IV Congress on Pastoral Care for International Students

From Nov 28th – Dec 2nd, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People held the IV World Congress on the Pastoral Care of International Students. The subtheme this time round was “Evangelii Gaudium in the Intellectual World of International Students towards a Healthier Society”. The event was held in Rome and Deacon Adrian Ng from the Diocese of Melaka Johor and Indonesian student Satrio Dwikusumo from Monash University Subang Campus, represented Malaysia.

The Congress brought together over 90 bishops, priests, pastoral agents (campus ministry officers) and students from about 30 countries. Many of the participants came from Africa and besides Malaysia, the Asian countries that were represented were India, Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore. There were delegates from movements like IYCS and IMCS-Pax Romana, as well as from the Protestant churches and non-Christian religions. Interestingly enough, the Buddhist and the Muslim representatives both hailed from Malaysia. Indeed, this was a good opportunity to make friends and establish networks.

The sessions were long and stopped every day just before dinner at 8pm. Besides the sharings from the international students, the topics covered were:

  1. The theological and Ethical Impact of the Phenomenon of International Students
  2. The Joy of the Gospel Fills the Heart and Whole Life of Those who Encounter Jesus
  3. The Pastoral Solicitude of the Church towards International Students in a multicultural context in the Light of Evangelii Gaudium
  4. Modernity and Human Values in the University Discipline.
  5. Dialogue between Faith, Reason and Science in the University Life: Opportunities and Challenges
  6. Teachings of Pope Francis in the Context of Higher/University Education
  7. New Evangelisation and Academic Culture
  8. Moral Challenges in the Academic/University World
  9. Social Dialogue in the University Life towards the Common Good of the Society
  10. Christian Intellectuality in the Middle East: Some reflections from Lebanon.

The Congress would have been improved if from the beginning, the lengthy subtheme could have been defined so as to give a better focus to the following proceedings. While the issue of international students was proper to this Pontifical Council for Migrants, the issue should be discussed within the larger context of ministry to (local) campus students in general; other relevant Pontifical Councils should have been involved. The presentation texts were lengthy and when read out and projected without powerpoints, it wasn’t easy to follow. In a private conversation, two Asian priests even said that there was nothing new in this Congress.

However many of the students were deeply appreciative of the Congress. For Satrio, he was grateful that the Vatican has shown concern for the youth especially those who are away from their home. “I’m also happy with the Congress because they put many speakers with different perspectives so that we can see scenarios where Catholics are a majority and where they are a minority. I am inspired by the sharing of the Canadians on the welcome that they extend to new international students regardless of religion. Catholic Students Societies like in Monash Subang can offer some orientation to these students, bringing them around Kuala Lumpur and also introducing our faith and church to them. From the sharing of an African student, I realise that there could be a better involvement of the campus youth minister with the student leaders eg monitoring their activities. The Church can gather the leaders and greet the young people after Mass and provide more information on Catholic Students activities. Personally, during the session about faith and reason, I was encouraged by the sharing from a medical student that the more he learns about the mysteries of science, the more he appreciates the wonder of God.”

As Head of a Diocesan Campus Ministry, Deacon Adrian was appreciative to discover that the Church had published the document, “The Presence of the Church in the University and University Culture” (by the Congregation for Catholic Education, Pontifical Council for the Laity, Pontifical Council for Culture, 1994). “We were also introduced to the Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of International Students; the working paper was given out and we were invited to give our feedback. This Guideline-in-progress implies follow-up gatherings. The organisation of the Congress was very efficient and gracious, even to arranging a papal audience and a tour of the Vatican Gardens and Museum. Finally, it was also expressed that future Congress assess how the recommendations of the past gatherings have been implemented.”