On Friday Pope Francis surprised a huge audience of young students from Jesuit schools in Italy and Albania by setting aside a prepared five-page script and engaging in a question and answer session with his audience in the Paul VI hall. The assembly consisted of over 9000 students, teachers and staff of Jesuit grade schools and high schools and turned into a engaging and friendly dialogue between the 76-year-old pontiff and the young people. The special event in the Vatican's Paul VI hall June 7 was an occasion for young people, parents and educators to highlight the Jesuit charism, particularly in the field of education, and to celebrate the election of the first Jesuit pope in the church's history.
The pope is not stranger to school groups like this! When he was Jesuit Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he spent a number of years teaching literature, psychology and other subjects at Jesuit-run schools in Argentina.
The students at today's audience came from six Italian cities and one school in Albania and were singing a Christian rap song when the Pope Francis entered the hall unannounced. At his sighting, they immediately burst into cheers and applause. The Pope went to his seat on stage and told the audience that it would be "slightly boring" to read aloud his prepared five-page text and opted instead to just quickly hit the high points and spend the rest of the time answering questions from the assembly.
"Would you like that?" he asked as some 9,000 students, alumni and teachers from Jesuit-run schools and associations in Italy and Albania yelled They thundered back "Yes" with cheers and applause.
The event's presenters seemed hesitant about the pope's request, saying no questions had been prepared in advanced and warning him that the students from elementary, middle and high school would just be "winging it." For the next 30 minutes, Pope Francis answered 10 questions, including how to deal with doubt, how to live with hope in a troubled world and whether Christians should be politically active.
When asked if it was a difficult to leave his family and friends and become a priest, the pope said it was. "It is not easy but there are beautiful moments and Jesus helps you and gives you some joy."
When asked why he wanted to join the Jesuits, he said he wanted to be a missionary and he was attracted by the religious order's missionary zeal and activity.
When asked why he decided to renounce the usual papal apartment, he said it was a question of personality, not of luxury.
"I have a need to live among people," he said. "If I were to live alone, perhaps a little isolate, it would not be good for me. ? It is my personality. ? It is not an issue of personal virtue, it is only that I cannot live alone."
He added that the poverty in the world today is a scandal. "All of us today must think about how we can become a little poorer," he said, so as to resemble Jesus.
The Pope addressed more serious concerns as well.
When a student doubting his faith asked for words of encouragement, he likened the faith a long walk. "To walk is an art," he said, "To walk is the art of looking at the horizon, thinking about where I want to go but also enduring the fatigue. And many times, the walk is difficult, it is not easy.? There is darkness?, even days of failure; one falls?.
"But always think this: do not be afraid of failure. Do not be afraid of falling. In the art of walking, what is important is not avoiding the fall but not remaining fallen," he said. "Get up quickly, continue on, and go. ? But it is also terrible to walk alone, terrible and boring. Walking in community with friends, with those who love us, this helps us and helps us get to the end."
Three students from different grades also read letters to the Pope. They complemented him on his pontificate to date and expressed appreciation for his simplicity and his ability to reach out to young people with his poignant messages.
"You're like a child," said young Gugliemo in his letter. "You smile a lot, you are very good and kind."
"If you have difficult moments, remember that god gave you this responsibility and he believes in you," he encouraged.
"We know the work of a pope is difficult, but you're getting on okay," the grade schooler joked.
Earlier, in the summary of his text, the Pope told the students that the purpose of education is to learn magnanimity.
"We need to be magnanimous, with big hearts and without fear," he said. "Always bet on great ideals. But also magnanimity in small things and daily things.... Magnanimity means walking with Jesus, attentive to that which Jesus tells us."
In his message to educators, he said education requires an equilibrium between security and risk. He also urged educators to find new non-conventional forms of education, according to the needs of the context.
The Pope concluded the meeting with a blessing.
A similar report can be found on the Vatican Radio website: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/06/07/pope_launches_into_spontaneous_qa_with_students/en1-699446
Below, is Vatican Radio's translation of the Pope's official text for the meeting which he chose not to read, but instead highlight several key points.
Dear children, dear young people!
I am happy to receive you with your families, the educators and friends of the big family of the Jesuit schools of Italy and Albania. To all of you, my affectionate greeting: welcome! With all of you, I feel truly that I am "with family." And it brings special joy that our meeting coincides with the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I would like you tell you first of all one thing in reference to St. Ignatius of Loyola, our founder. In the autumn of 1537, going to Rome with a group of his first companions, he asked himself: if they ask us who we are, what will we respond? Spontaneously, the response came: "We'll say that we are the 'Society of Jesus'!" (Fontes Narrativi Societatis Iesu, vol. 1, pp. 320-322). A challenging name, which indicated a relationship of very close friendship, of total affection for Jesus, whose footsteps they wanted to follow. Why did I recount this fact to you? Because St. Ignatius and his companions had understood that Jesus taught them how to live well, how to create a life that would have profound meaning, joy and hope; they understood that Jesus is a great master of life and a model for life, and that he not only taught them, but was also inviting them to follow him on this path.
Dear children, if I were to ask you the question now: why do you go to school, what would you answer me? Probably there would be many responses according to each of your feelings. But I think it could all be summarized saying that school is one of the educational environments in which we grow to learn to live, to become adult and mature men and women, capable of walking, of going along the road of life. How does school help you to grow? It helps you not only in the development of your intelligence, but with an integral formation of all of the components of your personality.
Following that which St. Ignatius teaches us, the principle element of school is to learn to be magnanimous. Magnanimity: this virtue of the great and of the small (Non coerceri maximo contineri minimo, divinum est), that makes us always look to the horizon. What does it mean to be magnanimous? It means to have a big heart, to have a great spirit; it means to have great ideals, the desire to do great things to respond to that which God asks of us, and exactly this doing of daily things well, all of the daily acts, obligations, encounters with people; doing everyday small things with a big heart open to God and to others. It is important, therefore, to tend to human formation aimed at magnanimity. School not only expands your intellectual dimension, but also the human (dimension). And I think in a particular way, Jesuit schools are attentive to developing human virtues: loyalty, respect, faithfulness, commitment. I would like to pause on two fundamental values: freedom and service.
Firstly, be people who are free! What do I mean? Perhaps we think freedom is doing everything we want; or venturing into high-risk activities to experience a thrill or to overcome boredom. This is not freedom. Freedom means knowing how to reflect on that which we do, to know how to evaluate that which is good and that which is bad, those behaviours that make us grow, it means always choosing good. We have freedom for the good. And, in this, do not be afraid to go against the current, even if it is not easy! To be free to always choose the good is challenging, but it will make you people who have backbone, who know how to face life, (and) people with courage and patience (parresia e ypomoné). The second word is service. In your schools, you participate in various activities that habituate you to not be closed in on yourselves and in your little world, but to open yourselves to others, especially the poorest and neediest, to work to better the world in which we live. Be men and women with others and for others, true champions in the service of others.
To be magnanimous with interior freedom and in a spirit of service is necessary for spiritual formation. Dear children, dear young people, always love Jesus Christ more! Our lives are a response to his call and you will be happy and you will build your lives well if you will know how to respond to this call. Feel the presence of the Lord in your lives. He is close to each of you as your companion, as a friend, who knows how to help you and to understand you, who encourages you in difficult moments and never abandons you. In prayer, in dialogue with him, in the reading of the Bible, you will discover that he is truly close to you. And learn, as well, to read the signs of God in your lives. He always speaks to us, even through the facts of our age and of our daily existence; it is up to us to listen to him.
I do not want to be too long, but I would like to address a specific word also to the educators: the Jesuits, teachers, school staff and parents. Do not be discouraged before the difficulties that the educational challenge presents! Educating is not a job but an attitude, a way of being; to educate we need to step out of ourselves and stay among young people, to accompany them in the stages of their growth, placing ourselves at their side. Give them hope, optimism for their journey in the world. Teach them to see the beauty and the goodness of creation and of humanity, which always retain the imprint of the Creator. But most of all, be witnesses with your lives of that which you communicate. An educator - a Jesuit, teacher, school staff, parent - transmits knowledge and values with his words, but he will be incisive on the children if he accompanies his words with his witness, with the coherence of his life. Without coherence, it is not possible to educate! You are all educators, there are no proxies in this field. Therefore, collaboration in a spirit of unity and community among the different educational components is essential and must be encouraged and nourished. The school can and must be a catalyst, the place of encounter and convergence for the entire educating community, with the sole objective of forming (youth), helping (them) to grow as mature persons, simple, competent and honest, and who know how to love with fidelity, who know how to live life as a response to the vocation of God and their future profession as a service to society. To Jesuits, then, I would like to say that it is important to nourish their commitment in the field of education. Schools are a precious instrument that make a contribution to the journey of the Church and of all of society. The educational field, then, is not limited to conventional schools. Encourage each other to seek new non-conventional forms of education, according to "the need of the places, times and people."
Finally, a greeting to all of the alumni present, to the representatives of the Italian schools in the Fe y Alegria network, which I know well for the great work it does in South America, especially among the poorest classes. And a special greeting to the delegation of the Albanian College of Scutari which, after the long years of repression of religious institutions, in 1994 took up its activities once again, welcoming and educating Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim children and also some students born in agnostic families. In this way, school becomes a place of dialogue and serene encounter that promotes attitudes of respect, listening, friendship and a spirit of collaboration.
Dear friends, I thank you all for this meeting. I entrust you to the maternal intercession of Mary and I accompany you with my blessing: the Lord be always near you, pick you up from your falls and urge you to grow and to make always greater choices "with great courage and generosity," with magnanimity. Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam.
Text found on Vatican Radio website: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/06/07/pope_tells_students:_learn_to_be_magnanimous/en1-699327
(Photo courtesy CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)