Pope's Q-and-A With Students of Jesuit Schools

«To work for the common good is a duty of a Christian!»

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Here is a translation of the transcription of the q-and-a session Francis had with students from Jesuit schools.

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Dear youngsters, dear young people!

I prepared this address to give you, but there are five pages! Somewhat boring … Let’s do something: I’ll make a little summary and then I will give this, in writing, to the Father Provincial. I will also give it to Father Lombardi, so that you all have it in writing. Are you happy with this or not? Yes? Good. Let’s follow this course.

The first point of this written is that in the education we give as Jesuits the key point is – for our development as persons – magnanimity. We must be magnanimous, with a big heart, without fear. To wager always on great ideals, but we must also be magnanimous with small things, with daily things; we must have a wide heart, a great heart. And it is important to find this magnanimity with Jesus, in the contemplation of Jesus. Jesus is the one who opens for us the windows to the horizon. Magnanimity means to walk with Jesus, with the heart attentive to what Jesus is saying to us. In regard to this, I would like to say something to educators, to workers in schools, and to parents. Educate. In educating, there is a balance to be kept; the steps must be well balanced: a firm step in the area of security, but another step in the area of risk. And when that risk becomes security, the next step looks for another area of risk. We can’t educate only in the area of security: no. This is to impede personalities from growing. But we can’t educate either only in the area of risk: this is very dangerous. Remember well this balancing of the steps.

We have reached the last page. And to you, educators, I would also like to encourage you to seek new, unconventional forms of education, in keeping with the needs of the place, of the times and of the persons involved. This is important in our Ignatian spirituality: always go that “step farther,” and do not be at peace with conventional things. Seek new forms in keeping with the places, the times and the persons. I encourage you in this. And now, I am ready to answer some questions that you wish to ask: youngsters, educators. I am at your disposition. I have asked the Father Provincial to help me with this. 

Father Provincial: Holiness, the questions weren’t prepared, so will you take them as they come? OK. Just checking, so …

A young man: I am Francesco Bassani, of the Leo XIII Institute. I’m a boy who, as I wrote in my letter to you, Pope, seeks to believe. I seek … yes, I seek to be faithful. However, I have difficulties. Sometimes I have doubts. And I think this is absolutely normal at my age. Given that you are the Pope whom I believe I will have a long time in my heart, in my life, because I am meeting you in my adolescent phase of growth, I would like to ask you for a word that will sustain me in this growth and sustain all the youngsters with me. 

Holy Father: To walk is an art, because if we always walk in a hurry, we get tired and we can’t reach the end, the end of the road. On the other hand, if we stop and don’t walk, we won’t reach the end either. To walk is in fact the art of looking at the horizon, to think where I want to go, but also to endure the exhaustion of the walk. And so many times the walk is difficult, it’s not easy. “I want to remain faithful to this path, but it’s not easy, listen: there is darkness; there are days of darkness — also days of failure, also days of falls … one falls, falls…” However, always think of this: have no fear of failures; have no fear of falls. What matters in the art of walking isn’t not to fall, but not to “stay fallen.” To get up fast, immediately, and to continue walking. And this is beautiful: this means to work every day, this is to walk humanly. But  it is also hard to walk alone, hard and boring. To walk in community, with friends, with those who love us: this helps us, it helps us in fact to arrive at the end to which we must go. I don’t know if I’ve answered your question. Are you with me? You won’t be afraid of the path? Thank you. 

–A young woman: Well … I am Sofia Grattarola of the Massimiliano Massimo Institute. And I would like to ask you, given that you, as all children, when you were in elementary school, you had friends, no? And given that today you are Pope, do you still see these friends?

–Holy Father: I have been Pope for two and a half months. My friends are 14 hours by plane from here, they are far away. But I want to say something to you: three of them came to see me and greet me, and I saw them and they write to me, and I love them so. We can’t live without friends: this is important, it’s important. 

–A small girl [Teresa]: But did you want to be Pope? Francesco, did you want to be Pope?

Holy Father: Do you know what it means for a person not to want so much good for himself? A person who wishes, who wants to be Pope, does not wish good for himself. God doesn’t bless him. No, I didn’t want to be Pope. OK? Come, come, come …

A lady: Holiness, we are Monica and Antonella of the choir of the Students of Heaven of the Social Institute of Turin. We want to ask you: as we, who were educated in Jesuit schools, are often invited to reflect on Saint Ignatius’s spirituality, we would like to ask you: at the time you chose the consecrated life, what drove you to be a Jesuit rather than a diocesan priest or one of another Order? Thank you. 

Holy Father: I lodged several times at the Social Institute of Turin. I know it well. What pleased me most about the Society was its missionary nature, and I wanted to become a missionary. And when I studied philosophy, I wrote to the General – not about theology – I wrote to the General, who was Father Arrupe, asking him to send me to Japan or somewhere else. But he thought well, and he said to me, with so much charity: “But you have had an illness of the lung, and that isn’t so good for such strong work,” so I stayed in Buenos Aires. But Father Arrupe was very good, because he didn’t say: “But you aren’t so holy as to become a missionary”: he was good, he had charity. And what gave me so much strength to become a Jesuit was the mission: to go outside, to go out, to go out always to proclaim Jesus Christ, and not remain somewhat shut-in in our structures, so often short-lived. It was that which moved me. Thank you.

A lady: Well, I am Caterina De Marchis, of the Leo XIII Institute and I wondered: why have you given up all the riches of a Pope, such as a luxurious apartment, or a huge car, and instead you have gone to a small apartment in the neighborhood, and taken a bus for Bishops. How did you ever give up wealth? 

Holy Father: But, I believe it’s not just about wealth. For me it’s a problem of personality: it’s this. I have a need to live among people, and if I lived alone, perhaps somewhat isolated, it wouldn’t do me good. A professor asked me this question: “But why don’t you go to live there?” I answered: “But, listen to me, professor: for psychiatric reasons.” It’s my personality. Also the apartment, the one [of the Papal Palace] is not so luxurious, tranquil … But I can’t live alone, do you understand? And then I think that, if the times speaks to us of so much poverty in the world, this is a scandal. The poverty of the world is a scandal. In a world where there are so many, many riches, so many resources to feed everyone, one can’t understand why it is that there are so many famished children, so many children without education, so many poor! Poverty, today, is a cry. All of us must think if we can become somewhat poorer: We must also do this. How can I become a bit poorer to resemble Jesus better, who was the poor Master.
This is the thing. But it’s not a problem of my personal virtue; it’s only that I can’t live alone, and also in regard to the car that you mentioned: it’s a question of not having so many things and of becoming somewhat poorer. This is it. 

A boy: My name is Eugenio Serafini, I ‘m of the CEI Institute, Ignatian educational center. I wish to ask you a brief question: how did you decide that you would not be a Pope but a parish priest, how did you decide to become a Jesuit? How did you do this? Wasn’t it difficult for you to abandon, to leave your family, your friends, wasn’t this difficult for you?

Holy Father: Listen, it’s always difficult: always. It was difficult for me. It’s not easy. There are beautiful moments and Jesus helps you, He gives you some joy. But there are difficult moments, where you feel alone, you feel arid, without interior joy. There are dark moments, of interior darkness. There are difficulties. But it’s so beautiful to follow Jesus, to follow Jesus’ path, which you then weigh and go forward. And then more beautiful moments come. But no one must think that there won’t be difficulties in life. Now I would also like to ask a question: how do you think of going forward with difficulties? It’s not easy. But we must go forward with strength and with trust in the Lord, with the Lord, everything can be done.

A young girl: Hello, my name is Federica Iaccarino and I come from the Pontano Institute of Naples. I would like to ask you for a word for young people today, for the future of the young people of today, given that Italy is in a situation of great difficulty. And I would like to ask for aid to be able to lead her to improvement, for help for us, to be able to take these youngsters forward, to take us youngsters. 

Holy Father: You say that Italy is going through a difficult moment. Yes, there’s a crisis. But I will say to you: not only in Italy. The whole world at this time is in a moment of crisis. And the crisis, the crisis is not something bad. It’s true that the crisis makes us suffer, but we must – and you young people especially – must be able to read the crisis. What does this crisis mean? What must I do to help to come out of the crisis? The crisis that we are living at this time is a human crisis. They say: but, it’s an economic crisis, it’s a crisis of work. Yes, it’s true, but why? Because the problem of work, the problem of the economy, is a consequence of the great human problem. What is in crisis is the value of the human person, and we must defend the human person. At this moment … but I have already said this three times before, but I shall do so a fourth. I once read an account of a Medieval Rabbi of the year 1200. This Rabbi explained to the Jews of that time the story of the Tower of Babel. It wasn’t easy to build the Tower of Babel: bricks had to be made; and how is a brick made? One must find the clay, the straw; mix them, put them in the oven: it was enormous work. And after this work, a brick became a real treasure! Then they would take the bricks to the top to build the Tower of Babel. But if a brick fell, it was a tragedy, the worker who dropped it was punished; it was a tragedy! However, if a man fell, nothing happened! This is the crisis we are going through today: it’s the crisis of the person. The person doesn’t count today. Money counts. And Jesus, God has given the world, the whole of creation. He has given it to the person, to man and woman to take it forward, not money. It’s a crisis; the person is in crisis because the person today – listen well, this is true – is a slave! And we must free ourselves from these economic and social structures that enslave us. And this is your task. 

A small boy: Hello, I am Francesco Vin, and I come from the Saint Ignatius School of Messina. I want to ask you if you have ever been to Sicily. 

Holy Father: No. I can say two things. No, or not yet. 

The child: If you come, we will await you!

The Holy Father: But I’ll tell you something: I know a very beautiful film about Sicily, which I saw ten years ago, called Kaos, with “k”: Kaos. It’s a film based on four stories of Pirandello, and this film is very beautiful. I was able to see all the beauties of Sicily. This is the only thing I know about Sicily. But it’s beautiful!

A professor: Holy Father, I am Professor Jesus Maria Martinez … [at this moment there was applause which, moreover, characterized several moments of the dialogue between the Holy Father and the participants at the audience].

The Holy Father: But, there are fans!

The professor: They are students of Spanish because I’m Spanish: I’m from San Sebastian. They are students also of religion, and I can say that the students, the professors wish you all the very best: this is certain. I don’t speak on behalf of anyone, but seeing so many former pupils, also so many personalities and also us, adults, students, educated by the Jesuits, I wonder about our political, our social commitment in society, as adults in the Jesuit schools. Can you give us a word: how our commitment, our work today, in Italy, in the world, can be Jesuit, can be evangelical? 

The Holy Father: Very good. To be involved in politics is an obligation for a Christian. We Christians cannot “play Pilate,” wash our hands: we can’t do this. We must be involved in politics, because politics is one of the highest forms of charity, because it seeks the common good. And lay Christians must labor in politics. You will tell me: “But it’s not easy!” But neither is it easy to become a priest. They are not easy things in life. It’s not easy. Politics has become too soiled, but I ask: why has it become soiled? Why have Christians not become involved in politics with an evangelical spirit? With this question that I pose to you, it’s easy to say “the fault is somebody else’s.” But, what do I do? It’s a duty! To work for the common good is a duty of a Christian! And so many times the place to work in is politics. There are other ways: a professor, for instance. However, political activity for the common good is one of the ways. This is clear. 

A youth: Father, my name is Giacomo. In reality, I’m not alone here today, but I bring a great number of youngsters who are youths of the Student Missionary League. So, Father, first of all my gratitude and that of all the youngsters that I have also heard over these days, because finally with you we have found that message of hope which before we felt constrained to rediscover in a tour around the world. Now, to be able to hear you in our homes is something that is very powerful for us. Above all, Father, allow me to say, from a post, from a place, this light has been lighted in this place where we, young people, had really begun to lose hope. So, thank you, because you have gone to the bottom of it all. My question is this, Father: we, as you well know from your experience, have learned to experience, to live with many sorts of poverty, which are material poverty – I am thinking of the poverty of our twinship in Kenya –; which are spiritual poverty – I am thinking of Rumania, I am thinking of the wounds of the political vicissitudes, I am thinking of alcoholism. So, Father, I would like to ask you: how can we, young people, coexist with this poverty? How must we behave? 

The Holy Father: First of all, I would like to say something to all you young people: don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope! Please, don’t let yourselves be robbed! And who robs your hope? The spirit of the world, riches, the spirit of vanity, arrogance, pride. All these things rob one of hope. Where do I find hope? In the poor Jesus, Jesus who made himself poor for us. And you spoke of poverty. Pover
ty calls us to sow hope, so that I, too, will have more hope. This seems a bit difficult to understand, but I recall that Father Arrupe once wrote a good letter to the Centers of Social Research, to the Social Centers of the Society. He spoke about the way the social problem should be studied. But in the end he said to us — he said to all of us: “Look, we can’t speak of poverty without having the experience with the poor.” You have spoken of the twinship with Kenya: the experience with the poor. We can’t speak of poverty, of abstract poverty, which does not exist! Poverty is the flesh of the poor Jesus, in the child who is hungry, in the one who is sick, in those social structures that are unjust. Go, look at the flesh of Jesus there. But don’t let yourselves be robbed of the hope of wellbeing, of the spirit of wellbeing that, in the end, leads you to become a nothing in life! A youth must wager on lofty ideals: this is the advice. But hope, where do I find hope? I find it in the flesh of the suffering Jesus and in real poverty. There is a connection between the two. Thank you.

Now I give all, to all of you, to your families, to everyone, the Blessing of the Lord.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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