To participants in the conference on the Global Compact on Education

Safeguarding our roots to build the future

 Safeguarding our roots to build the future  ING-023
10 June 2022

Educators are called “to preserve the past — carrying our father on our shoulders — and to guide the steps of the young towards the future”, Pope Francis said to participants in the International Conference, “Lines of Development of the Global Compact on Education”, whom he received in audience on Wednesday morning, 1 June. The following is a translation of the Holy Father's words which he delivered in Italian in the Paul vi Hall.

I offer a cordial welcome to the distinguished Rectors, Professors and all those taking part in the International Conference, “Lines of Development of the Global Compact on Education”. I thank Cardinal Versaldi for his kind words of introduction. This is a “grand finale”, since today the Dicasteries will be combined. Thank you, thank you for this “grand finale”.

I am pleased that the proposal of a Global Compact on Education, launched in 2019, has garnered interest at different levels, and that universities are also collaborating. They do so through in-depth studies on a variety of topics, such as the dignity of the person and human rights, fraternity and cooperation, technology and integral ecology, peace and citizenship, cultures and religions. Your Conference is an opportunity to evaluate the work accomplished to this point and to plan for the development of the Compact on Education in the years to come. It must progress, move forward and not remain “closed”.

Recently I met with Rectors of universities in the Lazio region of Italy and observed how, in the present time, we need to learn alongside young students in our universities how to navigate the crisis and work together in overcoming it.[1] I consider this important. To learn and to help others to learn how to navigate crises, because crises are an opportunity for growth. Crises must be managed and we have to ensure that they do not turn into conflict. Crises pull you up; they make you grow. Conflict “closes” you; it is an alternative, an alternative without solution. To educate for crisis: this is very important. In this way, the crisis can become a “kairos”, a propitious moment that can stimulate us to set out on new paths.

An eloquent example of how to confront the crisis can be found in the epic figure of Aeneas, who amid the flames of his burning city, carries his elderly father Anchises on his shoulders and takes his young son Ascanius by the hand, leading them both to safety. This is nice: “…et sublato patre montem petivi (cf. Aeneid, II, 804). This is how to overcome a crisis. Aeneas does not save himself alone but with his father, who represents his past, and his son, who represents the future. And so he moves forward.

This image can be significant to the mission of educators, who are called to preserve the past — carrying our father on our shoulders — and to guide the steps of the young towards the future. It can also help us to reflect on some fundamental principles of the Global Compact on Education.

First, the centrality of the person. Leaving Troy, Aeneas does not bring with him property, things — aside from his household gods, the Penates — but only his father and his son. Roots and the future, promises. This reminds us that every educational process must be centred on persons and concentrate on what is essential; everything else is secondary. But never without roots and hope for the future.

Another essential element is the need to invest all our energy, with creativity and responsibility. The elderly Anchises represents tradition, which must be respected and preserved. I think of what Gustav Mahler said about tradition: “Tradition is the guarantee of the future”, not a museum piece. Ascanius represents the future, which needs to be ensured. Aeneas is the one who acts as a “bridge”, safeguarding the transition and the relationship between the generations. Indeed, education is always rooted in the past, but it does not stop there: it is directed towards “forward-looking initiatives”,[2] where the old and the new converge to create a new humanism.

Opposed to this there is the trend — in every age, but in this age in the Church’s life I consider it dangerous — that, instead of drawing from the roots in order to move forward — meaning fine traditions — to “step back”, not going up or down, but backwards. This “back-stepping” makes us a sect; it makes you “closed” and cuts off your horizons. Those people call themselves guardians of traditions, but of dead traditions. The true Catholic Christian and human tradition is what that fifth-century theologian [Saint Vincent of Lerins] described as a constant growth: throughout history tradition grows, progresses: ut annis consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate. That is authentic tradition, which progresses with our children.

Moreover, we must not overlook another fundamental element which is our need to educate for service. Anchises and Ascanius not only represent tradition and the future but also symbolize the fragile bonds uniting society, bonds that need to be protected and defended against the temptation to discard them or set them aside. The “throwaway culture” would have us believe that, as soon as something no longer works properly, it should be thrown out and exchanged. This is what we do with consumable goods and unfortunately, it has also become a mindset that affects what we do with people. For example, if a marriage no longer “works”, we change it; if a friendship is on the rocks, we cut bait; if an older person is no longer self-sufficient, we cast him or her aside… Fragility, however, is synonymous with great value: the elderly and the young are like fragile vases, to be carefully protected. Both are fragile.

Dear friends, in our time, when technology and consumerism are turning us into users and consumers, the crisis can become a favourable opportunity to evangelize anew the meaning of our humanity, our life and this world in which we live; an opportunity to reassert the centrality of the human person as a creature who, in Christ, is the image and likeness of the Creator. This is the great truth entrusted to us, a truth that we must bear witness to and hand down, also in our educational institutions. “We cannot fail to speak to young people about the truths that give meaning to life”.[3]  This is part of the truth. Not to speak the truth about God out of respect for those who do not believe would, in the field of education, be like burning books out of respect for those who are not intellectuals, destroying works of art out of respect for those who do not see, or [silencing] music out of respect for those who do not hear.

I thank you for all that you do in the service of education, which is also the specific contribution that you are offering to the Church’s synodal process. Keep moving in this direction, from the past towards the future in continuous growth; children and the elderly, all moving ahead together. And be attentive to the “back-stepping” so much in vogue today, which makes us think that by stepping back, we can preserve humanism. I encourage you to move forward and I accompany you with my blessing. And please, do not forget to pray for me. Thank you.

[1] Address to Rectors of the Universities of the Lazio Region (16 May 2022).

[2] Message for the Launch of the Global Compact on Education (12 September 2019).

[3] Address to Participants in the Meeting on the Global Compact on Education “Religions and Education” (5 October 2021)