Speech by Bishop Teemu Laajasalo at the opening of the Conference of European University Chaplains (CEUC) 12.6.2023
Dear listeners, Esteemed guests,
a warm welcome to Finland! And a warm welcome to the capital region! It is great to see people from so many different countries and continents here. You are united by your desire to support young people and young adults. Your work in educational institutions supports students and, through that, also builds a good society.
If you remember only one thing from my little greeting, remember this: Thank you! Thank you for your work. It is work of discovery, work of encounter, work of support and work of building hope for the future. Thank you!
Gibt es hier viele Menschen aus Deutschland, Österreich oder der Schweiz? Herzlich willkommen!
In German, the word for education or upbringing is ”erziehen”. The root word for that word is ”ziehen”, meaning to pull, to drag and to stretch. To educate is to stretch. To pull open the door of knowledge with one’s own abilities. Striving towards something you can be at your best. A good educator, instructor or professor can stretch the student beyond what he or she or they could achieve on their own. Isn’t the university institution really an institution for stretching talent?
This kind of pursuit to develop one’s talent is both inspiring and encouraging. One can stretch oneself to many limits and exceed expectations. He or she or they can become anything. This is what we tell young children, and perhaps even first-year university students, in our educational speeches. You can become anything.
Speaking out loud about open possibilities can encourage you to stretch and reach beyond your own limits.
But there is another aspect to the idea of stretching and reaching out. It can tell a growing child or beginning student that they are not yet enough. ”You can become anything you want” can turn into the words ”You are not enough” in the listener’s mind.
The other side of the educator’s speech is the hidden idea that you are not enough as you are now, but must become something else. What if you are not able to achieve sufficient ability for yourself? What if there is no ability or if the ability does not stretch far enough?
In German there is another word for education besides erziehen. That second word is ’bildung’. Bildung is rooted in the word bild, meaning picture. Bildung is to become like a picture, but also to be like a picture. It refers to the biblical story of creation and the likeness of man to the image of God, Imago Dei.
To be made in the image of God means, first of all, that the goals of education, culture and science must be infinite. To be compared to God is to be compared to something that transcends all human standards. In education, culture and science, therefore, we must aim high. We must strive to overcome obstacles that seem impossible. We must strive to break down barriers that seem eternal. We must strive for something that is beyond the reach of all human understanding.
However, through the word Bildung we can understand that education and learning is also about understanding that man is sufficient as he is. Your job is to communicate this to tired students and anxious young people. There is a time to reach for ever greater achievements, but there is also a time to accept yourself as you are.
Without your work, many institutions could forget this important aspect of education, which reminds us of the value of every human being, even when difficult subjects are not learned, and goals are not met.
I wish you all an inspiring seminar, many good meetings with colleagues and I wish you all God’s blessing in your work.