Pope Francis met with over 9000 students from Jesuit schools in Italy and Albania at the Paul VI Audience Hall this morning. The atmosphere was lively as the Pope began the audience with a moment of spontaneity. Instead of reading from a prepared text, the Holy Father felt it was better to have a dialogue with the students.
“I’ve prepared a text but it’s five pages and that’s a little long,” the Pope said. “Let’s do this: I’ll give it to the Provincial Father and Fr. Federico Lombardi [director of the Holy See Press Office] so that you all can have it written and then some of you will ask me questions and I’ll answer them. That way we can talk.”
Several students were given the opportunity to ask unscripted questions directly to the Holy Father. One student approached and asked a question regarding personal doubts that he had and what he could to help him grow in faith.
“Journeying is an art,” the Pope replied, “because if we’re always in a hurry, we get tired and don’t arrive at our journey’s goal. If we stop, if we don’t go forward and we also miss the goal. Journeying is precisely the art of looking toward the horizon, thinking where I want to go but also enduring the fatigue of the journey, which is sometimes difficult.”
“There are dark days, even days when we fail, even days when we fall. [Sometimes] one falls but always think of this: don’t be afraid of failures. Don’t be afraid of falling. What matters in the art of journeying isn’t not falling but not staying down. Get up right away and continue going forward. This is what’s beautiful: this is working every day, this is journeying as humans.”
The Pope went on to say that to arrive at one’s goals in the journey of life, it is “bad” to walk alone. The Holy Father also said that one should walk in community, with friends, with loved one’s to help “us to arrive precisely at that goal.”
A girl from a Jesuit run elementary school asked Pope Francis if he still has contact with his friends from grade school. The Pope responded humorously, “But I’ve only been Pope for two and a half months.”
“My friends are 14 hours away from here by plane, right? They’re far from here, but I want to tell you something, three of them came to find me and greet me and I see them and they write to me and I love them very much. You can’t live without friends, that’s important.”
When asked by another school girl if he ever desired to be Pope, the Holy Father asked: “Do you know what it means if someone doesn’t love themselves very much?”
“Someone who wants, who has the desire to be Pope doesn’t love themself,” the Pope replied. “But I didn’t want to be Pope.”
“Becoming a Little Poorer, Like Jesus”
The students’ questions reflected much of the curiosity that many have of the Pope’s style since his election earlier this year. Even more surprising, was the Holy Father’s openness in answering their questions without reservations.
One girl asked a particular question on everyone’s mind: “Why did you forsake the wealth of the papacy and live at the Domus Sanctae Marthae rather than the Apostolic Palace apartments?”
“It’s not just about wealth,” the Holy Father replied. “For me it’s a question of personality. I need to live among people and if I lived alone, perhaps rather isolated, it wouldn’t be good for me. A professor asked me this question: ‘Why don’t you go live there?’ and I answered, ‘Listen, professor, it’s for psychiatric reasons.’ Because, that’s my personality. That apartment [in the Apostolic Palace] isn’t so luxurious either, don’t worry. But I can’t live alone, do you understand?”
“And well, I believe that, yes, the times talk to us of so much poverty in the world and this is a scandal. Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry. We all have to think if we can become a little poorer, all of us have to do this. How can I become a little poorer in order to be more like Jesus, who was the poor Teacher?”
“It’s not a question of my personal virtue,” the Pope concluded his response. “It’s just that I can’t live alone. All the rest, not having so many things, is about becoming a little poorer”.
One of the final questions answered by Pope Francis was from a young man who asked how can today’s youth deal with “the material and spiritual poverty that exists in the world.”
“First of all I want to tell you something,” the Pope said, “Tell all you young persons: don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope. Please, don’t let it be stolen from you. The worldly spirit, wealth, the spirit of vanity, arrogance, and pride […] all these things steal hope.”
“Where do I find hope? In the poor Jesus, Jesus who made himself poor for us. And you spoke of poverty. Poverty calls us to sow hope. This seems a bit difficult to understand. I remember Fr. Arrupe [Father General of the Jesuits from 1965-1983] wrote a letter to the Society’s centers for social research. At the end he said to us: ‘Look, you can’t speak of poverty without having experience with the poor.’ You can’t speak of poverty in the abstract: that doesn’t exist.”
Poverty is the flesh of the poor Jesus,” the Holy Father concluded, “in that child who is hungry, in the one who is sick, in those unjust social structures. Go forward, look there upon the flesh of Jesus. But don’t let well-being rob you of hope, that spirit of well-being that, in the end, leads you to becoming a nothing in life. Young persons should bet on their high ideals, that’s my advice. But where do I find hope? In the flesh of Jesus who suffers and in true poverty. There is a connection between the two.”