A university education, says Pope Francis, is not for prestige or to make more money, but rather to learn how to live in solidarity with others and with the world, and especially with the poor and disadvantaged.
The Pope said this today in Ecuador, during an afternoon meeting with representatives of schools and universities at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador. He is on his second full day of his nine-day apostolic visit to South America.
The Holy Father drew from his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, to exhort the young people and educators to take care of their brothers and sisters and the world given to us all by God.
"How do we help our young people not to see a university degree as synonymous with higher status, money and social prestige," he said. "How can we help make their education a mark of greater responsibility in the face of today’s problems, the needs of the poor, concern for the environment?
"I also have a question for you, dear students. You are Ecuador’s present and future, the seedbed of your society’s future growth. Do you realize that this time of study is not only a right, but a privilege? How many of your friends, known or unknown, would like to have a place in this house but, for various reasons, do not? To what extent do our studies help us feel solidarity with them?"
Lessons from the beginning
Pope Francis drew from the Gospel and from Genesis to speak of our common mission in caring for each other and the earth.
"God does not only give us life: he gives us the earth, he gives us all of creation," the Pontiff said. "He does not only give man a partner and endless possibilities: he also gives human beings a task, he gives them a mission. He invites them to be a part of his creative work and he says: Cultivate it! I am giving you seeds, soil, water and sun. I am giving you your hands and those of your brothers and sisters. There it is, it is yours. It is a gift, a present, an offering. It is not something that can be bought or acquired. It precedes us and it will be there long after us.
"Our world is a gift given to us by God so that, with him, we can make it our own. God did not will creation for himself, so he could see himself reflected in it. On the contrary: creation is a gift to be shared. It is the space that God gives us to build up with one another, to build a 'we.' The world, history, all of time – this is the setting in which we build this 'we' with God, with others, with the earth."
Pope Francis spoke about his teaching from Laudato Si’, that the human environment and natural environment are interconnected.
He said that "just as both can 'deteriorate,' we can also say that they can 'support one another and can be changed for the better.' This reciprocal relationship can lead to openness, transformation, and life, or to destruction and death."
The Holy Father largely followed his prepared address, adding only a handful of comments. At one point, he spoke off-the-cuff about the need to give more attention to caring for others. Departing from his text, he mentioned the cold winters at home in Rome, saying that not far from the Vatican an elderly homeless person died of cold one night. And this did not make news in any newspapers or reports, he lamented, yet the fluctuations in the market are international news.
"One thing is certain: we can no longer turn our backs on reality, on our brothers and sisters, on mother earth," he said later in his address. "It is wrong to turn aside from what is happening all around us, as if certain situations did not exist or have nothing to do with our life.
"Again and again we sense the urgency of the question which God put to Cain, 'Where is your brother?’ But I wonder if our answer continues to be: 'Am I my brother’s keeper?'"
After the Holy Father concluded his address, he led the people in praying the Our Father. He also said that since everyone wants to be "well mannered" (or well educated), he would not leave the "house" without saying good-bye to the mother, so he turned to the image of Our Lady and led the crowd in prayer to her.
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