It was ten years ago this week that Pope Benedict XVI visited this country. It was a historic visit, only the second time that a Pope has visited Great Britain, following Pope John Paul II in 1982.
Education was a big focus of Pope Benedict’s visit. In particular, on 17 September 2010, at St Mary’s University, Strawberry Hill, he addressed Catholic school teachers and religious, and led a ‘Big Assembly’ for students in Catholic schools across Great Britain. Some schools were fortunate enough to get tickets and so were able to take some students in person, while thousands of other students and staff in Catholic schools watched live via the internet. Ten years on, I have been reflecting on Pope Benedict’s ‘Big Assembly’ words.
During the ‘Big Assembly’, Pope Benedict spoke about the pursuit of excellence and the pursuit of happiness.
On excellence, Pope Benedict emphasised breadth over narrowness, and learning in its broadest sense. He spoke about ‘rounded education’, ‘for the whole person’. Learning not just to be an excellent mathematician, or historian, or chemist, but to be an excellent person. At Notre Dame, inspired by St Jeanne de Lestonnac, we speak of ‘Well-balanced heads, rather than full ones.’
On happiness Pope Benedict cautioned against striving for fame or money, mistakenly thinking that this would equal happiness, or idolising celebrities and thinking ‘I’d like to be like them.’ Pope Benedict talked instead about openness to God, and again in our Notre Dame words, ‘Finding God in all Things.’ God is the route to happiness, Pope Benedict said, because unlike people who are famous but do not know us, God does know us, does love us more than we can imagine, does invite us to respond to his love, and does passionately desire our happiness. True happiness comes from holiness, Pope Benedict said, and holiness comes from friendship with God.
The whole text of Pope Benedict’s address to students is well-worth reading: http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2010/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20100917_mondo-educ.html#ADDRESS_OF_THE_HOLY_FATHER_TO_PUPILS
On this ten-year anniversary, I will conclude by picking out just one line from the address: a good line to dwell upon whether we are a child or an adult –
‘He [God] loves you much more than you could ever begin to imagine, and he wants the very best for you.’