Vatican City, 7 June – In the Paul VI Audience Hall, Pope Francis received students from Jesuit-run schools in Italy and Albania accompanied by their teachers and family members. It was a moment of affection and spontaneity prompting the Holy Father to say: “I've prepared a text but it's five pages and that's a little long. 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.”
In his address, which we offer ample excerpts from below, the Pope had written:
“School is one of the educational environments where one grows by learning how to live, how to become grown-up, mature men and women. … Following what St. Ignatius teaches us, the main element in school is learning to be magnanimous … This means having a big heart, having a greatness of soul. It means having grand ideals, the desire to achieve great things in response to what God asks of us and, precisely because of this, doing everyday things, all our daily actions, commitments, and meetings with people well. [It means] doing the little everyday things with a big heart that is open to God and to others.
“School broadens not only your intellectual dimension, but also the human one. I think that Jesuit schools in particular are careful to develop the human virtues: loyalty, respect, and commitment. I would like to focus on two fundamental values: freedom and service. Before all else be free persons! … Freedom means knowing how to reflect on what we do, knowing how to evaluate … which are the behaviours that make us grow. It means always choosing the good. … Being free to always choose the good is challenging, but it will make you persons with a backbone, who know how to face life, courageous and patient persons.
“The second word is service. In your schools you participate in various activities that prepare you not to be wrapped up in yourselves or in your own little world, but to open yourselves to others, especially to the poorest and most in need, to work to improve the world we live in.” Spiritual formation is the requirement for all this, and in the text he urges the students to “always love Jesus Christ more and more! Our lives are a response to his call and you will be happy and will build your lives well if you know how to answer that call. Feel the Lord's presence in your lives. … In prayer, in dialogue with him, in reading the Bible you will discover that He is truly close to you. And you should also learn to read God's signs in your lives. He is always speaking to us, even through the events of our times and our everyday existence. It's up to us to listen to him.”
In his address, he also directs his thoughts to all the educators: Jesuits, teachers, workers in the schools, and parents. “Don't be discouraged by the difficulties that the educational challenge presents! Educating isn't a profession but an attitude, a way of being. In order to educate you must go out of yourselves and be amidst the young, accompanying them in the stages of their growth, standing beside them.”
In the text Francis asks them to give their students hope and optimism by teaching them “to see the beauty and goodness of creation and of humanity, which always retains the Creator's imprint. But above all, witness with your lives what you are communicating.” He also reminds them that educators “impart knowledge and values with their words but it will be more influential on the kids if your words are accompanied by your witness, by being consistent in your lives. It isn't possible to educate without being consistent! ... School can and should function as a catalyst, being a place of encounter and convergence of the entire educational community with the single objective of shaping and helping [the students] to grow as mature, simple, honest, and competent persons who know how to love faithfully, who know how to live their lives as a response to God's call and their future professions as a service to society.”
In a section that he also spoke at the audience—humorously noting that he had already reached the last page—he encourages the educators “to seek new forms of non-conventional education according to 'the needs of the places, times, and persons'.” The text closes with the reminder that “the Lord is always nearby, lifting you up after you fall and pushing you to grow and to make ever-better choices 'with great courage and generosity', with magnanimity. Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam.” [For the greater glory of God, the Jesuit motto].
The floor was then given to several students and professors who asked the Pope unscripted questions. To the first student, who asked about the doubts regarding belief that he sometimes has and what he could do to help him grow in faith, Francis answered: “Journeying is an art 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. But also, it's bad walking alone: it's bad and boring. Walking in community, with friends, with those who love us, that helps us. It helps us to arrive precisely at that goal, that 'there where' we're supposed to arrive.”
An elementary school girl asked if the Pope continued to see his friends from grade school. “But I've only been Pope for two and a half months,” he answered. But he understood her concern and continued “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.”
The next question, also from a grade school girl, was if he wanted to be Pope. He responded by asking her: “Do you know what it means if someone doesn't love themselves very much?” He continued: “Someone who wants, who has the desire to be Pope doesn't love themself. ... But I didn't want to be Pope.”
Another girl asked why he had forsaken the wealth of the papacy, living at the Domus Sanctae Marthae instead of the Apostolic Palace apartments, and other similar choices. He answered: “It's not just about wealth. 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?” Returning to the original question, he finished: “It's not a question of my personal virtue. It's just that I can't live alone.” All the rest, not having so many things, “is about becoming a little poorer”.The Pope also answered questions related to his choosing to become a Jesuit, but the last of the eight questions was from a young man who asked how young people should deal with the material and spiritual poverty that exists in the world. The Holy Father responded: “First of all I want to tell you something, 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 centres 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, 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.”