“We can see that this is a demonstration ‘for,’ not ‘against!'” Francis said to thousands of teachers, parents, educators, pupils and other workers within the context of a visit to the Vatican by representatives of Italian schools. “It is not a ‘complaint,’ it is a ‘celebration!’ A celebration for the school. We are well aware that there are problems and things that do not function well. But you are here, we are here because we love school.”
Various participants shared testimonies, along with moments of music and other entertainments, during this event held in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday, organised by the Italian episcopal conference with the project, “The Church for the School.”
Among those sharing testimony was Pope Francis: He shared that he, for various reasons, also loved school.
At 4:15 p.m. the Holy Father toured the plaza and greeted those present in St. Peter’s Square and along Via della Conciliazione. At 5 p.m. the meeting began with a greeting from Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian episcopal conference, and Professor Stefania Giannini, the Italian minister for education.
The first reason the Pope gave is that school is a “synonym” for “openness to reality.” He stated, “Going to school means opening the mind and the heart to reality, to its wealth of aspects and dimensions. This is valuable. In the first years we take a 360 degree approach to learning, and then gradually we focus in one direction, and finally we specialize.”
Yet, he noted, “If one has learned how to learn, this remains for ever, and one remains open to reality!”
Since teachers are “always the first who must remain open to reality, with the mind always open to learning,” he highlighted that if a teacher “is not open to learning,” he or she “is not a good teacher.” He added that the pupils realize this and are instead “attracted to teachers with open and ‘incomplete’ thought, who look for something more, and they transmit this attitude to their students.”
A second reason is that “the school is a place of encounter,” which is “fundamental in the age of growth, as a complement to the family.” He said “school is the first society to integrate with the family. The school and the family are not in opposition to one another. They are complementary, and therefore it is important that they collaborate between themselves with mutual respect.” He recalled the African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Finally, the Pontiff declared that he loved school “because it educates us in truth, in what is good and beautiful. Education cannot be “neutral,” but rather “positive or negative.” Either it “enriches” or “impoverishes,” “enables a person to grow” or “lessens, even corrupts him.”
Developing a sense of truth, of what is good and beautiful, is the mission of schools, said Francis, which “occurs through a rich path made up of many ingredients.”
He added, “This is why there are so many subjects – because development is the result of different elements that act together and stimulate intelligence, knowledge, the emotions, the body, and so on.”
“If something is true, it is good and beautiful; if it is beautiful, it is good and true; if it is good, it is true and it is beautiful. And together, these elements enable us to grow and help us to love life, even when we are not well, even in the midst of many problems. True education enables us to love life and opens us to the fullness of life,” the Pope said. (D.C.L.)