Afghan schoolgirls on the eve of UNESCO Literacy day Afghan schoolgirls on the eve of UNESCO Literacy day  (ANSA)

Pope: 'Greater literacy promotes sustainable and peaceful societies'

Pope Francis underscores the value of literacy for individuals and societies, while shedding light on three challenges, in a message to a global UNESCO conference to mark International Literacy Day.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

Education in literacy has a basic and central role in the development of each person, and greater literacy as a whole can have an important role in building sustainable and peaceful societies.

Pope Francis expressed this in a message to the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, sent on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The greetings were sent to participants in the World Conference being held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, as part of the celebration of the 2023 International Literacy Day.  

The Holy Father likewise expressed his closeness to all those involved in various initiatives at national, regional and local levels around the world to mark the Day and to reflect on this year’s chosen theme: “Promoting Literacy for a World in Transition: Building the Foundation for Sustainable and Peaceful Societies.”

Education in literacy central to each person's development

"Education in literacy," he insisted, "has a basic and central role in the development of each person, in their harmonious integration into the community and in their active and effective participation in the advancement of society."

The Holy See, the Pope said, particularly values UNESCO’s efforts in favour of literacy which, "while responding to economic and practical needs," is "fundamentally aimed at the promotion and development of people at the level of their personal, social and spiritual vocation."

"Estimates of the number of people lacking basic literacy skills remain alarming and this represents an obstacle to the full development of their potential," the Pope decried, insisting, "Our world needs everyone’s expertise and contribution in order to meet more effectively the challenges of our time."

“Estimates of the number of people lacking basic literacy skills remain alarming and this represents an obstacle to the full development of their potential...”

The Pope went on to mention three such challenges.

Literacy to promote peace

A first challenge, he said, is that of "literacy for the promotion of peace," saying that in a world "torn by conflicts and tensions," it is essential "not to grow accustomed to the language of war and discord."

"If we can learn to inflict wounds with ever more appalling weapons," Pope Francis noted, "we can also learn to cease doing so. If we can hurt someone, a relative or friend with harsh words and vindictive gestures, we can also choose not to do so."

To learn "the lexicon of peace," the Pope said, means restoring effective and meaningful dialogue, kindness, and respect.  

“If we make a daily effort to do exactly this," the Pope encouraged, "we can create a healthy social atmosphere in which misunderstandings can be overcome and conflict forestalled."

Kindness, the Holy Father pointed out, transforms lifestyles, relationships, and transmitting ideas; "facilitates the quest for consensus"; and "opens new paths, where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges.” 

The Pope recalled that "peace is precisely what UNESCO itself is charged with promoting in people’s minds and hearts through education, science, culture and communication." These, he insisted, "remain the only lawful and effective 'weapons' to use for investing more resources and energies in building hope for a better future."

Digital literacy

A second challenge, he underscored, is that of "digital literacy," recognizing that the digital revolution and developments in artificial intelligence are rapidly expanding individuals' access to information and ability to connect with one another beyond physical boundaries.

"Nonetheless," the Pope lamented, "a large 'digital divide' persists, with millions of people side-lined because they are deprived of access not only to essential goods but also to information and communication technologies.  Indeed, many are harmed by the divisiveness and hatred found on “digital highways.”"

Added to this, the Pope said, is the "serious threat" of handing over decision-making "about the value of human life to the computational logic of electronic devices." 

"In order to prevent technology from being mismanaged, getting out of control or even becoming harmful for people," he appealed, "policies and laws intended to promote the acquisition of digital skills will need to be attentive to broader ethical reflection on the use of algorithms, by guiding the use of new technologies towards responsible and human ends."

Literacy for integral ecology

A third challenge, he said, is that of "literacy for integral ecology." 

"Given that the destruction of nature is closely linked to the 'throwaway culture,' which characterizes much of contemporary life, this will mean promoting with patience and tenacity the adoption of more sober and cohesive approaches to life," he said.

In addition to having "a direct impact on the care of our neighbour and creation," he recalled, they "can inspire in the long term a genuinely sustainable policy and economy for the quality of life of all the peoples of the earth, especially the most disadvantaged and those most at risk."

With these sentiments, the Holy Father reassured the participants of his prayers for the fruitfulness of the reflections associated with the 2023 International Literacy Day, as well as for "the success of their commitment towards greater literacy," which, he said, "aims to lay the foundation of sustainable and peaceful societies."

The Pope concluded by invoking blessings of wisdom, joy and peace upon them, their colleagues, and all involved in promoting literacy.

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08 September 2023, 12:05