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Pope to Scholas Occurentes: May the stories of refugees be lessons of life

Pope Francis meets with young people from Scholas Occurrentes and highlights the harsh realities refugees face in their travels, encouraging the young people to create a culture of encounter in order to build a community with all those most in need.

By Francesca Merlo

Addressing young people of the Scholas Occurentes on Thursday evening in the Vatican, Pope Francis listened carefully as some presented their testimonies before answering two questions. 

Scholas is an International Organisation of Pontifical Law, working in 190 countries. It integrates more than 400 thousand educational centres and reaches more than one million children and young people around the world. Founded by Pope Francis over 20 years ago when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, its mission is to answer the call to create a culture of encounter and promote an inclusive model of education.

On communities

The first, question asked by the moderator on behalf of a girl who was unable to be there physically, was on how one keeps a community "open". Pope Francis noted that a community is kept open through each individual's capacity for encounter. "When we lose this capacity to encounter we become fossilised", said the Pope. He explained, "the soul becomes fossilised, the heart becomes fossilised, and we fall into what is socially correct, which are either starched or harsh gestures without originality". Creativity is what drives you, continued the Pope, although "it is a risk".

Pope Francis went on to note that when feelings are turned off, "inner emotions are turned off", we do what everyone does, and we lose our personality. Be authentic, concluded the Pope. With the ability to smile not only with the face, "but with the heart: that is to be open to others". 

On refugees

Pope Francis then listened to the story of a young boy from Rwanda, who explained how his parents fled to DRC as a result of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. He is now studying Law in South Africa, and stressed how thankful he is to have been given such an opportunity. 

Pope Francis, in response to this testimony, and in reply to his question on what the international community can do to help refugees fleeing harsh realities in their countries, noted that refugees and their status indicate that you left somewhere that was yours and set out on a journey "out of necessity".

"Your parents lived this horror" said the Pope, and the necessity to escape a place that stopped you from living, in order to live freely. "Refugees who are fleeing have only one thing on their mind: leaving". The life of a refugee is a difficult one, continued the Pope. "I am following what is happening on the Libyan coast", he said. These people are taken, they are tortured, women are sold. "Can you imagine?" asked the Pope, "Sold! That is happening today!" he stressed.

Being a refugee, continued the Pope, means living on the street. "But not your street. Not on the streets of your city, but on the street of life, where you are treated as a nobody". A refugee is not a tourist, neither someone who fled for commercial reasons but someone who "escaped so that they could live". 

Concluding his answer, Pope Francis stressed that his desire was not to "torture" the young people present with these harsh realities, but rather to help them think about their brothers and sisters. He asked those present to be grateful for what they have, and to ask themselves what the stories of these refugees can teach them. 

Finally, the Pope asked the young people: "do you let your feelings grow so that you can discern them later, or do you cover them up?" If you cover up your feelings, they will explode, he said, whereas "if you let your feelings come out, you have the obligation to discern them and confront them." That, he concluded, "will give you maturity".

25 November 2021, 17:00