Pope addressing students and staff of San Carlo Institute. Pope addressing students and staff of San Carlo Institute. 

Pope’s lesson on suffering, war, culture of encounter

Pope Francis on Saturday received a delegation of students, teachers and parents of San Carlo Institute, a high school in Milan, Italy, on the occasion of its 150th anniversary. The Pope engaged in a Q&A session, responding to their queries off the cuff.

By Robin Gomes


A student from a privileged family, a volunteer who had been on a mission with his friends to Peru witnessed people suffering from abject poverty and injustice.  He wondered whether God is partial.


The Pope said that questions such as why children suffer, don’t and wo n’t have answers. And those who rely on ready-made “packaged answers” will go the wrong way in life.  

He gave the example of a curious child who, never satisfied with the answers of his parents, continues to ask, “why?”.  The questions show there is so much insecurity in the child that he needs the assuring gaze of dad and mom, and that gives him the strength to move forward.  “This is not a packaged answer. This gaze of his parents cannot be bought in the shops.”  “Questions that have no answers will make you grow in the sense of mystery, the Pope said, adding, “one needs to question.”

Regarding suffering in the world, the Pope said it is not God who is partial but we.  It is we who create differences, including differences, pain and poverty.  The fact that there are so many children hungry in the world today, is not something created by God but by an “unjust economic system where every day people become poorer with nothing.” 

This, the Pope said is not Communism, but the teaching of Jesus who will thank and tell us, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat.”   And to those of this system who starve children and people to death, he will say: “no, you go, because I was hungry you didn't look at me.”   


The Pope said that all seek peace, yet are there are wars in many countries such as in Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan.  The Pope said, “If they didn't have the weapons, they wouldn't wage wars.”  They wage wars “because we, the rich, Europe and America, sell weapons to kill children and people.”  “It's us who make create differences.”  “This,” the Pope said, “is something you must say clearly in the face, without fear.”  “And if you young people are not able to ask these questions, to say these things,” the Pope said, “you are not young, something is missing in your heart that makes you boil.”

Reading recently that there are over 900 million anti-personnel mines in the world, that continue to kill and maim people long after the war is over, the Holy Father asked, “Did God do that?”  “ No, you did it, we did it, my country, my country,”  he said.

The Pope recalled a bright young engineer who gave his testimony at the Synod on young people in October.  The young man came out successful in a competitive exam for a job in a big company that also had a weapons factory to which he was assigned.  He wanted to get married but decided that he would not use his intelligence and hands to do things that would kill others. The Pope said, “These are the brave young people we need.”

Rounding up his answer, the Pope said, “We must always ask ourselves these uncomfortable questions.”  “They are questions that will never be answered but by asking them we will grow up and become adults with restlessness in our hearts.”  

War in school?

The Pope noted that situations of Syria, Yemen and  Afghanistan also take place in the school, in the class.  A boy who doesn't know how to play is bullied.  It is the students who invent and organize the bullying, not God.  “Every time you bully,” the Pope said, “you declare a war,” adding, “all of us have within us the seed of the destruction of others.”  “We always have that tendency to create differences and be enriched by the poverty of others.”                        


A teacher of San Carlo Institute asked the Pope how best they can transmit to their students the values rooted in Christian culture and how to educate them in confronting and encountering other cultures.

Roots and identity

In order to be rooted, the Pope said, two things are needed: consistency and memory.  “Born liquid”, uprooted or inconsistent means one is unable to find one's identity - roots. 

This does not mean I am closed to the present and am locked in the past out of fear.  Being rooted means taking the sap from the root and growing and forging ahead.  This is why, the Pope said, he very much recommends young people to talk to the elderly and grandparents who are the memory of the people, the family and history.   

Culture of encounter

Speaking about the culture of encounter, the Pope said that dialogue presupposes identity.  He said people who don't have an inner light, an identity, live on trends like fireworks that last five minutes and are gone.  We are not born alone but people born in a family and in a people and many times this liquid culture, the Pope said, makes us forget that we belong to a people.

Rather than just singing the national anthem or paying homage to the flag, the Pope said that patriotism is more about belonging to a land, a history, a culture – which is identity.    

On the issue of the culture of encounter, the Pope said that “multiethnicity” and  “multiculturalism” are the water of life which, unlike distilled water, is tasty and quenches thirst. 


The Pope said that migrants are not to be feared as if they were a plague.  Jesus was a migrant.  Migrants are not criminals, just as the mafia was not invented by the Nigerians.  “The mafia is ours, made in Italy: it is ours,” the Pope said, adding, “We all have the chance to be criminals.”

On the contrary, migrants bring us riches.  The Pope said that Europe was also made by migrants -  the barbarians, the Celts and all from the North who brought their cultures.  But today, he lamented, there is the temptation to a culture of walls, to raise walls, walls in the heart and on earth to prevent this encounter with other cultures, with other people.  “And whoever raises a wall, whoever builds a wall,” he warned, “will end up as a slave inside the walls he has built, without horizons.”

“If I have a racist heart,” the Pope urged, “I must examine myself why and convert.”  He urged that migrants be received, accompanied and integrated because welcoming them one becomes richer and grows.  

The Holy Father urged teachers to encourage the young to grow in the culture of encounter, able to meet different people and grow with differences.

The Pope also lamented a growing culture of indifference in the western world.  Calling indifference “a tyranny,” he said it is born of a relativism that considers "mine as mine" and leaves out every certainty. 

He warned that from this culture of indifference are born fundamentalism and the sectarian spirit.

06 April 2019, 17:40