Pope Francis goes to university: Vatican announces virtual meeting with university students across the Americas

Pope Francis will engage in dialogue with university students from North, Central and South America on February 24. The historic event will be organized by Loyola University Chicago in collaboration with Argentinian theologian Emilce Cuda, the new head of the office of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, who convinced the pope to participate.

In an exclusive interview with AmericaMs. Cuda, whom Francis named on July 26 to be the first woman to head that Vatican office, said Loyola University had invited her to lead a dialogue on the synodal process that is currently underway in the Church. Catholic all over the world.

She took office at the Pontifical Commission for Latin America last September, where she works alongside Rodrigo Guerra López, a Mexican lay professor and secretary of that office. The commission was created in 1958 “to advise and help the particular Churches of Latin America” ​​and “to study questions that refer to the life and progress of these Churches”, although in reality it acted as a way for the Vatican to control the Latin American Episcopal Council (known by its Spanish abbreviation CELAM), founded in 1955. But under Pope Francis, the role of the commission changed and its current president is Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

The historic event will be organized by Loyola University Chicago in collaboration with Emilce Cuda, the new head of the office of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, who convinced the pope to participate.

When Ms. Cuda arrived at the Vatican, she proposed to Cardinal Ouellet and Professor Guerra López that the work of the commission focus on forming ties between North America and South America, particularly in the areas of migration, energy and food. This meeting between academics is a step in the process of “building bridges” between continents.

Explaining the genesis of the upcoming event with the students and the Pope, Ms. Cuda said that in June 2021, before Pope Francis appointed her to the Vatican post, Loyola University invited her to give a conference in 2022 on the topic of synodality, in that it would facilitate a conversation about how to interpret what is meant by “the synodal way”.

But she told Loyola University she wasn’t just interested in giving another lecture on synodality. Instead, she “proposes[d] make a synodal action that involves migrant university students from North and South America”. Ms Cuda explained that she wanted to focus on migration, not from a humanitarian perspective of ‘helping migrants’ when they arrive in a new country, but rather ‘looking at the root causes of migration from a scientific and technological point of view, and asking what we can do to solve them.

Migrants are portrayed in the media as cleaners or manual workers or in the labor economy, Ms Cuda added, while the media rarely shows migrants working in scientific or technical fields.

Ms Cuda said she wanted to “engage our advanced students to seek solutions in each country”. Most migrants from Latin America are economic migrants, not refugees, she noted, and according to her, the root causes of migration are “structural” and, for example, linked to foreign companies that withdraw resources to the countries of the region.

Migrants are portrayed in the media as cleaners or manual workers or in the labor economy, Ms Cuda added, while the media rarely shows migrants working in scientific or technical fields. To remedy this, she wants to give more visibility to this second group of migrants, under-presented. She proposed to Loyola synodal action – which, in the spirit of synodality, would involve students coming together to discuss and listen to each other’s thoughts on the root causes of migration – rather than a conference.

Four Loyola professors—Peter Jones, acting dean of the Institute of Pastoral Studies; Felipe Legarreta; Michael Murphy, director of the Hank Center; and Miguel H. Díaz, former US Ambassador to the Vatican, enthusiastically endorsed Ms. Cuda’s vision. One of them “suggested with a smile that it would be good to have the pope involved,” she said.

“At first I thought it was a crazy idea,” she added. “But two months later, when I saw Pope Francis on Italian television in a program called ‘The Invisibles’ speaking with people on the margins of society, and the impact he was having then, I concluded that it would be wonderful to also involve him in this synodal event.

Emilce Cuda sent the pope a letter proposing that Francis join the event, and she was surprised and delighted when, on December 20, he replied, “Yes, I will participate, but you must help me “.

Mrs. Cuda sent the Pope a letter in which she proposed that Francis join the event, and she was surprised and delighted when, on December 20, he replied: “Yes, I will participate, but you must help me “.

She informed Loyola Chicago, which has started organizing the big event which will involve 100 students from Jesuit, Catholic and secular universities, mostly migrants or from migrant families. In order to select the students, Ms. Cuda and the four Loyola professors worked hard for two months to contact universities in the United States, Canada, Central America, the Caribbean and South America.

Students will meet (virtually) in seven regional working groups to discuss migration in a synodal way. Already this month, Ms Cuda said she spoke to 50 students in 19 Latin American countries in preparation for the event. Ultimately, the different groups of students will come up with questions that seven or eight students from different parts of the Americas will present to the pope. Loyola will host the “conference” via video call, with Ms. Cuda and Pope Francis attending from the Vatican.

Ms Cuda is close to Pope Francis, author of the book Para read to Francisco (Understanding Francis) and is known in academic circles as the best-equipped woman to read the Pope’s thoughts. She is a protege of the late Argentine Jesuit Juan Carlos Scannone, who promoted “people’s theology” and was one of Pope Francis’ key teachers.

Born in Buenos Aires, she obtained a doctorate in theology from the Catholic University of Argentina. She studied political science with Ernesto Laclau at Northwestern University in Chicago and specialized in the study of the roots of populism. She has taught at various universities, including the Catholic University of Argentina and the Arturo Jauretche National University in Buenos Aires, as well as Boston College and DePaul University in the United States. Ms. Cuda is also a counselor at the CELAM social school.

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