This morning 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.”
As the Holy Father 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.”