Sophia web Academy. The bet worked
by Roberto Catalano
Over the last years, it has never happened to me to leave my blog with no new contents for a month. June has been rich in deadlines and urgent tasks: articles to submit, exams, meetings. These were all enriching and interesting experiences. Last week, from Monday to Saturday, I happened to attend four meetings, three of them almost simultaneously. One of them was even held in San Juan de Puerto Rico. The other ones in Bologna and Rome. The meetings dealt with different topics: the role of religions in the current political-diplomatic scenario, decolonization processes, 30th anniversary from the publication of Redemptoris Missio, John Paul II’s encyclical. I met remarkable people: old friends and colleagues, academics I met for the first time, people with whom I shared significant moments or life adventures. Over the last days, I also had to deal with Sophia’s academic engagements: final exams of residential courses and the final days of Sophia Web Academy, the project launched a few months ago as a real bet that came to a conclusion for the first year.
A couple of impressions about it. The ongoing exams of Theor-Ethical principles for a culture of dialogue made me take an in-depth reflection. After 6 months of highly engaging classes, I asked students to delve into one of the topics of the course: identity, otherness, the golden rule, fraternity and dialogue. The choice was entirely up to students. What emerged were very personal, creative and deep considerations, one different from the other. Over the months I was teaching, I always argued that the course was intended as formative course, not an informative one. Therefore, the assessment would have been on the quality of the change of the personal paradigm. I witnessed personal evolutions that I did not expect months ago, which occurred when debating topics as interculture or intergenerational relationships, secularity and religious sentiment and ecology among others. I truly appreciated the real inner change, the intellectual and often spiritual experience these students lived throughout months of interaction four hours a week.
Over the last three days, I was surprised by the conclusion of Sophia Web Academy (SWA). Months of online classes have been eagerly attended by 120 students, most of them aged between 50 and 80. After the course, three residential days would provide an opportunity to debate and evaluate this experiment. Indeed, SWA was the bet of the year for the Sophia University Institute. Who would have thought we would make it? Who would have thought students would take the challenge remaining faithful to the end? Approximately forty of them braved the sweltering heat of central and Southern Italy to go to Sophia. Unfortunately, due to covid, I had to participate from Rome. Despite this, I could participate in every moment, deliver my speech with my young colleague Marco Martino and carry out exams, as planned. The topics addressed over the three days include an excursus on the current geopolitical scenario, a debate about theor-ethical principles and philosophy, a mention to trinitary ontology, an overlook on artificial intelligence, a dialogue between theology and art, a reflection on masculine and feminine, a cross-section of participatory politics. There were also relaxing and entertaining moments as a night on Tarkovskij and a pizza with music. The evaluation moment of this first web experience was crucial.
Including for SWA, exams (most of participants were simply auditors) showed what has been done. The 180-hour course was anything but simple or taken for granted. It is interesting to note what students have acquired. I was struck by one of the older students who showed a remarkable intellectual and spiritual flexibility, which enabled her to acquire knowledge but also a new way to look at events and situations and to elaborate knowledge opening ways that were unthinkable for a person her age. I also noticed this in younger people who made the most of this experience to regenerate themselves. This is curious because when preparing it, I myself had doubts about the feasibility of the project. Eventually it turned out to be a real success.
Last year I accepted the invitation to offer my contribution to the Sophia University Institute. Among the proposals received it was certainly the one enabling me to do what is close to my heart: starting new processes rather than occupying spaces. And I think this is exactly what happened. I am referring especially to the new processes connected to the profound relationships that have been established, mostly with students who manage to understand the professor’s thinking and experience. I cannot but be grateful to who inspired this choice. I feel immensely enriched by it.