· Vatican City ·

Pope Francis to university students participating in the ‘Building Bridges Across Asia Pacific’ initiative

‘Stay true to your convictions and faith’

 ‘Stay true to your convictions and faith’  ING-026
28 June 2024

“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 across the Asia Pacific region. They were participating in the “Building Bridges Across Asia Pacific” event, on Thursday, 20 June, organized by Loyola University Chicago and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. The Holy Father participated via livestream.

Inspired by Pope Francis’ call to synodality, Loyola University Chicago launched the Building Bridges Initiative (bbi), a student-centered and university-organized series of events. The first encounter, entitled “Building Bridges North-South”, took place in February 2022. 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 and 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, 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 from Singapore, Timor Leste, and Papua New Guinea also participated. The Holy Father is set to visit these last three countries during his Apostolic Journey to Asia and Oceania in September.

Pope Francis: Ask others to help you in your vulnerability

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 they offered their 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.

‘Greatness of women
must never be forgotten’

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.

No to exclusion and stigmas

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.

Hearts connected to prayer and others

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.

Reject diluted Christianity and
hold true to faith

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 said, 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”.

The ‘disease of ideology’

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.

Building bridges begins with each of us

Various Vatican offices assisted in the initiative, including the General Secretariat of the Synod, the Dicastery for Communication, the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, the Dicastery for Education and Culture and the Dicastery for Evangelization’s Section for the first evangelization and new particular Churches.

Prior to the Holy Father joining the dialogue, the event began with introductions by the organizers, including the Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, Dr Emilce Cuda, and video messages from Cardinal Kevin Joseph Farrell, Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, followed by that of Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín, o.s.a., Under Secretary of the Synod of Bishops.

Cardinal Farrell called on students to follow Jesus’ example of building bridges, and reminded them that while they live the privileged reality of being a university student, there is a world marked by hatred, war and suffering. Given this, he invited those following to practice kindness, care and understanding on a personal level, first and foremost, because otherwise, he lamented, we cannot expect those on higher levels to do the same.

Bishop Marín offered encouraging words in which he invited those present, amid a time of hope and renewal, to “create bonds, break down walls and build bridges”. While the participants waited for the Pope’s arrival, Dr Cuda also read a letter from the Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Culture and Education, Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, in which he acknowledged that building bridges can be challenging, and can be met with struggle and resistance, but that it is always worth it, because it lives out the love that Jesus taught us.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov