Heads of Church Universities in Africa Strategize Aligning with Pope’s “Veritatis Gaudium”

Heads of Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties in Africa joined by the Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), Nairobi, Kenya to present Pope Francis' Veritatis Gaudium Nov. 29-30, 2019.

With the legal effect of the new Apostolic Constitution governing institutions that offer Vatican-approved degrees into its second academic year for many such academic and formation entities in Africa, heads of these Church institutions of higher learning across the continent including Chancellors, Rectors, Presidents and Deans of faculties met in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi to strategize the aligning of the administration of their respective facilities with the new norms contained in the document of Pope Francis, “Veritatis Gaudium” (the joy of truth).

“We have been having a two-day convention here in the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), to reflect a bit after the launch of the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Francis titled “Veritatis Gaudium,” the Chairman CUEA Council, Bishop Maurice Muhatia Makumba told ACI Africa on the sidelines of their meeting that concluded Saturday, November 30.

The document by Pope Francis, Kenyan Bishop Muhatia explained, “is meant to guide the Church in the management and administration of all Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties that teach Church courses especially in theology and canon law.”

Published on January 29, 2018, Pope Francis’ “Veritatis Gaudium” sought to update the 1979 Apostolic Constitution “Sapientia Christiana” of John Paul II, which, according to the Holy Father, needed “to include the norms and dispositions issued since its promulgation, and to take into account developments in the area of academic studies in these past decades.”

The establishment of updated norms for Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties was also informed, as Pope Francis explained in the foreword of the document, by the “need to acknowledge the changed social-cultural context worldwide and to implement initiatives on the international level to which the Holy See has adhered.”


Among the norms outlined in the 87-page document is the regulation that while all Ecclesial Universities and Faculties are to be under the Vatican-based Congregation for Catholic Education, the conferences of Bishops across the globe have the responsibility of overseeing the life and progress of these entities of higher learning, with the appointed Chancellors liaising between their respective universities and the Holy See.

“The Congregation for Catholic Education has been going around continents to launch this document formally and to talk about this to people who are more concerned with Catholic education at a higher level,” Bishop Muhatia told ACI Africa referencing the initiatives taken to reach out to Church institutions that offer Vatican-recognized degrees as distinguished from regular Catholic Universities.

The Vatican-based Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani who participated in the CUEA deliberations about aligning the system of education in Ecclesiastical institutions on the African continent with “Veritatis Gaudium” explained the timing of the new norms in an interview with ACI Africa through a translator.

“There is a big change in the world, especially at the level of universities and other institutions of higher learning,” Archbishop Zani observed during the interview and acknowledged the efforts being undertaken by educational entities globally to adapt themselves to current situations.

He added, “Actually now in the world, the international community, the civil society, and the economic powers are asking if the young people who are coming out from the universities are prepared to face the challenges of the society and are able to contribute to providing solutions to the present-day challenges.”

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The orientation of “Veritatis Gaudium,” which the Congregation for Catholic Education is fostering, Archbishop Zani said, is asking the leadership of Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties to prepare those enrolled in their programs particularly on three points, that they “should be more creative, they should be able to resolve conflicts and not create them, and they should be responsible for the common good.”

“This is how the Church wants to go out and meet the challenges of the society,” the 69-year-old Italian Prelate emphasized and referencing the threefold pillars of creativity, tendency toward solutions, and the sense of the common good added, “This is also a request from Pope Francis who demands that these Ecclesiastical Faculties respond to the challenges of the daily problem.”

Speaking to the central theme of “Veritatis Gaudium” as a global document, the Chancellor of CUEA, Zambian Bishop Charles Kasonde described the initiative to have collective norms as Church institutions offering Vatican-approved degrees as a means of empowerment that opens the horizons of the beneficiaries to having objective perspectives.

“Education is both subjective and objective,” Bishop Kasonde who is the Chairman of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) observed and added, “objective truth is much more universal.”

The Apostolic Constitution “Veritatis Gaudium”, the Zambian Prelate explained, facilitates the appreciation of education as a source of inner treasure, offering students exposure “to the entire world, so that our way of doing things would be much more similar to the way of doing things in Asia, in Australia, in Europe, in America, and also in Africa and we come to the discovery of the same truth of the gospel in oneness.”


Recalling the highlights of the two-day meeting at CUEA’s main campus in Nairobi, the Vice Chancellor (VC) of CUEA, Fr. Prof. Stephen Mbugua identified, in an interview with ACI Africa, “the revitalization of the teachings in the Faculties of Theology” as noteworthy, especially the directive to reform ways of “teaching so that it informs the heart not only the head.”

“Veritatis Gaudium is challenging us and informing us of new frontiers of exchange, of learning, of collaboration, of dialogue and of moving together as a family of humanity,” Fr. Mbugua said in reference to Pope Francis’ new directives for Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties.

Asked about strategies to implement “Veritatis Gaudium” in CUEA, the Kenyan-born VC said, “We are going to form dialogue teams where the Faculty of Social Sciences meet with the scholars in the Faculty of Theology and they have topical issues; same for the Faculty of Canon Law, same for Education, same for the Faculty of Science and the new Faculty of Health Sciences that we just created about three months ago.”

He added, “We want to do that even for the Directory of Regional Integration. It must be operational with this Constitution.”

On his part, Bishop Muhatia who is also the Chairman of the Commission for Seminaries under the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (KCCB) said in reference to implementing Pope Francis’ norms, “I will be more concerned about how we are going, for example, to follow up with the requirements of this document, revising our Statutes of the management of the University, of our Seminaries to be in line with the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium.”

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The Holy Father’s document, Bishop Muhatia noted, “speaks about the universities. It talks about quality education to make sure the education given in the Seminary is in line with the expectations of the Church.”

In “Veritatis Gaudium,” Pope Francis recognizes the presence of various teachers of different ranks in the Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties who are recruited based on the established fact that they are “distinguished by wealth of knowledge, witness of Christian and ecclesial life, and a sense of responsibility.”

Whatever the rank of the faculty members, the Holy Father emphasized in the document, those involved in teaching “must be marked by an upright life, integrity of doctrine, and devotion to duty, so that they can effectively contribute to the proper goals of an ecclesiastical academic institution.”

In case there is lack of compliance to the established criteria, Pope Francis directed in the document, implicated faculty members “must be removed from their post, observing the established procedures.”

The norms in the new Apostolic Constitution took effect on the first day of the academic year 2018-2019 or the first day of the 2019 academic year depending on how institutions organize their academic years. It is the responsibility of each Ecclesiastical University and related Faculty to ensure the implementation of the norms contained in the document.

Magdalene Kahiu contributed to this story.

Fr. Don Bosco Onyalla is ACI Africa’s founding Editor-in-Chief. He was formed in the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers (Spiritans), and later incardinated in Rumbek Diocese, South Sudan. He has a PhD in Media Studies from Daystar University in Kenya, and a Master’s degree in Organizational Communication from Marist College, New York, USA.