Pope encourages students from the Americas to build better world

On Thursday evening Rome time, Pope Francis met with students from across the Americas for an online event and dialogue organized by Loyola University, in collaboration with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

By Vatican News staff writer

The two-hour online meeting brought together Pope Francis with students from seven regional working groups of university and college students who engaged in a synodal process of preparation through mutual encounter, listening, and discernment. Representatives came from the USA/Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean/Central America, Brazil, and South America, and discussed a host of issues regarding migration challenges, such as education, migration, environmental sustainability, economic justice, and integral human development in a synodal manner.

Building bridges

The encounter led to an open conversation between the students and the Pope about finding new ways to build a world made of bridges and collaboration in the spirit of Fratelli tutti. The Department of Theology of Loyola University in Chicago organized the event in collaboration with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the Institute of Pastoral Studies, and the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, offered an introductory welcome to the participants, noting how these students understand the importance of listening to each other and dialoguing. They are studying at various universities and majoring in fields ranging from the humanities to the sciences, while sharing experiences, and looking at how to collaborate together on projects. Argentine theologian, Emilce Cuda, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, then spoke to welcome the participants, noting how this meeting represents what the Pontifical Commission wishes to do in acting as a bridge between the Vatican and particular churches for discussion, sharing, and networking. 

Responding with minds, hearts and hands   

Pope Francis then thanked everyone for their efforts in building bridges between north and south and in so doing, responding to their Christian vocation to bring people together. He recalled the great changes societies are undergoing today, which challenge us all; and about the need to respond not only with our minds, but also our hearts and our hands through concrete actions. This is especially true with the key theme of discussion here on migration issues, he said, and the role of action of students here offer a great service in addressing the many related issues surrounding them, calling on us to welcome, accompany, assist, and integrate migrants who flee their homelands for economic, political, and even religious reasons. The Pope recalled we all have migrant roots, and noted that his own father migrated from Italy to Argentina at the age of 22, part of what he described as the great melting pot of migrants that make up his native land. He added that while we need to continually nourish our minds and hearts, and use our hands in responding to these needs, we must never lose sight of the hope that drives us in responding to our Christian vocation to be brothers and sisters to all.

Treasuring our roots

Representatives of each working group spoke about their studies and work, followed by a question for Pope Francis. The first group of students described the challenges facing migrants, ranging from discrimination, marginalization, extreme poverty, and holding on to their roots. They also proposed concrete ways to address these issues and how all Church members could take part. They often recalled the necessity of Church leadership being interested and involved, and proposed that this type of synodal dialogue might continue to take place between students and the Pope in the future.

Pope Francis responded by looking at the question regarding heritage, saying society suffers when it rejects its roots and that migrants and all people need to treasure their own roots and origins. And this can take place through dialogue between old and young, recalling a proverb that describes the elderly as the roots of a tree and younger people the leaves and flowers that flow from the branches thanks to the nourishment they receive from the roots. The Pope encouraged migrants to remember their roots as they endeavour to learn the new language and culture where they find themselves in order to be part of their new homelands. He encouraged Church members to work together with civil society with concrete action and dialogue.

Tenderness and compassion must guide us

Other students looked at the worsening gap between the rich and poor in societies, the increasing numbers of those forced to leave their homes due to climate change - an estimated 20 million every year right now - and the need to promote non-violent struggle as exemplified by Mahatma Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Pope acknowledged the critical importance of environmental issues and the need to safeguard and protect the environment. Regarding non-violence, he said we must always pray so that we may be as God is to us: close, merciful, and tender. He stressed that this tenderness and compassion must guide us in trying to act non-violently, against one another, or against the natural world contributing to today's ecological crisis. Living in harmony with each other and nature requires honesty and sincerity, whereas we must be on guard against hypocrisy, he stressed. 

Working for a better world

The Pope also responded to disappointment expressed by some of the participants about an apparent lack of interest in environmental issues by some Church leaders, making it difficult for them to inform and animate. The Pope encouraged them to persevere and always work to leave the world in a better way. He also acknowledged that we need Church pastors who are open to these issues and not distant to them, encouraging them to work together and support one other. We are a pilgrim Church, he concluded, one that is not static, that must be open to everyone. He encouraged the students to always have hearts open to others, to go out to meet them, to persevere in their commitment to serve migrants, and be firmly rooted in their faith and the hope coming from it. He thanked them for their questions, ideas, and enthusiasm explaining that they can change others for the better, as he himself has been changed and inspired by their ideas and example. 

24 February 2022, 20:30