Sophia Opatska, Founding Dean and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of UCU Business School and Vice Rector for Strategic Development at the Ukrainian Catholic University, recently attended the «The University and the Church: the future of the Catholic University» conference in Rome, dedicated the International Federation of Catholic Universities Centenary. The event was attended by 170 delegates from 47 countries.

Fr. Dennis Holtschneider & Sophia Opatska. Photo: Facebook IFCU

«Ukraine today is living through an exceptional time. Today we say with pride that we trust the Armed Forces of Ukraine, we believe in the victory of our defenders over the invader, we believe in preserving independence and the renewal of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. But our faith in «victory after the victory» is a challenge. War leaves more than one scar on the body of our country and in the souls of our people. Ukrainians will live on the «great divide» between democracy and autocracy for another decade or more. We should find a way and learn how to creatively combine the values ​​of resilience and democracy, as well as security and development» – from Sophia Opatska’s speech.

Sophia, along with Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, President, Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities – ACCU (USA), Msgr. Patrick Valdrini, Emeritus Rector, Catholic Institute of Paris (France), and Dr. Katia Passerini, Interim President, Seton Hall University (USA), IFCU Board Member, held a roundtable – Ex corde ecclesiae facing the challenges of the 21st century. During the trip, all participants of the conference also had an audience with Pope Francis, where he addressed the IFCU.

«The rise of authoritarian regimes which disregard human dignity and normalize violence, domination, and humiliation as methods of both domestic governance and conduct in international affairs is a scary process and it is important not to normalize it» – from Sophia Opatska’s speech.

Round table speech

«The Ukrainian experience should become a source of hope for the world, to give it back faith in absolute values, heal it from cynicism and excessive attachment to comfort. True values become visible not when everything is good and life goes easy for us, but when things become difficult for us. Values guide us and determine our behavior when life turns its dark side to us. Ukraine is teaching the West that safety cannot be an end in itself, that it should not sacrifice values for the sake of safety, and that democracy deserves to be defended at the cost of one’s comfort, health, and even life» – from Sophia Opatska’s speech.

The video from round table can be watched here.

Sophia Opatska at the audience with Pope Francis

Sophia Opatska at the audience with Pope Francis

The President of IFCU and Rector of the Universidade Católica Portuguesa, Dr. Isabel Capeloa Gil reiterated that the gathering this year is to celebrate the 100th anniversary of IFCU, to honor and pursue a vision, and to celebrate a future for the IFCU. On a history lane, she reminded participants that the IFCU was born at the heart of the Church with the blessing of Pius IX in 1924. Therefore, IFCU is inalienably bound to the mission of the Church to pursue knowledge for the good of humanity and the betterment of society. In this way, Dr. Isabel said, «universities support the movement of creation» guided by the principles of faith, leading in all areas of research and in «preserving and enhancing knowledge».

An audience with Pope Francis

An audience with Pope Francis

During the trip, all participants of the conference also had an audience with Pope Francis, where he addressed the IFCU. In the Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to a delegation of the IFCU He defines the role of Universiities: «An educational enterprise is not only based on perfect programmes, efficient equipment or good business practices. A greater passion must animate the university, as evidenced in a shared search for truth, a greater horizon of meaning, lived out in a community of knowledge where the liberality of love is palpable». The text of the address in English can be found here.