12/01/2008, 00.00
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The dangers of the computer, inability to concentrate and isolation in a virtual world, says Pope

Any reform, including university reform, requires we change ourselves first. The academic world must be free from outside pressures; it can only be truly free when scientific and cultural training favour the development of the social and civil community as a whole.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI warns against young people of two dangers new technologies pose, namely a lower capacity to concentrate and isolation inside virtual reality. Fortunately, this problem is not present in universities where a “virtuous balance” has been struck between “individual and group time, research and thought, sharing and open exchange with others, in a horizon that tends towards the universal.”

The Pope, a former university professor himself, took advantage of a meeting with students and faculty at the Università di Parma, to express his thoughts on the academic world.

He told his audience that the university “was for many years my workplace,” adding that even after leaving it I have never stopped following it and feeling spiritually connected to it.”

During the meeting he also discussed the issues of university reform and academic freedom, taking his inspiration from the figure of Saint Peter Damian, a man of letter closely associated with Parma’s university where he taught.

“In our age like in that of Peter Damian’s, the lack of unifying principles explains particularisms and uncertainties. University studies should undoubtedly prepare students for society, not only on the basis of narrowly defined scientific research but also more generally in providing young people an opportunity to mature intellectually, morally and as citizens, tackling the great questions that today challenge the conscience of men and women.”

Reminding his audience that Peter Damian was among the great “reformers” of the Church after the year 1000, the Holy Father asked: “What is the real sense of reform?”

“A fundamental aspect that we can draw from his writings and his personal witness is that every true reform must be spiritual and moral above all, i.e. it must start from our conscience,” he said.

For the Pontiff there is a lesson that applies to university reform, whereby “structural or technical changes are really effective if everyone, scholars, students, technical and administrative staff, examine their conscience,”

“If the human environment is to improve qualitatively and become more efficient, people must change themselves.” They can do so “by correcting what harms the common good or, at least, try to thwart it.”

“With reform comes the notion of freedom. The reforms that Peter Damian and his contemporaries pursued involved making the Church freer, first of all at a spiritual but also historical level.”

“Likewise university reform is based on freedom: freedom to teach, freedom to research but also freedom of the academic world from [the pressures of] economic and political power. This does not mean isolation from society, a self-referential attitude or the pursuit of private interests with public moneys—this is certainly not Christian freedom!” Instead it means that “people, communities or institutions are truly free in accordance with the Gospel and the Church if they fully respond to their nature and purpose.” In this sense “the Academic world’s vocation is to scientifically and culturally prepare people” to contribute to the “development of social and civil community as a whole”.

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