Asia-Pacific university students to meet with Pope Francis to 'build bridges' of dialogue

Students from regional Catholic universities will meet virtually with the pontiff in an event promoted by The Building Bridges Initiative. The focus will be on topics concerning spirituality and social issues.

Jun 20, 2024

By Santosh Digal
University students from the Asia-Pacific region will meet virtually thursday, June 20 with Pope Francis, for an exchange centred on initiatives and works aimed at "building bridges" between different peoples and cultures.

The event will bring together young people from the Manila University representing the Philippines, plus the Australian Catholic University (Brisbane, Australia), Fu Jen Catholic University (Taipei, Taiwan), Sogang University (Seoul, South Korea), Sophia University (Tokyo, Japan), Universitas Sanata Dharma (Yogyakarta, Indonesia). Like the Philippine establishment, many of these institutes of higher learning are run by the Jesuit order.

The Building Bridges Initiative is behind today’s meeting, which can be followed online here.

About 9 per cent of the world's Christians live in the geographically wide and religiously diverse Asia-Pacific, a region where Christians range from a small minority (1 per cent in Thailand and Japan) to a majority in a few countries like the Philippines and Papua New Guinea, 85 per cent and 97 per cent respectively.

The uneven distribution of the Christian population and the religion professed in such a varied regional framework contribute to making the faith experiences of young people incredibly diverse.

Professors are assisting students in 12 working groups, working with university partners in the Asia-Pacific region, from different countries: Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines.

Students are enrolled in a variety of programmes such as computer science, chemistry, philosophy, theology, psychology, economics, physics, and law.

Five students from five different Jesuit-run universities – in Manila, Naga, Davao, Zamboanga, and Cagayan de Oro - discussed topics and issues concerning spirituality and social issues ahead of tomorrow’s virtual tête-à-tête with the pope.

The meeting is part of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) undertaken by the Jesuit-run Loyola University Chicago (LUC) in cooperation with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and the Vatican Dicastery for Culture and Education, which drew inspiration from Pope Francis’s call for “synodality”.

In a message addressed to the students on the eve of the meeting, Card José Tolentino de Mendonça, Prefect of the Dicastery for Culture and Education, said that their presence and role is to build bridges, a reference to the very name of the initiative.

In view of tomorrow's event and looking at the philosophy that inspires it, young people must increasingly be an element of dialogue, of mutual knowledge, bringing together realities that are apparently distant and different from each other.

Either “face-to-face or virtual meetings are precious moments to build bridge – when they do not yet exist – or to reinforce bridges – when, existing, the need to strengthen them is felt,” the prelate said. 

This meeting with the Pope is to “become a bridge. I consider this to be the most important thing and the most difficult,” Card de Mendonça explained. 

“Being available to others requires overcoming self-referentiality, measuring excessive communication through social networks, welcoming the brother at our side, and opening the horizon,” he added.

"I finally invite you, young people, to experience the joy of building bridges here and now, especially in places where Christ and his message are still virtually unknown," he said. --Asia News

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