ROME — Pope Francis notched yet another first today, becoming the first pontiff, and for that matter the first head of state of any sort, to simultaneously speak with teenagers from around the world by holding a Google Hangout session with high schools from five continents.
The pontiff was the main speaker in the closing ceremony of the 3rd International Symposium for Education, held on Vatican grounds and organized by Scholas Ocurrentes, the pontiff’s pet project that earlier in the week organized a “Soccer Match for Peace” featuring famed footballers such as Diego Maradona and Roberto Baggio.
“We’re convinced that the youth needs to communicate, to show and share their values. Youth needs three pillars: education, sports and culture,” Francis said to the kids, who were not only listening to the pontiff, but also interacting with him and asking questions. One of the teenagers, from Turkey, asked the Pope to keep working on projects that promote interreligious dialogue, because “students don’t want to live at war.” He also asked the pontiff about his vision of the future.
Francis said he doesn’t have “the magic ball”, but said that youth hold the future in their hearts, minds, and hands.
“If you have wings and roots, you own the future,” he said. “You need the wings to fly, dream, and believe. But you need roots to receive the wisdom from the elderly.”
As a closing thought, Francis told the young people not to be afraid.
“Don’t give up,” he said. “Continue building bridges.”
The students spoke to Pope Francis from their schools, located in Australia, Israel, Turkey, South Africa, and El Salvador.
Although the conversation was held through Google, it was hosted by Scholas.social, the first website dedicated to crowdfunding for educational projects.
In partnership with Google and Globant, a technology development company, the Vatican is trying to use high-tech media platforms to pursue the pope’s press for dialogue and peace.
The social platform is directed to schools from every continent, regardless of their religious background or whether they’re a public institution. Beyond the possibility of students’ interaction, Scholas.social will also provide support for teachers, being able to connect up to 500 schools simultaneously.
Scholas Ocurrentes is a worldwide network of schools led by two Argentinian school headmasters: Enrique Palmeyro and José María del Corral. Its main goal is to connect students, teachers, and parents for projects and programs, using popular sports and culture to promote the dialogue, in order to improve the quality of their education and, at the same time, to reinforce peace and understanding.
Del Corral told Crux that the platform aims to create a virtual interreligious and intercultural interaction through different tools, but the interaction will happen naturally, when a kid from the US teaches Spanish to someone from Asia.
Statistics show that in some regions, a teenager spends up to seven hours online every day. To del Corral, this means that “whatever kids do on the Internet isn’t ‘virtual’; it becomes their reality. So this culture of encounter, although based on the web, won’t be for them an alternative reality.”
Through Luis Rosales, another Argentinian summoned by Pope Francis for this project, Crux was also able to find out that Scholas is currently approaching different sport leagues in the States to further introduce the network in this country.
“In the next months, we’d like to have the players planting the Olive for Peace, like we did on Monday 1 here in Rome.”
Rosales is referring to the Match for Peace, a soccer match held in Rome’s Olympic stadium that, with the help of the sports legends such as Diego Maradona and Samuel Eto’o, gathered 22.000 people, almost the double the 12.000 expected.
The Argentinian also told Crux that he had confirmation from the Holy Father that he had discussed the matter of Scholas with President Barack Obama when he visited the Vatican in March.
The American Embassy to the Holy See couldn’t comment on the report, since an official said the information wasn’t included in the President’s description of the meeting.