LISBON – Pope Francis kicked off the second day of his August 2-6 visit to Lisbon meeting with Catholic university students, telling them to maintain a restless search for a better future and to work toward a more inclusive and just world.
He praised the contribution of women and told students not to be afraid to take risks in the pursuit of their aspirations, but he cautioned against using their education for their own personal benefit, saying a degree in higher education must be used for the benefit of all.
“Our condition as seekers and pilgrims means that we will always be somewhat restless, for, as Jesus tells us, we are in the world, but not of the world. We are called to something higher, and we will never be able to soar unless we first take flight,” the pope told students enrolled at the Catholic University of Portugal Thursday morning.
“We should not be alarmed, then, if we sense an inner thirst, a restless, unfulfilled longing for meaning and a future,” he said, saying, “We should not be lethargic, but alive!”
One should be concerned, he said, if they are tempted to “abandon the road ahead for a resting place that gives the illusion of comfort, or when we find ourselves replacing faces with screens, the real with the virtual, or resting content with easy answers that anesthetize us to painful and disturbing questions.”
He encouraged them to take risks in their search for answers, noting that the modern world “faces enormous challenges,” and is marked by “the painful plea of so many of our brothers and sisters.”
For the situation to improve, the human being must be put at the center, he said, telling them to replace whatever doubts they might have with “dreams: do not remain hostage to your fears, but set about working to realize your goals!”
Pope Francis is currently in Lisbon for for World Youth Day (WYD), an international gathering of youth launched by Pope John Paul II in 1986 and which this year is expected to draw up to two million.
As part of his visit, the pope has met with local civil authorities, calling WYD a sign of hope for a troubled Europe, and he has offered words of comfort to the country’s bishops, clergy, and religious amid challenges of secularism and abuse scandals.
He will also visit the famed Marian shrine of Fatima and participate in several formal WYD activities before returning to Rome.
In his speech to university students, Francis urged them to use their degrees to initiate meaningful change, saying, “A university would have little use if it were simply to train the next generation to perpetuate the present global system of elitism and inequality, in which higher education is the privilege of a happy few.”
“Unless knowledge is embraced as a responsibility, it bears little fruit,” he said, asking them whether they are still trapped inside their own “bubble,” or whether they are ready to take risks in “working to shape a world of justice and beauty?”
Pope Francis also stressed the importance of global fraternity, saying an academic degree “should not be seen merely as a license to pursue personal wellbeing, but as a mandate to work for a more just and inclusive – that is, truly progressive – society.”
He thanked the four students who gave testimonies prior to his speech, saying they struck “a hopeful note, full of enthusiasm and realism; you did not complain or escape into flights of idealism. You want to be protagonists of change.
Noting that Portuguese writer José de Almada Negreiros once said he dreamt of a world in which everyone is a teacher, the pope said, “This old man now speaking to you also dreams that yours will become a generation of teachers! Teachers of humanity. Teachers of compassion. Teachers of new opportunities for our planet and its inhabitants. Teachers of hope.”
Pope Francis also stressed the importance of caring for the environment by redefining what is meant by “progress and development.”
“Yours can be the generation that takes up this great challenge. You have the most advanced scientific and technological tools, but please, avoid falling into the trap of myopic and partial approaches,” he said, insisting on the need to link challenges to their root causes.
“Instead of polarized approaches, we need a unified vision, a vision capable of embracing the whole,” he said.
Christians in particular, he said, must “make your faith credible through your choices,” the pope said, saying the most important task for Christians in any age is “to recover the meaning of incarnation.”
“Without the incarnation, Christianity becomes ideology,” whereas it is the awareness of Christ’s incarnation that allows one to look beyond themselves and focus on others, he said.
Francis also praised the contribution of women, noting that the university recently named a new academic chair for the “Economy of Francis” after Assisi’s second most famous saint, Saint Clare.
Women, he said, “are the real heads of the household, possessed of a wisdom aimed not merely at profit, but also at care, coexistence, and the physical and spiritual wellbeing of all, including the poor and the stranger.”
“It is exciting to approach the study of economics from this standpoint, for the sake of restoring to the economy its proper dignity, lest it fall prey to unbridled market speculation,” he said.
He urged students to study the Global Compact on Education and to heed its call for “innovative ways of understanding economics, politics, growth and progress,” as well as its emphasis on “the need to educate about acceptance and inclusion.”
Pointing to the many commitments students have as they balance studies, friends, community service and even political responsibility, Pope Francis said “That is what it means to be a Catholic university: each part is related to the whole, while the whole is to be found in each of its parts.”
“As you acquire knowledge and academic expertise, you will grow as a person, in self-knowledge and in the ability to discern the path of your future. So, carry on!” he said.
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