Vatican City, 2014 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon in the Synod Hall, Pope Francis brought to a close the third world congress of “Scholas Occurrentes”, an international network of interreligious and multicultural educational institutions, whose aim is social inclusion through education, and which is heir to the “Escuela de Vecinos”, School of Neighbours and “Escuelas Hermanas”, School of Sisters, two associations formed in Buenos Aires during the Holy Father's period of office as archbishop of the city. The Pontiff answered by live connection to questions from students in Istanbul, Israel, South Africa, San Salvador and Australia and concluded with an off-the-cuff greeting to the thousands of young people who followed the event from around the world.
The first question was from an Australian student who asked how the Scholas programme will help bridge gaps between the youths of various countries.
“Walls separate and divide”, the Pope replied. “Bridges bring people closer. In response to your question, 'what can be done?', we can keep communicating, communicate experiences … and through communication no-one commands but everything works. It is the spontaneity of life, a 'yes' to life. Communication is giving, communication is generosity, communication is respect, communication means avoiding all types of discrimination”.
Francis went on to speak with a member of Scholas from Israel who asked if he would be willing to visit them. “I would like to visit”, he replied. “I was there a few months ago and was very happy to be there, very happy”:
The third question was from a young person from Istanbul who wanted to know if the Pope thought that the world in the future would be better or worse than it is now.
“I do not have a crystal ball to look into the future”, he joked. “However, I would like to say one thing: where does the future lie? The future lies with the young. But be careful: young people with two qualities: with wings and roots. Young people who have wings so they can fly, to dream, to create, and roots to receive the wisdom of their elders”.
A student from South Africa posed a question regarding the origins of the idea of a “school platform”.
“Scholas came about from the formation of a school of neighbours, in the diocese of Buenos Aires. As well as schools, a network of schools of neighbours, to build bridges between the schools of Buenos Aires. And it built many bridges, even trans-oceanic bridges. Why? Because we are convinced that the young need to communicate, to demonstrate and share their values. The young of today needs three key pillars: education, sport and culture. Therefore, Scholas combines all three … so that states can provide solid job opportunities for these young people who are accompanied in life by education, sport and culture. Sport is important as it teaches how to play as a team. Sport saves us from selfishness, it helps us not to be selfish. Therefore, it is important to work in a team, to study in a team, and to walk the path of life as a team”.
Ernesto, a student from San Salvador, worried about future employment, asked the Pope to make an appeal to all universities and private enterprises, and Francis, after emphasising the advances of his country in education, warned against “maras”, or gangs, since “just as bridges exist to unite you, there are also forms of communication that exist to destroy. Be alert when there are groups that seek destruction, that seek war, and who do not know how to work as a team. Defend yourselves together, as a team, as a group, and work hard at this. I know that you are working well, and are very well supported. And the Ministry of Education also supports you. Keep going along this path of teamwork and defend yourselves against those who wish to atomise and take away the strength of the group”.
Finally, the presenter of the programme asked the Holy Father what message he would like to transmit to viewers.
“Something that is not mine”, concluded Francis. “Jesus said it many times: do not be afraid. In my country, we have an expression that I am not sure I can translate into English: 'do not crumple'. Do not be afraid, go ahead and build bridges of peace, play as a team, and dream of a better future, because the future is in your hands. Dream of the future, flying, but do not forget the cultural, intellectual and religious heritage your elders have handed down to you. Go ahead courageously, and create the future”.
In his brief address at the end of these three Days of the World Network of Schools for Encounter, the Pope emphasised that the “culture of encounter” is the great challenge. “Nowadays there is no doubt that the world is at war. And there is no doubt, of course, that the world is in a state of discord. It is necessary to propose somehow a culture of encounter. A culture of integration, encounter, of bridges. … But remember this African saying: 'it takes a village to raise a child'. To educate a person, all of this is necessary”.
“Please, we cannot leave children alone!” he exclaimed. “Already we have incorporated the phrase 'street children' into our languages, as if a child is able to stay alone, isolated from his cultural and family environment … and it is necessary to rebuild an educational pact, to rebuild this village to educate a child. We cannot leave them alone, we cannot leave them on the street, unprotected and at the mercy of a world in which the worship of money, violence and waste prevail. Children are discarded, as are the elderly and now also a whole generation of young unemployed in developed countries, aged twenty-five and younger, and without work. This means we have to get up and make sure we do not leave the young by themselves, at least for this reason. And this is our task”.
“In this respect, it is very important to strengthen bonds: social, family and personal bonds. All of us, but especially children and the youngest among us, need the right surroundings, a truly human habitat offering the conditions for harmonious personal development and integration in the broader context of society. Commitment to creating a strong and extensive “network” of truly human ties, that supports children, calmly and confidently opening them up to reality, is therefore important. … I encourage you to work towards creating this human, increasingly human village, that offers children a present of peace and a future of hope”.