By Robin Gomes
With schools reopening after long months of lockdown and distance learning due to the pandemic, students should avoid isolating themselves in the digital world and rebuild real relationships using the head, hands and the heart. Pope Francis offered the exhortation to a delegation of students and staff from the Ambrosoli Institute of Codogno, a small northern Italian town of some 15,000. On February 21, 2020, Italy's first coronavirus cases were detected in Codogno, in what became the first major outbreak in Europe.
A sign of hope
“Our meeting should have taken place last February, on the anniversary of the beginning of the epidemic in Europe, in the town of Codogno,” Pope Francis told the delegation of some 55 persons. Commending the technical and vocational institute for its excellence and for preparing young people for jobs, the Pope said they are a double sign of hope. He congratulated them for never losing heart.
Head, hands and heart
He pointed out that young people have a strength and desire, which when stimulated and accompanied with wisdom and passion by adults, bears surprising fruits. For this to happen, teachers need to be 'masters' in the noblest sense of the term.
The Ambrosoli Institute, the Pope noted, highlights the link between learning and doing, between studying and working, between the 'head' and the 'hands'. But what is missing is the third element: the heart. He said the head, the heart and hands are needed in ordered to be coherent so that one thinks what one feels and does, feels what one thinks and does, and does what one feels and thinks. This, he said, is total coherence.
The head, the hands and the heart, the Pope said, “must always interact in the school, as they are connected in the person, in the journey of life”. “The head, heart and hands: a circle that must always be kept open and dynamic,” he said.
Pope Francis also noted that the dimension of relationship among students and with teachers has been penalized during the long months of distance learning during the pandemic. While hoping it will resume fully, the Pope invited the students to learn from this negative experience, “namely the importance of real, not virtual, interpersonal relationships”.
He acknowledged that the digital world has opened up new avenues of knowledge and communication for young people. But he warned of the “danger of closing in on ourselves and always seeing reality through a filter that only apparently increases our freedom”. He wished that the experience of “‘abstinence’ from friendship” stimulate in them a “greater critical sense in the use of these instruments, so that they remain subject to our intelligence and will”.
The present, not the future
Pope Francis reminded the students that they should be the present of society and need not move to the future. They will be the future of society if they are its present. “Without young people,” he said, “a society is almost dead.” “You are the present because you bring new life,” he reminded them.
The Holy Father concluded urging the students of Ambrosoli Institute to be grateful to God for the opportunity of school, where they can grow with their head, hands and heart, and where they can learn to live their relationships in an open, respectful and constructive way.