Massimo Faggioli, church historian and professor of theology at Villanova University, received an honorary Doctor of Theology degree, honoris causa, during Sacred Heart University’s Special Academic Convocation Feb. 7. Afterward, he shared his thoughts on Pope Francis’ relationship with the United States during an evening lecture in University Commons.
“What we are doing here today as we gather in convocation is an affirmation of the core of our mission as an academic community rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition in the liberal arts,” said John. J. Petillo, president of SHU. “Massimo Faggioli, in his scholarship and passion for the vision of the Second Vatican Council, embodies who we say we are as an institution built on the foundations of that council. It is my happy honor to welcome members of the board of trustees, administrators, faculty, students and distinguished guests as we gather to honor Dr. Faggioli, to celebrate the mission of this great university.”
For Faggioli, professor of theology and religious studies, the occasion was a first. “I’m very grateful to Sacred Heart University, to the president, faculty, to all those have decided this,” Faggioli said. “This is my first American degree. I am one of those theologians from Europe who never went to a Catholic school. This is a new beginning.”
In 2008, Faggioli moved from Europe to the United States. Besides teaching at Villanova, he is a contributing editor to Commonweal magazine. He is an expert on the Second Vatican Council, a time between 1962 and 1965 when the Church instituted changes in its relationships with Catholics and other religions worldwide.
Upon receiving his honorary degree, Faggioli talked about the importance of Catholic universities. He said lay Catholic institutions, like SHU, are vital to keeping Catholic theology alive. “The intuition of the founder of this university was prophetic,” Faggioli said. “We need lay Catholic thinking.”
Later in the evening, Faggioli presented his lecture, “Pope Francis and the USA: Theology, Politics and Diplomacy.” He said Pope Francis has more tension with the United States than former popes did, which may be because he is not European and his views differ greatly from President Donald Trump’s. Faggioli talked about a 2016 interview in which Pope Francis told a reporter that Trump’s idea to build a wall to keep illegal immigrants out of the U.S. was “not Christian.”
Faggioli said the pope has revealed several things to the public, one being that he is “trying to make the Catholic Church look more like Jesus Christ and less like the Roman Empire.” Faggioli said that is a huge undertaking and will be a challenge.
Catholic Studies Professor Michelle Loris called Faggioli’s talk “multi-faceted.” She added, “It was a rich presentation that provoked much thought and conversation.”