'Francis' Education Revolution' Reaches New Heights, Says Scholas Director

Shares on Partnership With UNICEF, Initiatives; Soccer to Teach Values

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“We have to bring the classroom to the city, for the city is educating. Society educates! The world educates, otherwise the world is destroyed.”

So says Professor Josemaría Del Corral, who along with Professor Enrique Palmeryo serves as the worldwide director of the network of schools and educational centers promoted by Pope Francis and called Scholas Occurentes. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences helps with the network, which seeks to bring together schools worldwide, regardless of the race or religion of the students.

Del Corral told ZENIT on Wednesday in Rome that the Scholas network’s initiatives are the “best way» to promote the Pope’s «culture of encounter.»

Its roots date back to when, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio pushed for two educational programs that translate to “Sisters School” and «Neighbors School,” which were combined to make way for «Scholas.” The network has since grown to some 350,000 schools.

On Wednesday, Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, informed journalists of the network’s latest accomplishments in the wake of their meeting with the Pope, namely that they have started a five-year partnership with UNICEF and that in the upcoming 2015 World Cup in South America, for every goal made, 10,000 euro will go to charity.

Scholas’ presence in the Vatican and around the world continues to spread and is being recognized for its initiatives such as the Interreligious Match for Peace, which brought together the world’s most famous soccer players to compete for charity, and a Google Hangouts session in which the Pope participated, responding to the questions of young people and the disabled. The network is having an impact at the local level for young people worldwide.

«With the ‘culture of encounter,’ we are to overcome the fragmented world of indifference,” Corral told ZENIT.

“This is the educational revolution of the Pope. In history, we have a Pope now who is generating a revolution. His name is Francis,” he said.

«When we were in Spain, media started using the headlines: ‘The educational revolution of the Pope.'»

During the interview, the director of Scholas recalled the Pope’s role in the founding of Scholas, “At the very beginning [he] saw something had to be done in the face of this crisis and that it was urgent. It was a similar intuition to that which he realized when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and sent him to work with the youth and to contribute to make changes.»

“That’s how Scholas was born,” he said, but at that point, Del Corral admitted, «We weren’t sure how to see it to a global level.”

‘Yesterday, it was beginning on the soccer fields and books, and now look where we are,» he reflected, saying all the presidents of the soccer associations in South America, including Argentina, are committed to this cause.

Turning to the new 2015 World Cup charitable initiative, Del Corral said, “It’s a big step, for the financial help to convert each goal into a concrete action for those kids in those countries.”

“Soccer associations are going to give us players to come into the neighborhoods and make integration activities,” he said.

Another novelty, he said, is, “We are going to have clinics where football is applied to life situations.”

“Instead of taking the kids into a school that encloses them, it’s bringing the school to the neighborhood, to the soccer field.”

“Instead of using the chalk, it’s using the soccer ball to write a new history.”

Schools, organizations and individuals in the various neighborhoods, for example priests, have helped identify which neighborhoods are the neediest. 

In April 2013, when Francis was just elected Pope, the Pontiff expressed to Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-moon that he was worried about the economic crisis and “how to generate participation and youth commitment in the schools.”

Ban Ki-moon, Del Corral explained, started working with his secretaries regarding this initiative of the Pope’s. He said that’s why UNICEF contacted them and from there, they have traveled to New York and had different encounters.

“UNICEF wished to join us in the same project to help these young people,” and “had concrete methodologies that generated enthusiasm in youth.”

The enthusiasm, he stressed, was brought out “not by closing them in within the schools, but gathering them together and engaging in social work to make a change.”

“Everything, all this, finished in what we saw yesterday when UNICEF said we want to support this project globally for the Pope and for the project itself.”

“And so from what happened yesterday, this has transformed into a coordinated action between two different institutions with different histories. Despite that, they are pulling together for the children.”

“For us, it’s very important that this educational initiative of the Pope along with UNICEF’s efforts develops a global action in each of the 180 countries that UNICEF is present in,” he said.

The ‘Communion’ of Technology

Scholas embraces technology, he noted. “Technology can join together the kids around the world, but nowadays many are not connected, and very few well connected. However, the Pope wants children to get connected in a way such that all can take part in this network and none will be excluded.”

“Technology serves as a type of communion, and UNICEF supports this proposal on a global level…

“Because one who does not have this chance is discarded,” he said, “this is the reality.”

“Before we had to learn to read and write to be a citizen, today, we need to be connected and know how to use technology.”

Field to Future

The second line is the work on the field. 

“Soccer and promoting values in the neighborhoods is key…The whole world has now taken on the Pope’s proposal by welcoming it into their countries and this will make a difference.”

He pointed out that in many big, as well as little, cities, there are many small soccer clubs. At first, it was visible in Latin America, but now it’s visible in various regions throughout the world. 

These clubs, he explained, are very poor, «people involved in running them don’t really get paid,” and there’s no medical care.

“They fight over the space with those who want to take the kids into drugs, so these clubs have a big impact on their communities, keeping the kids away from the drugs, and Scholas is supporting this.»

In the suburbs of Buenos Aires, many neighborhoods are involved. “Each of the neighborhoods is working with the clubs, so it’s teaching the children how to play soccer and includes teaching of values.”

Media focus on the neighborhoods has resulted in sponsors providing such things as lights on the field so the kids can play at night, and medical exams.

Sports Lessons

“Kids learn how to give the ball, one to another one. They see the difficulties they are facing in that, and that’s related to life too.”

“What does giving the ball to another one imply? It teaches sharing, perseverance, and your values. Who you are as a person.” Those values which the young learn on the field, the director of Scholas stressed, will help shape character in the long term. 

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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