“Together we are stronger and we can manage to pursue predetermined goals, both individual and common ones”. This team spirit has characterized the genesis of SACRU, a network of Catholic universities active in the research field. SACRU stands for “Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities” and presents itself as an international network capable of bringing together eight universities, including Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, placed all over the world. it includes the Australian Catholic University (Australia), Boston College (USA), the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Chile), the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Sophia University (Japan), Universidade Católica Portuguesa (Portugal) and Universitat Ramon Llull (Spain). Almost all continents of the world are represented: Europe, Asia, Oceania, North and South America. Only Africa is missing from the appeal, but the intention intention is to quickly bridge this gap.
The structure of the organization is quite simple: the supervisor is the Governing Board, composed of the rectors and presidents the eight universities, while the "operational management" is delegated to the Executive Committee, whose seats are reserved to vice-rectors or delegates for research and internationalization, and to the General Secretariat, entrusted for the next three years to our University in the person of Pier Sandro Cocconcelli, Professor of Food Microbiology and Secretary-General. The academic network was created last July; it was decided to illustrate its aims with an informative webinar titled “Discovering SACRU”, broadcasted on Thursday 17th December.
During this online meeting, held by Prof. Cocconcelli, many key figures within the network explained to the academic communities the objectives, areas of intervention, values and principles that guide SACRU's activities.
The first speaker was Professor Josep Maria Garrell, President of SACRU and Rector of the Universitat Ramon Llull, who explained the reasons that drove the universities to create a project like this: «our Alliance is aimed at strengthening collaboration on a global level across Catholic universities; in particular, among research centers in order to guarantee our students an excellent integral academical education and a deep understanding of the world around them. Of course, all these skills must be oriented to achieve the "common good", which is one of the main principles shared by our eight universities. We believe that only by developing a strong alliance, we can serve our society and overcome its difficult daily challenges. To achieve this mission, we will use a top-down approach - at an institutional level to facilitate collaboration among the various universities - and a bottom-up approach, listening to the different communities of students and researchers in order to integrate objectives of the alliance with those of individual institutions».
The virtual microphone then passed to Prof. Isabel Capeloa Gil, rector of the Universidade Catòlica Portuguesa, who made a historical excursus in which she retraced the stages that led to the birth of SACRU. «Everything started in 2016 when, with my University, we held a meeting in Lisbon inviting a few institutional partners, including some of the eight universities, in order to discuss the possibility of creating a global alliance of research-focused Catholic universities. There was the desire to expand our individual connections to create a shared "agenda" for research and go hand in hand with this globalized world where problems often address themselves in a collective rather than autonomous way». On that occasion, foundations were laid, specifies Capeloa Gil, «but it took almost four years and a couple of other meetings to turn this idea into something concrete».
After this parenthesis linked to the memories and to the events that have indelibly marked the path of SACRU, the discourse has shifted to the value proposition for professors, professional staff, students from the partner universities that inspired this Alliance. Professor Danilo Souza Filho of the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro clarified: «Our mission is to offer students an education of excellence regarding scientific, technological and human skills, so that they can easily fit the job market and the political-social life of our communities. But this is not enough because, as the colleagues who preceded me said, we also set ourselves the goal of ensuring our students an integral education and this means to find the right balance between teaching knowledge and sharing the most important Christian values, such as the sense of ethics, solidarity, reliability, honesty, spiritual life and respect for the environment, our "common home" (to paraphrase Pope Francis)». This explains why Carlo Gallucci, vice-rector of the Ramon Llull University, defined this alliance as "a formidable tool for improving yourself, from a working perspective and from a human point of view".
The last section of the webinar was based on the three main research areas in which SACRU's research activity is divided; these are three interdisciplinary working groups, each made up of some members (researchers, professors or institutional figures) of the partner universities. The three heads of the working groups took a turn to present the initiatives they are carrying out.
James Keenan, Professor at Boston College in charge of the WG1 "Responding through Research and Teaching to a Vulnerable World” dedicated to the topic of vulnerability and to the response of universities to Covid, described the strategies implemented by his task force during the health emergency: «We first drafted a document called “Vulnerability during Covid-19 ”, which analyzes the impact of the recent pandemic in relation to three macro-themes, namely health, natural resources and social and economic systems. The report, however, is yet to be concluded, but in the meantime, having the need to collaborate and communicate as quickly as possible, it was decided to organize the first SACRU event, a webinar dedicated to anti Covid-19 vaccines, in which took part more than 200 people from all over the world. Four more webinars will be organized next spring, focusing on current and often controversial issues. This makes us understand how concrete and aimed at the common good the studies conducted by SACRU are».
Lilian Ferrer, Vice-rector of International Affairs at PUC Chile and coordinator of the WG2, called "Catholic Identity and Laudato Si ': the Common Home and Social Justice", clarified that her working group «deals with the way universities and research integrate the themes of Pope Francis' encyclical, also promoting them outside of the academic world, in order to create a society and an environment to live in, the so-called "Common Home».
At the end there was also room for the third Working Group, called "Internationalization and the inter-university digital campus" and led by Chris Riley, Professor at Australian Catholic University, who explained the aims and modus operandi of his team: «we are the “internationalization working group”, whose role is to promote international learning activities aimed at improving the learning experience for students and the teaching collaboration across the network».
The WG3 is focused on two initiatives: collaboration between researchers and collaboration between students who work in the same groups. «Each of these initiatives is divided in other more specific stage -added Prof. Riley-. The initial stage for collaboration between students consists in extracurricular activities (such as non-accessible conversations) on virtual platforms. The initial stage for collaboration between researchers instead consists in having virtual roundtable conversations on specific topics to improve knowledge-sharing. In this light, by April 2021, we are planning to launch an online research discussions program, through which students can join webinars on different themes with the aim of developing knowledge-sharing. Basically, we are operating in order to increase the quality of our academic education program and to promote the process of internationalization».