(Vatican Radio) In a style that seems to have become almost signature of the current
pontificate, Pope Francis stepped out of yet another scripted session to engage in
a spontaneous question-and-answer period with hundreds of children and teens.
The papal audience in the Paul VI Hall with students, teachers and staff of Jesuit grade schools and high schools on Friday became a friendly dialogue between the 76-year-old pontiff and the young people.
The students, who had come from six Italian cities and one school in Albania, were passing time singing a Christian rap song, when the Pope entered the hall unannounced. At his sighting, they immediately erupted into cheers and applause.
In response, it seems, Pope Francis decided to put his five-page written message aside.
“I prepared a text, but it’s five pages! A little boring,” he said to the young people, who responded with laughter and applause.
He proposed to give a short summary and then take questions from the students instead.
With sensitivity and humour, the Pope answered 10 frank questions, that ranged from his priestly vocation to his decision to forego the usual papal apartment in the apostolic palace.
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 a little 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 in the apostolic palace, 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 isolated, 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, the Pope likened the faith to 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. Get up quickly, continue on, and go,” he said to applause. “But it is also terrible to walk alone, terrible and boring. Walking in community with friends, with those who love us, this helps us … get to the end.”
In response to a question by a teacher about the role of Catholics in politics, the Pope said participation in politics is a Christian obligation.
“We, Christians, cannot ‘play Pilate’ and wash our hands. We cannot,” he said. “We must participate in politics because politics is one of the highest forms of charity because it seeks the common good. And Christian lay people must work in politics.”
“It is not easy; politics has become too tainted. But I ask myself: Why has it become tainted? Because Christians have not participated in politics with an evangelical spirit? … To work for the common good is a Christian duty, and many times the way in which to work towards it is through politics.”
In response to a student’s question about what can be done to help young people in Italy face the current crisis, the Pope offered a reflection on the nature of the crisis. He pointed out that the crisis is worldwide and not just centered in Italy.
“The crisis is not a terrible thing,” he said. “It is true that the crisis makes us suffer, but we must – and you, young people, mainly – we must know how to read the crisis. What does this crisis mean? What must I do to help to resolve the crisis?”
“The crisis that we are living in this moment is a human crisis… Because this problem of employment, the economy, are consequences of the great human problem. That which is in crisis is the value of the human person and we must defend the human person,” he said.
“Today, the person doesn’t matter; money matters. … The person is in crisis because the person today – listen well, this is true – is a slave! We must free ourselves from these economic and social structures that enslave us. And this is your task,” he told the young people.
He later exhorted the students: “Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! … And who robs you of hope? The spirit of the world, riches, the spirit of vanity, arrogance, pride. All of these things rob you of hope. Where do I find hope? In the poor Jesus, Jesus who became poor for us.”
“Poverty calls us to sow hope, so that I, too, have more hope. This seems a bit difficult to understand… We cannot speak of poverty, of abstract poverty – that doesn’t exist! Poverty is the flesh of the poor Jesus, in that child who is hungry, in the sick, in the social structures that are unjust,” he said.
Three students from different grades also read letters to the Pope. They complimented 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 Guglielmo 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.”
The grade schooler later drew laughter and applause from the crowd, when he joked: “We know the work of a Pope is difficult, but you’re getting on okay.”
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. It is important to find this magnanimity with Jesus, in the contemplation of Jesus. 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 Jesuit educators to find new non-conventional forms of education, according to the needs of the context.
The Pope concluded the meeting with a blessing.
LIsten to the report by Laura Ieraci:
This report was updated 8 June, 2013.