You gotta love a Pope who sets aside his speech and lets students just ask him unscripted questions. Wow! I promise to lighten up on the pope-stuff. I retain my hermeneutic of suspicion. But it’s just such a breath of fresh air to have a real pastor of a global church serving as Bishop of Rome.
Friday morning the Pope met with students from Jesuit-run schools in Italy and Albania. He said, “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.”
One student asked about the doubts regarding belief in God that he sometimes has and what he could do to 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 him if he still got to see his own friends from grade school.
“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:
“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 guest house rather than in the papal 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 final question was from a young man who asked how young people should deal with the material and spiritual poverty that exists in the world. The Pope 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.”