On Friday Pope Francis paid a visit to Rome’s “Roma Tre” university, stressing to students the importance of dialogue, listening and integration in putting an end to the fear that can at times be generated in the face of welcoming new migrants.
“Migrations are not a danger, they are a challenge to grow,” the Pope said Feb. 17, adding that “it’s important to think well about the problem of migrants today, because there’s a migratory phenomenon that’s so strong.”
“How must migrants be received? How must they be welcomed?” he asked, stressing that first, they must be viewed “as human brothers and sisters. They are men and women like us.”
Second, “every country must see how many they are able to welcome,” he said, noting that while it’s true that a country shouldn’t take on more than they have the capacity to handle, each one must play their part.
However, part of welcoming, he said, means “to integrate. That is, to receive these people and try to integrate them so they can learn the language, look for a job, a house, integration.”
Pope Francis spoke to students during a morning visit to Rome’s “Roma Tre” University, which has a school for Economics and Business Studies, with departments for architecture, economics, philosophy, communications, law, engineering, language and culture, math and physics, political science, business and humanities.
After arriving and greeting the rector of the university, Professor Mario Panizza, as well as the university’s General Director and Vice Rector, the Pope listened to questions posed by four students at studying in different fields, and responded with a lengthy, off-the-cuff speech.
One of the questions was posed by Nour Essa, a Syrian refugee who fled to Lesbos with her husband and young son. After spending a month in a refugee camp, they were selected to be among the 12 refugees who flew back to Rome with Pope Francis after his April 16, 2016, visit to the island.
Now, almost a year later, Essa has learned Italian and is completing her studies in Agriculture and Microbiology. She asked the Pope how to overcome the fear that welcoming so many migrants into Europe will destroy its cultural identity.
In his response to Essa’s question, the Pope stressed the importance of accompanying new migrants in a process of integration, and pointed to the fact that within three days of arriving in Italy, the children who came back with him from Lesbos were already in school.
When three months later he invited 21 Syrian children to join him for lunch at the Vatican, they all “spoke Italian,” Francis said. “The older ones a bit less, but they all spoke it. They went to school and learned it. This is integration.”
He noted that the majority of migrants who came back that day have both a job and a person to help them integrate into the culture by providing “open doors” to find work, school and housing, voicing his desire for more organizations dedicated to helping in the process of integration.
On the point of the fear of losing one’s cultural identity by welcoming so many migrants, the Pope said he often asks himself “how many invasions has Europe had since the beginning? Europe was made from invasions, migrants...it was made like this in an artisanal way.”
Migrants, he said, bring their own culture which is “a richness for us,” but must also receive part of the culture they come to so that a real “exchange of cultures” takes place.
“Yes, there is fear, but the fear is not only of migrants,” but of those who commit crimes, he said, and, pointing to the bombing of an airport and subway in Belgium last year, noted that the persons who carried out the attacks “were Belgians, born in Belgium.”
They were the children of migrants, but migrants that had been “ghettoized,” rather than integrated, he said, explaining that fostering respect for one another can “take away” this fear of different cultures.
In addition to responding to Essa’s question, Pope Francis also took questions from three other students studying in different fields at the university.
The students were Roman-born Niccolo Romano, who asked about how universities can work maintain their “communis patria,” or “common homeland” for all; Giulia Trifilio, who asked the Pope what “medicine” is needed in order to combat violent acts in the world; and Riccardo Zucchetti, who asked how students can work to constructively build society in an increasingly changing and globalized world.
In response to Trifilio’s question on how to put an end to the violent acts humanity at times seems prone to throughout the world, the Pope spoke about the importance of language and “the tone” that’s frequently used, even in casual conversations.
Whether at home or on the street, many people today “yell,” he said, explaining that unfortunately “there is also violence” in the way people express themselves.
He also pointed to the arbitrary greetings between even family members, who in a morning rush pass by with a quick, yet meaningless “hey” while on the way out the door. Even these seemingly small things, he said, “make violence” because they make the other person “anonymous,” taking away their name.
“There’s a person in front of us with a name, but I greet you like you are a thing,” he said, noting that this starts at the interpersonal level, but “grows and grows and grows and becomes global.”
“No one can deny that we are at war. This is a third world war in pieces,” Francis said, adding that “we need to lower the tone a bit; to speak less and listen more.”
As a remedy, the Pope suggested the ability to listen and receive what the other person is saying as the first “medicine” to take, with dialogue as a second.
“Dialogue draws near, not only to the person, but hearts. It makes friendship. It makes social friendship,” he said, adding that where there is no dialogue, “there is violence.”
“I spoke of war. It’s true, we are at war, but wars don’t start there, they start in your heart, in our hearts, when I am not able to open myself to others, to respect others, to speak with others, to dialogue with others, war starts there.”
This must also be practiced at the university level, he said, explaining that a university must be a place where discussion takes place among students, professors and groups. If this doesn’t happen, “it isn’t a university.”
Pope Francis cautioned against what he termed as “university of the elite,” or the so-called “ideological universities” where students go, are taught one line of thinking, and then prepared “to make an agenda of this ideology” in society.
“That is not a university,” he said. “I go to university to learn, yes, but to learn to live the truth, to seek the truth, to seek goodness, to live beauty and seek beauty. This is done together on a university path that never finishes.”
In response to the question about building up society amid rapid changes and increasing globalization, the Pope said an important lesson that has to be learned is to “take like as it comes.”
With so many changes mean there is a great need for flexibility, he said, using the example of being ready to catch a ball from whatever direction it comes in.
He also emphasized the importance of unity, which is “totally different than uniformity.” Unity, he said, means “to be one among differences. Unity in diversity.”
Since we are living in “an age of globalization,” Francis said it would be “a mistake” to think of globalization like a ball in which each point is equally far from the center.
If organized this way, “everything is uniform” and there is no differences, he said, but stressed that “this uniformity is the destruction of unity, because it takes away the possibility of being different.”
On the rapid pace of communications in modern society, Pope Francis recognized that “an acceleration” is taking place, and pointed to the rule of the Law of Gravity, that as an object falls faster as it nears its destination.
“Today communications are like this with the danger of not having the time to stop oneself, to think, to reflect, and this is important, to get used to communicating, but without the sensation of ‘rapidity,’” he said.
At times communication goes so fast that it “can become liquid, without consistency,” so the challenge is one of “transforming this liquidity into concreteness,” Francis said, explaining that same concept also goes for the economy.
Using “concreteness” as his keyword for the point, the Pope said the “drama of today’s economy” is that there is a liquid economy, which leads to “a liquid society” with a high rate of unemployment.
Francis pointed to several European countries as examples and, without naming them, noted that specifically youth unemployment rates in several vary from 40-60 percent.
“I ask you the question: our dear mother Europe, the identity of Europe, how can one think that developed countries have youth unemployment so strong?” he said, explaining that the numbers are evidence that “this liquidity of the economy takes the concreteness of work, and takes the culture of work because one can’t work.”
In the absence of work, youth “don’t know what to do” and in the end fall into addictions or suicide, he said, adding that according to what he’s heard, “the true statistics of youth suicide are not published. The publish something, but it’s not the true statistics.”
Some youth even fall into terrorist groups, telling themselves “at least I have something to do that gives meaning to my life,” the Pope observed, adding that “it’s terrible.”
In order to solve the problems created by this type of “liquid economy,” concreteness is needed, he said, “otherwise it can’t be done.”
Universities must be the place in which this happens, he said, telling the students that “in the dialogue among you, also look for solutions to propose. The real problems against this liquid culture.”