Rediscover importance of face-to-face relationships

After going so long without in-person learning and face-toface contact with others, young people now should be more discerning and judicious concerning their time online, Pope Francis told students.

Jun 05, 2021

By Carol Glatz
After going so long without in-person learning and face-toface contact with others, young people now should be more discerning and judicious concerning their time online, Pope Francis told students.

Having grown up in a digital world,  they know the many new ways that  have been opened up to them when  it comes to learning and communication, the Pope said during a private audience at the Vatican May 22  with a group of students and administrators from an Italian public high  school.

“Yet we already know very well  that there is the danger of closing oneself off and of always seeing reality through a filter, which only seemingly expands our freedom,” he said.

The Pope asked the students to make sure that the pandemic’s  forced “abstinence” from physically  being with friends and others helps  them develop an even more “critical sense in the use of these (digital) tools so that they remain just that  — instruments, subject to our intelligence and will.”

The students were from the “Ambrosoli” vocational high school in  the small northern city of Codogno,  where the first locally acquired case  of COVID-19 had been diagnosed in  Italy.

Known as “Patient 1,” a hospitalized 38-year-old man was found  positive for the coronavirus Feb 21,  2020, presaging a massive surge in  cases and deaths throughout the  area and the greater Lombardy region.

The Pope said he and the students were originally scheduled to have  their audience at the Vatican closer  to the one-year anniversary of that  first outbreak and the start of the  pandemic in Europe.

The meeting was important, he  said, because their school represented “a sign of hope” in such a difficult situation, and he congratulated them for “never losing heart” during this trial.

Many students and teachers have  sent the Pope letters about their  pandemic experiences, describing a  variety of positive experiences they  have had, he said, which shows that  when the “generative” power of  teachers and the “dreams” of students come together, “there is no  virus that can stop them.”

He urged the students to cultivate  the strength and desire they possess. He said when that is stimulated, nurtured and “accompanied  with wisdom and passion by adults,  it brings amazing fruit.”

The Pope recognised the difficulties students and teachers faced  with online learning, which hurt the  relational aspect of their schooling,  and he said he hoped they could restart fully again soon.

“But I invite you to learn something from this absence, that, in a  certain way, this bad experience  may teach something, that is, the  importance of interpersonal — not  virtual — relationships,” he said.

Pope Francis told the students  he hoped the imminent end of the  school year would go well, not just  grade-wise, but also, and most of  all, people-wise. He asked that they  see school as a place to mature and  grow in their hands, head and heart,  learning to be open, respectful and  constructive in their relationships  and to become aware and responsible citizens. ––CNS

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