Dr. Cernera Receives Award for Unity

News Story:

By Susan Kopp
Staff Writer of Living City, the magazine of the Focolare

On the sunny afternoon of June 1st in Hyde Park, upstate New York, the 2008 Luminosa Award for Unity was presented to Dr. Anthony Cernera, president of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, before an audience of almost 250 participants.

Focolare East Coast Directors, Marigen Lohla and Terence Gunn, expressed the Movement’s desire to pay tribute to Dr. Cernera’s “lifelong commitment to excellence in education” and his “dedication to interreligious dialogue” as evidenced by the creation and his ongoing support for his University’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding. Dr. Cernera’s authority in the field of education is evidenced by his tenure as president of the International Federation of Catholic Universities—which comprises more than 200 colleges and universities worldwide—and a noted scholar and writer in the field of higher education. Coincidentally, the event marked Dr. Cernera’s 20th anniversary as president of Sacred Heart University.

Dr. Cernera underscored the importance of unity among educators and in higher education: “The search for unity is an imperative. As educators, we need the experience of coming together, to understand one another in this atmosphere of respect and mutual understanding.”

The morning’s panel discussion on education featured Dr. Russell G. Pearce of Fordham University School of Law whose “transformative” experience as a faculty member of the Jewish religion in a Catholic university served to transform his fear of Christianity into respect and love: “In teaching, I became more self-conscious of treating my students with respect and in using methods that make students partners in moral deliberation.” Reflecting on the approach that embraces religious diversity as an opportunity to promote unity, Dr. Pearce concluded, “I thank God for the opportunity to honor Dr. Cernera for promoting the vision of Catholic higher education that has transformed me.”

Professor at the University of Oakwood, Alabama, and follower of Imam W.D. Mohammed, Dr. Hameed El-Amin offered a striking discourse on the unity of faith and intellect in the Islam tradition. “Where is the focus of unity for the disciplines?” he asked the audience. “In the use of science with ethics, utility with morality, pragmatics with human sensitivity, spirit with thinking, thinking that gives guidance for its higher purpose and proper use. The terms universe and university imply the connections between the logic of things.”

Dr. Judith Povilus, Provost of Sophia University in Florence, Italy, the Focolare’s new institute approved by the Holy See which will open in October 2008. Based on the successful, seven-year Sophia Summer School Project, the goal of Sophia University is to “foster in each student a quest for the truth in the light of integral knowledge, and to help to form mature and integrated future leaders and intellectuals capable of responding to the challenges of our times. This would sound rather utopian had we not already experienced these results in the scores of young people who participated in the summer school.”

The award ceremony concluded the two-day conference entitled “The Search for Unity: The Role of Religiously Affiliated Colleges and Universities” and sponsored by the Focolare’s Center for Education in Dialogue based at Mariapolis Luminosa, the Focolare center located in Hyde Park. The conference brought together scholars of varied backgrounds in the U.S. and from as far away as Canada, Ireland and England.

Inaugurated in 1998 and fruit of the Focolare’s more than fifty years of experience in dialogue, the Center for Education in Dialogue, organizes conferences, seminars and interactive workshops. “I accept this award with great humility,” stated Dr. Cernera in his acceptance speech, “I also accept the award with a promise that I will do all that I can both in my professional capacity and my personal capacity to help make the vision and the dream of Sophia a real one, because not only will it be good for the Focolare, it will be good for all of Catholic higher education and for the world. I am privileged to be a part of it.”

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The Luminosa Award for Unity recognizes persons or associations whose lives and works have given a significant contribution to the building of universal brotherhood. Over the years award recipients have represented various Christian denominations and faith traditions and included such noted personalities such as Cardinals William Keeler and Theodore McCarrick; Rev. Nichiko Niwano, President of the Buddhist Rissho Kosei-kai Movement; Imam Warith Deen Mohammed; Rev. Diane Kessler; and Canadian Senator Douglas Roche.

Mariapolis Luminosa, located in Hyde Park, was inaugurated in 1986 and is one of the expressions of the Focolare Movement, a worldwide Catholic ecclesial movement present in 182 countries. The Movement, which works for unity, was founded by Chiara Lubich in 1943 in Trent, Italy, and brings together persons of different religions, cultures and ethnic groups who share a common goal to work for a more united and peaceful world.