Pope Francis participated in a charity-sponsored event Thursday afternoon in which he interacted, via technology, with children from five continents.
During the meeting of the educational charity Scholas Occurentes on the last day of its four-day conference in the Synod Hall of the Vatican’s Paul VI Auditorium, the Pope had a question and answer session with the students who came from El Salvador for the Americas, Turkey for Europe, Israel, Australia, and South Africa.
The exchange was conducted through the “Google Hangout” digital interface.
The Pope encouraged this first attempt at dialogue to promote meetings and exchanges between students and schools from different continents.
Earlier in the day in an impromptu briefing at the Vatican Press Office, the Holy See Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi underscored the Scholas’ initiative is not just about promoting Catholic schools, but schools in general, and is aimed at advancing interreligious and intercultural relationships for all schools worldwide.
During the digital exchange, when asked by the first student from Australia how schools can move forward in communication and build bridges, the Pope replied: “You can do two opposite things: build bridges or build walls.”
“The walls separate, divide; the bridges approach,” he said, adding, “So, continue to communicate. Communicate experiences. Your experiences … You have much in your heart and you can achieve many things.”
In response to a second request by an Israeli student, the Pope highlighted how students do well with knowing how to communicate in different languages and the identity of their religion.
After a student from Turkey spoke of peace and interfaith dialogue, Francis said, “Young people do not want war, they want peace! And that you have to shout it from the heart, from inside: ‘We want peace.'”
In response to the student asking, “Will the future be better or will it be worse?” the Pope said the future is in your “heart” and “It’s in your hands!”. “Grab it, so that it is better,” he said.
When a student from South Africa spoke about the provenance of Scholas Occurrentes, the Pope explained it was born in Buenos Aires as a “network of neighboring schools to build bridges between schools” of the diocese.
The Holy Father said the youth of today need three key pillars: education, sport and culture, adding, that Scholas combines and promotes all three.
“Sport,” the Argentine Pontiff stressed, “is important because it teaches you to play as a team” and it “helps you not to be selfish!”
In response to a student from El Salvador’s question, the Pope warned that communication can also be used in a destructive way, and exhorted them to “Be Careful!”
The Pope urged the young people: “Do not be afraid! … Go forward. Build bridges of peace. Play as a team and make the future better, but remember that the future is in your hands. While dreaming of the future, do not forget your cultural or religious heritage … With courage! Build the future.”
“Scholas” is a worldwide network of schools and educational centers promoted by Pope Francis. It came to be after when, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, pushed to combine two educational programs. The charity also organized the Interreligious Match for Peace at Rome’s Olympic Stadium last Monday.
The Pope also met Scholas’ directors during the meeting yesterday afternoon.
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Text of q-and-a with students:
Pope’s discourse at end of the event: