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Pope Surprises Professors in Rome

Dr. John Hittinger and Dr. Ted Rebard, two University of St. Thomas philosophy professors, met the Holy Father, Pope Francis, during the 13th plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. The conference, “Believing, Loving and Living Truth,” was held at the Casina Pio IV from June 21-23 and was tied to Emeritus Pope Benedict’s Year of Faith.

Hittinger and Rebard were two out of 40 academicians invited to attend the 2013 conference. Eighteen papers were presented by scholars worldwide, including presentations by theologians and philosophers such as Cardinals Carlo Caffarra, Georges Cottier and Camillo Runi; Archbishop Gerhard L. Mueller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Professor Reinhard Hutter of Duke University.

The two-and-a-half day conference ended with an impromptu visit by his holiness Pope Francis.

“I met the Pope,” Hittinger said. “He is a kind man and very determined to reform the Vatican.”

Rebard, who has also been privileged enough to meet Pope Francis’ three predecessors, commented on the uniqueness of the Holy Father and his support of the mission of the Pontifical Academy.

“Francis stuck me as plainly honest, simple and yet very deep,” Rebard said. “I believe he has a real and living confidence and trust in the members of the Academy.”

Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, the Secretary Prelate of the Pontifical Academy, said the conference aims to join Emeritus Pope Benedict’s inspired decision to rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed.

Hittinger participated in the 2012 conference where he presented his paper "The Vocation of the Christian Philosopher,” and he was invited to provide the summary of this year’s conference for publication in L'Osservatore Romano. Rebard was given the opportunity to observe the presentations this year and meet with the various speakers from around the world.

“It was a great privilege to hear and meet the speakers,” Rebard said. “I might never again in this life encounter such a collection of great thinkers.”

The Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas is scheduled to meet again this year for the first conference held in the United States. The University of St. Thomas Center for Thomistic Studies and the Pope John Paul II Forumwill co-host the conference from Oct. 17-19 in Houston, Texas. For more information, contact Dr. John Hittinger, director and founder of the Pope John Paul II Forum at or the Center for Thomistic Studies at

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