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Friday, February 17, 2017

Pope Francis visits a Roman University

At 9:50am this morning, the Holy Father, Pope Francis went to the Roma Tre University to meet the University's community.

Upon his arrival at the University, the Pope was welcomed by the Rector, Professor Mario Panizza; the Director General, Doctor Pasquale Basilicata; and the Pro-Rector Vicar, Professor Maria Francesca Renzi.

During the meeting which took place in the courtyard outside the University, which began with a word of welcome offered by the Rector, Pope Francis responded to questions which were asked spontaneously by students, confiding a written copy of the prepared text of his speech to those who were present.

The visit concluded with the exchange of gifts and a brief greeting which the Holy Father exchanged with teachers, students and personnel at the University.

Speech of His Holiness, Pope Francis
prepared for the meeting at the
Roma Tre University

Mister Rector,
Illustrious instructors,
dear students and members of the faculty,

I thank you for having invited me to visit this University, the youngest one in Rome, and I offer to all of you my cordial greetings.  I thank the Rector, Professor Mario Panizza, for his words of welcome, and I wish every good for the work and the mission of this institution.  The academic instruction and formation of new generations is of primary importance for the life and the development of a society.  I have heard your questions, for which I am grateful; I have read them in advance and I will try to provide some answers in light of my experience.

Our society is enriched with tangible riches and actions of solidarity and love shown toward others: many people and many young people, surely also among you, are committed to volunteering and to activities of service toward those who are most in need.  And this is one of the greatest values for which we can be thankful and of which we can be proud.  However, if we look around us, we see that there are many signs in our world, too many signs of enmity and violence.  As Julia has rightly observed, there are many signs of violent reactions.  I want to thank you Julia, because the Message for this year's World Day of Peace focuses on non-violence as a lifestyle and a conscious choice for political action.  In fact, we are in the midst of living a world war in pieces: there are conflicts in many parts of the planet, that are threatening the future of entire generations.  Why is it that the international community and all its various organizations still cannot prevent or stop this?  Do economic and strategic interests bear more weight than common interests in peace?  Surely, these are questions that can find some room in the hallways and classrooms of our universities, that resonate first and foremost in our consciences.  Therefore: a university is a privileged place in which consciences are formed, through the close comparison of requirements for good, of that which is true and that which is beautiful, and of reality - complete with all its contradictions.  Do you want a concrete example?  The arms industry.  For decades, there has been talk of disarmament, some very important processes have even been implemented in this regard, but unfortunately, today, despite all the talk and the commitments, many countries are increasing the amount of money they spend on armaments.  And this - in a world that is fighting against hunger and disease - is a scandalous contradiction.

Faced with this dramatic reality, you are right to ask yourselves: what should our response be?  Certainly it should not be an attitude of discouragement and mistrust.  You young people, in particular, cannot allow yourselves to be hopeless, hope is part of you.  When there is a lack of hope, life too is lacking; and so some people go in search of an existence that is offered by merchants who make empty promises.  They sell goods that provide temporary and evident happiness, but in reality these goods lead to streets that have no way out, no future, true existential labyrinths.  Bombs destroy the body, dependencies destroy the mind and soul in addition to the body.  And here, I give you another concrete example of current contradictions: the gambling industry.  Universities can provide a valid contribution to studies of ways to prevent and to combat gambling addictions, which cause serious harm to people and to families, including very high social costs.

One response that I would like to propose - and here I present the question that was asked by Niccolò - is that of engaging, even in the name of the university, in efforts that involve sharing in and serving the poor, in order to increase within our city of Rome, a sense of belonging to a common homeland.  Many social emergencies and many situations of hardship and poverty challenge us: we can think about people who are living in our streets, migrants, those who need not only food and clothing, but who also need to be integrated into society, like for example those who are being released from prisons.  Paying attention to these forms of social poverty, we become protagonists of constructive acts that oppose actions of destruction and violent conflict, opposed to a culture of hedonism and waste, based on idolatry of money, pleasure, appearance ... Instead, working with various efforts, even small ones, that promote encounter and solidarity, we will rediscover a sense of trust in life.

In every situation, especially in a university setting, it is important to be able to read and face this change of epoch with reflection and discernment: that is to say, without ideological prejudice, without fear or weakness.  Every change, even the current one, is a passage that brings difficulties, trials and suffering, but it also brings new horizons of goodness.  Great changes require us to rethink our economic, cultural and social models in order to re-discover the central value of the human person.  In the third question that was asked, Riccardo made reference to information that in a globalized world is conveyed especially by means of a social network.  In such a complex field, I think that it is necessary that we employ healthy discernment, based on ethical and spiritual criteria.  So it is that we ask ourselves what is good, referring to the values that are proper to a vision of mankind and of the world, a vision of the person in all his dimensions, above all in that which is transcendental.

And, speaking of transcendence, I want to speak with you person to person, and to give testimony about who I am.  I profess to be a Christian and the transcendence to which I open myself and to which I look has a name: Jesus.  I am convinced that his gospel is a source of strength for true personal and social renewal.  Speaking in this way, I do not want to propose philosophical or ideological illusions or theories, neither do I seek to proselytize.  I speak of a person who I encountered when I was about your age, who opened horizons for me and changed my life.  This person can fill our hearts with joy and our lives with significance.  He is my travelling companion; He does not deceive us and never betrays us.  He is always with us.  He treats us with respect and discretion along the pathways of our lives, supports us above all in the hour of our need and at times when we are downtrodden, in moments when we are weak and aware of our sinfulness, always seeking to help us continue along the journey.  This is the personal testimony of my life.

Do not be afraid to open yourselves to the horizons of the spirit, and to receive the gift of faith - because faith is a gift - do not be afraid to open yourselves to the possibility of encountering Christ and deepening the relationship you have with him.  Faith never limits the scope of our reasoning, but opens us up to an integral vision of man and of reality, preserving us from the tendency to reduce our concept of the person to the level of material humanity.  With Jesus, difficulties don't disappear, but we can face them in a different way, without fear, without lying to ourselves or to others; we can face them with the light and the strength that come from him.  And as Riccardo said, we can become artisans of intellectual charity, beginning with this very university, making this a place of training in the art of wisdom in the fullest sense of the term - integrated education of the person.  From this perspective, university offers a particular and indispensable contribution to the renewal of society.

And university can also be a place where we elaborate on the culture of encounter and where we welcome persons of various cultures and religions.  Nour, who is from Syria, made reference to Western fear of being confronted by strangers since they could threaten Europe's Christian culture.  Apart from the fact that the first threat to Europe's Christian culture comes precisely from within Europe, remaining closed in upon oneself or on one's own culture is never a good way to restore hope and to bring about social and cultural renewal.  A culture is strengthened the more it opens itself to the possibility of being compared with other cultures, provided that it has a clear and mature understanding of its own principles and values.  I encourage you, teachers and students, to experience university as an atmosphere of authentic dialogue, which does not limit the possibilities for diversity, even though the experience may at times be exasperating, but rather that it opens you to constructive confrontation.  We are called to understand and to appreciate the values of others, overcoming the temptations to indifference and fear.  Never be afraid of encounter, dialogue or confrontation.

While you continue your journey of teaching and of study at the university level, try to ask yourselves: is my mindset becoming more and more individualistic or more supportive?  If it is increasingly supportive, this is a good sign, because you can go against the current but you should only go in a direction that promises a future and points to a future.  Solidarity, that is not proclaimed in words but rather lived concretely, creates peace and hope for every country and for the entire world.  And you, as you work and study in university, have a responsibility to leave behind you a good impression.

With all my heart, I thank you for this meeting and for your attention.  May hope be the light that always illuminates your study and your commitment.  Upon each of you and on all your families, I invoke the Lord's blessing.

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