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'School Can Open Minds and Hearts,' Pope Says in Videomessage

Speaking to Festival to Promote Books and Reading in Milan, Francis Remembers Educator Don Lorenzo Milani

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Pope Francis has praised school’s power to open minds and hearts.
He did so in a video-message he sent yesterday, April 23, 2017, to the participants in the presentation of the Opera Omnia of Father Lorenzo Milani (in the Meridiani Collection published by Mondadori).
The festival organized to promote books and reading is taking place in Milan, April 19-23.
The Pope’s message remembered Italian educator and writer Don Lorenzo Milani, the prior of Barbiana, and his dedication to young people and their ability to learn
“I would like us to remember him,” the Jesuit Pope said, “above all as a believer, enamored of the Church although wounded, and passionate educator with a vision of the school which seems to me an answer to the exigency of the heart and of the intelligence of our youngsters and young people.”
Below is a working translation of the text of the Pope’s video-message:
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“I will never rebel against the Church because I am in need many times during the week of the forgiveness of my sins, and I would not know to whom else to go to find it if I left the Church,” wrote Father Lorenzo Milani, Prior of Barbiana on October 10, 1958. I would like to propose this act of abandonment to the Mercy of God and to the maternity of the Church as a perspective from which to look at the life, works and priesthood of Father Lorenzo Milani. All of us have read the many works of this Tuscan priest, who died when he was just 44, and we remember with particular affection  his “Letter to a Professor,” written together with the young people of the Barbiana school, where he was parish priest. As educator and teacher, he undoubtedly practiced original courses sometimes, perhaps, too advanced and, therefore, difficult to understand and to receive immediately. His family education – he came from non-believing and anti-clerical parents, who had habituated him to an intellectual dialectic and a straightforwardness that sometimes could seem too rough, when not marked by rebellion. He maintained these characteristics, acquired in the family, also after his conversion, which occurred in 1943 and in the exercise of his priestly ministry. It is understood that this created some friction and some sparks, as well as some incomprehension with the ecclesiastic and civil structures, because of his educational proposal, his predilection for the poor and the defense of conscientious objection.
History is always repeated. I would like us to remember him above all as a believer, enamored of the Church although wounded, and passionate educator with a vision of the school which seems to me an answer to the exigency of the heart and of the intelligence of our youngsters and young people. With these words I turn to the world of the Italian school, quoting in fact Father Milani: “I love the school because it is synonymous with openness to reality – at least, it should be so! However, it does not always succeed in being so, and then it means that it is necessary to change the settings somewhat. To go to school means to open the mind and heart to reality, in the richness of its aspects, of its dimensions. And this is very beautiful!
In the first years, one learns at 360 degrees, then slowly one deepens in a direction and finally one specializes. However, if one has learned to learn, has learned to learn, — and this is the secret, to learn to learn! – this stays with one always, one remains a person open to reality! This was also taught by a great Italian educator who was a priest: Father Lorenzo Milani.” Thus I addressed Italian education, the Italian school, on May 10, 2014. His restlessness, however, was not the fruit of rebellion but of love and of tenderness for his young people, for what was his flock, for which he suffered and battled, to give it the dignity that, sometimes, was denied it. His was a spiritual restlessness, nourished by his love for Christ, for the Gospel, for the Church, for society and for the school that he always dreamt of as “a field hospital” to rescue the wounded, to recover the marginalized and the rejected.
To learn, to know, to speak frankly to defend one’s rights were verbs that Father Lorenzo conjugated daily beginning from the reading of the Word of God and from the celebration of the Sacraments, so much so that a priest who knew him well said that he had made for himself “indigestion of Christ.” The Lord was the light of Father Lorenzo’s life, the same one that I would like to have illumine our remembrance of him. The shadow of the cross often spread over his life, but he always felt himself participant in Christ’s Paschal Mystery, and that of the Church, so much so as to manifest to his Spiritual Father, the desire that his dear ones “should see how a Christian priest dies.” Suffering, wounds endured, the Cross never obfuscated in him the paschal light of the Risen Christ, because his was only one concern, that his young people grow with an open mind and a hospitable heart full of compassion, ready to bend down over the weakest and to help the needy, as Jesus teaches (cf. Luke 10:29-37), without looking at the color of their skin, language, culture, and religious membership […]
So, let us approach Father Lorenzo Milani’s writings with the affection of one who looks at him as a witness of Christ and of the Gospel, who always sought, in the awareness of his being a forgiven sinner, the light of tenderness, the grace and the consolation that only Christ can give us and that we can find in the Church our Mother.
[Original text: Italian]  [Working Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

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