Last week, Pope Francis participated in a programme organised by “Scholas Occurrentes” – an initiative organised between the students of various countries, cultures and religions – broadcast by CNN on Friday, Sept. 18. Two groups of students from Havana and New York took part.
The Holy Father answered questions posed by the students, starting with one from a girl from New York on the responsibility of the young in the care of the environment.
“It is one of the things that we have to learn from when we are young”, he said. “The environment, at this time, is one of the excluded. It cries to us to pay attention and to take care of it. So, how can a young person take care of the environment? First of all, by seeing the problems that exist in his or her neighbourhood, city and nation. … By looking for concrete measures you can take. The waste of paper is impressive. Avoid wasting electricity … What little you can do, but it is still a little more, a little more, a little more. Add to the will to save our common home”.
A girl from Havana asked the second question, regarding the capacity for leadership attributed to the Pope. “A leader is a good leader if he is capable of making other leaders emerge among the young”, he said. “If a leader wishes to lead alone, then he is a tyrant. Or rather, true leadership is fruitful. … Sole leaders are here today and gone tomorrow. There are those who are born leaders: leaders in thought, leaders of action, leaders of joy, leaders of hope, leaders in building a better world. This is the path for you to follow; but you already have the seed of leadership within you. If they do not sow leadership in others, if they do not serve, they are dictators. I have no desire to be a dictator. I like to plant the seed of leadership in others”.
The third question was asked by a girl from New York, who showed the Pope a photograph of a dead tree with a bird perched on a branch.
“Yes, in the photo the tree is dead and the bird is alive”, observed Francis. “In a few months’ time the bird will need to build a nest to lay its eggs and care for its young, but if the tree is dead, how will it be able to make a nest? This is what happens when we do not take care of the environment. One death leads to another, and then, instead of sowing growth, instead of sowing hope, we sow death. The way is the opposite: caring for life”.
A boy from Havana then spoke about the need to lift the embargo against Cuba. “I too will do everything possible not to forget”, replied the Holy Father. “Building bridges and removing obstacles to communication, so that communication can lead to friendship. One of the most beautiful things is social friendship. That’s what I would like you to seek: friendship”.
The final two questions regarded education of boys and girls. “Education is one of the human rights”, affirmed Pope Francis. “A child has the right to be loved … to play … and to receive an education. Do you think about the number of children who, in countries at war at the moment, do not receive an education? … It is a challenge that must be faced. And it is up to us to start. … Do not wait for States to make agreements or governments to agree. Many years will pass in the meantime, as it is difficult. … So many children of your age, so many boys and girls devote their weekends and holidays to teach them. … A people that is not educated, who either because of war or for other reasons cannot receive an education, decays; it decays and declines even to the level of mere instinct. … We must be committed to the education of the young”.
“This morning I received a group of young people”, the Pope revealed. “One boy was from a country at war and he gave me a bullet, one of the many that rain down continually on his city. The young, in order to survive, have to stay closed up inside their homes, and no longer have the right to play. … We have lost the idea of how many children do not experience the joy of play, either because of war, or poverty, or because they live on the streets. And these children do not know how to communicate with the joy of play. They become easy prey to traffickers, who use them and lead them into delinquency, theft, drug abuse, prostitution, and many other things. So, the best way to begin to educate children is to give them the opportunity to play”.
At the end of the broadcast, the presenter invited the Pope to plant an olive tree in a pot placed nearby, and asked the Pope to give him the bullet so as to bury it in the ground on which the olive tree will grow.