In a style that seems to have almost become 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 the 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.
He proposed to give a short summary (of the prepared text) 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. 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 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, he 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, 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.