUTE FAQ


Is it required that I come to Vancouver for the Summer Institute courses?

No. Attending classes virtually is always an option we offer to students who live outside of Metro Vancouver.
This year, due to COVID-19, all students will be taking their Summer classes virtually through live online courses.

Synchronous, asynchronous, online, virtual, Zoom. So many new terms - how will my classes be offered?

Many people hear “online class” and think of a series of pre-recorded lectures and online interaction with no real-time interaction with a human. That’s not how our courses are offered.

Your classes will be virtual. The live online courses taking place in a digital classroom with real-time instruction and opportunities for face-to-face interaction with your professor and classmates.

Classes run on weekdays for three weeks in July on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. There will be a daily live lecture and class time. There may be required readings before each class and most other coursework is completed after classes end. You will have until late August to complete papers and other coursework.

Throughout the course you will be interacting with your professor and fellow classmates.

How do I access my online courses?

St. Mark’s College uses an online learning platform through UBC called Canvas. After you have registered for the course, you will be contacted by the Registrar's Office with instructions for accessing your course materials. If you have questions, please contact Chisom Onwuli at [email protected].

Will I be able to talk to my instructor and classmates?

Yes. The course design and video software allows for two-way interaction. You will be able (even encouraged) to interact with your professor and classmates and engage in discussions.

What is the cost of taking a Summer Institute course?

The Summer Institute courses are full 3-credit courses. The tuition cost can be found on the Tuition and Fees webpage.

As many of our students previously paid tuition in person, there are also special instructions on how to pay tuition during COVID-19.

How do I get the readings and books for my courses?

The list of required textbooks can be found through the online textbook list.

Readings may be shared directly by your professor or accessed through the libraries of St. Mark’s College and UBC.

Do I qualify for admission?

We have admission categories to accommodate various backgrounds including those with no previous post-secondary education, or those who wish to take classes as “auditing students” without going through the full application process. Visit our Admission Requirements webpage for more information.

If you’d like to speak to someone about starting your studies with St. Mark’s College, email [email protected].

More Questions?

Contact Dr. Lynda Robitaille
Email: [email protected]



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