'Stay true to your convictions and faith'

Via livestream, Pope Francis dialogues with students in the "Building Bridges Across Asia Pacific initiative" organized by Loyola University Chicago together with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Jun 29, 2024

(photo/Jonathan D’Olivero)


By Deborah Castellano Lubov
Always hold true to your convictions.... and even if you are tempted to live a lukewarm faith because others torment you, hold true to your identity and stay strong like the Christian martyrs who were persecuted...

This message was at the heart of Pope Francis’ remarks during a dialogue with university students from Asia. They were participating in the Building Bridges Across Asia Pacific event, on June 20, organised by Loyola University Chicago and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America

Loyola University Chicago launched the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), a student-centered and university-organized series of events, having been inspired by Pope Francis' call to synodality. The first encounter took place in February 2022, entitled "Building Bridges North-South." The second, "Building Bridges Across Africa", took place in November that same year and involved students from across Sub-Saharan Africa. This event followed a similar model, but welcomed the Pope's participation.

Among those participating in this most recent synodal encounter were university students, pursuing various fields, from the Ateneo de Manila University (Manila, Philippines); 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). Students also participated from Singapore, Timor Leste, and Papua New Guinea, nations the Holy Father is set to visit during his Apostolic Journey to Asia and Oceania in September.

Pope Francis joined the encounter, warmly greeting those present in Spanish, and apologizing for running a little late due to some confusion with his agenda.

The student groups were introduced to the Pope and offered reflections, to which the Holy Father, in return, offered his advice, concerns, and suggestions.

The Holy Father spoke to the first group about feeling a sense of belonging to society, and how our 'belonging' heightens our security in ourselves and our own human dignity.

All these factors, he noted, "save us from vulnerability, because today youth are very vulnerable. We must always defend this sense of belonging in order to ward off vulnerability". 

"Look at where you are most vulnerable, and ask someone to help you," he said.

The Pope also discussed mental health, discrimination, stigmas, and identity, and called for bearing witness and carrying on.

"Focus on having your own identity," he said, as he encouraged all those present to always cooperate with one another and stay united.

The Pope decried all stigmas that belittle one's human dignity. He lamented that women at times are considered second class citizens, which, he reminded everyone, is not true.

"The greatness of women must not be forgotten. Women are better than men in terms of their insight and their ability to build communities," he said, as he commended special qualities and competencies unique to women.

The Pope called on students to show closeness and love to others, and to never exclude.

Recalling the words of a student who spoke about gender mentioning also the high HIV rate in the Philippines, the Pope said, "We must make sure that healthcare is prepared to treat and help all people, without exclusion."

The Pope also discussed effective education, which, in his opinion, requires "educating" and "coordinating" our "hearts, minds, and hands."

This is how we should educate youth, he said, noting this dynamic must never be forgotten.

The Pope also acknowledged how challenging it can be for young Christians to participate and "belong" in society.

In light of this reality, he urged them to cling to their faith, and to keep their hearts connected to prayer.

Doing so, the Pope said, will help in this regard and enable you to always, more effectively, engage with others.

The Holy Father then addressed the fact that on some occasions young people are mocked or challenged for their faith.

"Always be firmly convinced of your own convictions," he advised, while warning against becoming isolated, which he warned can lead to poor habits and problems.

Given this, the Pope underscored the importance of being educated in the faith, and to be authentic and "real" Christians.

"The thing is this: Christians have been persecuted from the beginning," he said, highlighting the reality that this phenomenon is nothing new.

"While it can be tempting to have a diluted, lukewarm Christianity," the Pope said, we cannot give in to it. Rather, he appealed, "we must be solid, and must live a sort of martyrdom, in this sense."

Finally, the Pope called for greater awareness of tragedies of the past, to learn lessons for the future and to work toward peace.

"Ideology is a disease," he said, as he urged all people to build harmony and promote a dialogue with other cultures.

"No to war," he said, calling for peacefulness. "In a desperate, hopeless world, we must appeal to our values," he explained, as he called on the students present to work on this before thanking them for his efforts.

Pope Francis concluded by thanking the students for their reflections, telling them that they helped him to understand them, especially as he prepares for his journey to their region in early September. He concluded by offering his blessing.--Vatican News

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