Today’s proclamation of the exam results at our Faculty of Theology, K.U.Leuven, provided a welcome oportunity for the inauguration of the newly renovated collegium veteranorum, a building which will host the dean and the key administration offices of the Faculty from August 15th, 2009 on. Two thoughts struck me in the various speeches that were on offer. They concern the role and the place of a faculty of theology in today’s world.
Prof. Mathijs Lamberigts, a former dean of the faculty, told us how he had moved forward the project of the renovation of the collegium veteranorum. One of his arguments with the university authorities claimed that a faculty of theology needs a front door that opens it up to the street and through which the street can enter. It’s a powerful metaphor to state that the world and the concrete realities of that world should never be very far from the heart of our concerns and thoughts. Theologians cannot isolate themselves from the concrete real lives of people, a fact which our current dean, Prof. Lieven Boeve, put forward by saying to those students graduating today that their input, arising out of their pastoral and educational commitments, will be crucial to our faculty and our ways of thinking in Leuven. We need that input to feed our thought.
One of the university’s top managers, Prof. Koenraad Debackere, praised the Leuven theologians for their entrepreneurial spirit – they know how to acquire funding, they know how to manage the greatest theology library in the world, etc. – and referred to the importance of values in setting up economic systems so as to point to the role theologians can and have to play in a world that is suffering one of the worst economic crises in its history: the renovated building can be an embodiment in the midst of the university precisely to highlight and emphasize the role of theologians.
I liked both remarks, because I am convinced that we live in a rapidly changing world – the environmental crisis being a key player in these dramatic changes – and as a theologian I feel the urgency to build up a theological reflection that addresses these challenges. How can we, in a faculty of theology, empower (in Flemish, I would say: “toerusten”, to equip, to provide with the necessary tools and skills) our young students so that they become more capable to address a world, the shape and contours of which we can hardly imagine today. And, inevitably, as professors we will increasingly have to learn to listen to the intuitions of our young students – not only when they describe the crisis and its dangers, but also and foremost when they express their hopes and their ideas about what will be important to address the challenges. To try to find out the ways in which theology can become a source of creativity and of hope in a rapidly changing world is, I think, the main challenge of a faculty of theology. May the new offices of the dean remind us constantly of this!