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Pope Benedict also spoke to another important audience - more than 430 Catholic educators on the campus of the Catholic University of America. Unlike Pope John Paul II, who lectured Catholic University leaders 18 years ago for watering down their institutions' Catholic identity, Pope Benedict spoke to them as one of their own, as a former college professor. NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports.

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CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: The large room crowded with educators from across the United States erupted as Pope Benedict made his way to a makeshift stage. He waved, smiled, sat down and read his entire message in a soft voice.

Pope BENEDICT XVI: It is my great pleasure to meet you and to share with you some thoughts regarding the nature and identity of Catholic education today.

SANCHEZ: Catholic identity, the pope said, is not about course offerings with a number of Catholic versus non-Catholic students and faculty on campuses. It's about faith, the pope said. In Catholic institutions, students must be able to grow in the knowledge of Christ and his teachings.

Pope BENEDICT XVI: Any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission by turning away from God.

SANCHEZ: In the audience, a few university presidents seemed surprised that Benedict wasn't more forceful. The Vatican, after all, has watched with growing unease as U.S. Catholic Colleges become more secular, often allowing students and faculty to promote what the church considers anti-Catholic views, such as same-sex marriage, or pro-choice organizations on their campuses, and that worries Dr. Dave Wagie, President of St. Gregory's University in Oklahoma. He says Catholic identity can only mean one thing.

Dr. DAVID WAGIE (President of St. Gregory's University in Oklahoma): Surrounding the students with the symbols and the environment and the climate of the Catholic institution and respect for the sacraments and letting them feel like it's comfortable to be able to discuss religious values in and out of the classrooms with our faculty and staff.

SANCHEZ: Catholic identity, though, can not be seen in a vacuum, says Father Charles Currie, President of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. He says Catholic institutions must have a dialog with the surrounding culture.

Rev. CHARLES CURRIE (President of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities): There's got to be some give and take, and the Pope understands that. Some folks I think were predicting this was going to be taking us to the woodshed and it certainly didn't happen. It was a very affirming talk.

SANCHEZ: Currie says Catholic colleges today don't want to defy the church; they want to be the one place where the church can engage the rest of the world.

Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

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