Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis told about 300,000 Italian students that he loved school as a boy, as a teacher and as a bishop because it was a place where he met different people and where he was challenged to try to understand reality.
Meeting with the students May 10 in St. Peter’s Squareand along the wide boulevard leading to it, the pope said he has never forgotten his first-grade teacher. “I love school because that woman taught me to love it.”
“Going to school means opening your mind and heart to reality in all its richness and various dimensions,” he said. “If one learns how to learn, this is the secret, learning to learn, this will stay with you forever.”
The pope, who taught high school literature and psychology as a young Jesuit in Argentina, warned teachers that their students would be able “to smell” it if a teacher lacked the enthusiasm to keep learning.
The evening celebration of “the world of Italian schools,” an event sponsored by the Italian bishops’ conference, was designed to promote collaboration between the Italian church, its schools and the government and its schools. Italian comedians, actors, singers and students entertained the crowd in between speeches from the pope, teachers and Stefania Giannini, Italy’s education minister.
Giannini began her speech voicing the crowd’s prayers for the more than 250 schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria in mid-April by the Boko Haram terrorist group. Pope Francis the same day Tweeted his concern for the girls: “Let us all join in prayer for the immediate release of the schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria.” The Tweet included the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, which is part of the international campaign to rally support for their release.
Addressing the students, teachers and Italian bishops, Pope Francis said a school is not “a parking garage,” where parents simply drop off their children. “It is a place of encounter along our journey.”
While parents are the first educators of their children and the family is the first place people learn to get along with others and value differences, he said, “at school we are socialized. We meet people who are different from us, different in age, culture, origin and ability.”
“Families and schools should never be in opposition,” he said, but they must work together for the good of the child. “This makes me think of a beautiful African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’”
The pope said he also loves schools because “they educate us about truth, goodness and beauty, which all go together. Education cannot be neutral, either it is positive or it is negative; it enriches or impoverishes; it helps the person grow or it suppresses or even corrupts them.”
In the end, he said, a mature person will graduate speaking “three languages: the language of the mind, the language of the heart and the language of the hands,” making sure their actions are well thought out and are motivated by what is true, good and beautiful.