Pope Meets With Students And Professors Of Rome's Pontifical Universities. Photo: Vatican Media

The Intelligence of the Hands: Pope’s Reflection to Students and Professors of the Roman Pontifical Universities

Among the three intelligences that stir the human soul, the Holy Father spoke of that of the mind, of the heart and of the hands, each one with its own timbre and character, and all necessary.

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(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 26.02.2023).- Around midday on Saturday, February 25, Pope Francis received in audience, in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, the students, professors and staff of the 22 higher level Pontifical Institutions that are in Rome

Here is the Pope’s address, translated from the Italian original by the Holy See.

* * *

I thank Professor Navarro for his words, and all of you for your presence. As the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium recalls (cf. Proemio 1), you belong to a vast and multifaceted system of ecclesiastical studies, which has flourished throughout the centuries thanks to the wisdom of the People of God, scattered throughout the world and strictly linked to the mission of evangelization of the Church as a whole. You are part of a richness that has grown under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in research, dialogue, and discernment of the signs of the times, and in listening to many different cultural expressions. In this you stand out for your special closeness — also geographical — to the Successor of Peter and his ministry of the joyful proclamation of Christ’s truth.

You are women and men dedicated to study, some for a few years, others for a lifetime, with various origins and competences. Therefore, I would like to say to you first of all, with the words of the Bishop and Martyr Saint Ignatius of Antioch: learn to “sing as a choir” [1]. To sing as a choir! Indeed, the University is the school of accord and consonance between different voices and instruments. It is not the school of uniformity: no, it is the accord and consonance of different voices and instruments. Saint John Henry Newman describes it as the place where different forms of knowledge and perspectives are expressed in symphony, they complete each other, they correct each other, and they balance each other out [2].

This harmony demands to be cultivated first of all in yourselves, among the intelligences that stir the human soul: that of the mind, that of the heart, and that of the hands, each one with its own timbre and character, and all necessary. May the language of the mind be united with that of the heart and that of the hands: what one thinks, what one feels, and what one does.

In particular, I would like to dwell a moment with you on the last of the three: the intelligence of the handsIt is the most sensory, but no less important for this. It may be said, in fact, that it is like the spark of the thought and knowledge and, in some respects, also their most mature result. The first time I went out into the Square, as Pope, I approached a group of young blind people. And one said: “Can I see you? Can I look at you?” I did not understand. Yes, I said. And, with his hands, he searched … he looked at me by touching me with his hands. This struck me a great deal and made me understand the intelligence of the hands. Aristotle, for example, used to say that the hands are “like the soul”, for the power they have, thanks to their sensitivity, to distinguish and to explore [3]. And Kant did not hesitate to define them as “the visible part of the brain” [4].

The Italian language, like other neo-Latin languages, underlines the same concept, using the verb prendere [to take, hold] which indicates a typically manual action, as the root of words such as comprendere [understand], apprendere [to learn], sorprendere [to surprise], which instead indicate acts of thought. While the hands take, the mind understands, learns, and lets itself be surprised. And yet, it takes sensitive hands for this to happen. The mind cannot understand anything if the hands are closed up by greed, or if they waste time, health and talents, or again if they refuse to give peace, to greet and to take by the hand. One cannot understand anything if the fingers of the hand mercilessly point at brothers and sisters who make mistakes. And one cannot be surprised by anything if the same hands do not know how to be joined and lifted up to Heaven in prayer.

Let us look at the hands of Christ. With them, He took the bread and, reciting the blessing, broke it and gave it to the disciples, saying: “This is my Body.” He then takes the chalice and, after giving thanks, offers it to them, saying “This is my Blood” (cf. Matthew 14:23-24). What do we see? We see hands that, while they take, give thanks. The hands of Jesus touch the bread and wine, the Body and Blood, life itself, and give thanks, they take and give thanks because they feel that everything is a gift from the Father. It is not a coincidence that the Evangelists, to indicate their action, use the verb lambano, which indicates at the same time the acts of taking and receiving. Let us therefore create harmony in ourselves, making our hands “eucharistic” too, like those of Christ, and accompanying touch, in every contact and grip, with humble, joyful and sincere gratitude.

In the preservation of inner harmony, I then invite you to “sing as a choir,” also among the various members of your communities,” and among the various institutions you represent. Over the course of the centuries, the generosity and farsightedness of many Religious Orders, inspired by their charisms, have enriched Rome with a notable number of Faculties and Universities. 

Today, however, even faced with a smaller number of students and teachers, this multiplicity of study centres risks wasting precious energy. Thus, instead of fostering the transmission of the evangelical joy of study, teaching and research, it sometimes threatens to slow it down and fatigue it. We must take note of this. Especially after the Covid 19 pandemic, there is an urgent need to initiate a process leading to an effective, stable and organic synergy between academic institutions, in order to better honour the specific purposes of each and to promote the universal mission of the Church [5]. And not to argue between ourselves to take a student or an hour more. I invite you, therefore, not to be satisfied with short-term solutions, and not to think of this process of growth simply as a “defensive” action, intended to face the reduction in economic and human resources. Rather, it should be seen as an impetus towards the future, as an invitation to embrace the challenges of a new era in history. Yours is a very rich heritage, which can promote new life, but can also inhibit it if it becomes too self-referential, if it becomes a museum piece. If you want it to have a fruitful future, its guardianship cannot be limited to the preservation of what you have received: instead, it must be open to courageous and, if necessary, unprecedented developments. It is like a seed that, unless it is sown in the soil of concrete reality, remains alone and bears no fruit (cf. John 12:24). I therefore encourage you to begin a confident process in this direction as soon as possible, with intelligence, prudence and boldness, always bearing in mind that reality is more important than the idea (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 222-225). The Dicastery for Culture and Education, with my mandate, will accompany you on this journey.

Dear brothers and sisters, hope is a choral reality! Look, behind me, at the sculpture of the Risen Christ, the work of the artist Pericle Fazzini, commissioned by Saint Paul VI to dominate this stage and this hall. Observe Christ’s hands: they are like those of a choirmaster. The right is open: it directs the choir as a whole and, lifted upwards, seems to ask for a crescendo. Instead the left, although addressing the entire choir, has a pointed finger, as though to summon a soloist, saying: “Your turn!” The hands of Christ involve at the same time the choir and the soloist, because in the concert the role of one accords with that of the other, in a constructive complementarity. Please: never soloists without the choir. “It is up to all of you!” and at the same time, “It’s your turn!” This is what the hands of the Risen Christ say: to all of you, and to you alone! While we contemplate the gestures, we then renew our commitment to singing as a choir, in harmony and in the accord of voices, docile to the living action of the Holy Spirit. It is what I ask in prayer for each one of you and for all of you. I wholeheartedly bless you, and remember: do not forget to pray for me.


[1] Cf. Letter to the Ephesians, 2-5.

[2] Cf. The Idea of a University, Rome 2005, 101.

[3] Cf. The Soul, III, 8.

[4] Pragmatic Anthropology, Rome-Bari 2009, 38.

[5] Cf. Address to participants in the Plenary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, 9 February 2017.


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