MILAN, Italy — In the last meeting during his day trip to Milan, Pope Francis issued a harsh criticism of bullying in schools, asking youth to promise him and Jesus never to bully others, and telling teachers to be aware of the problem.
“There is an ugly phenomenon in education today: bullying. Please, be aware,” the pope said during a March 25 encounter with youth in Milan.
He responded to a question posed by a catechist asking how to foster an open dialogue between educators, students, and their parents. Among other points, he told teachers to watch out for bullying before addressing the youth about it themselves.
“I ask you, in silence: In your schools, in your neighborhoods, is there someone that you mock? That you make fun of because they look a little funny, because they are a little fat? That you like to embarrass and hit because of this?” the pope asked.
“Think about this. This is called bullying,” he said, and asked the youth – many of whom will receive the sacrament of Confirmation this year – to use their Confirmation to “make the promise to the Lord to never do this” and to pray that it doesn’t happen in their schools, neighborhoods, or parishes.
“Understood? Promise me: never, never make fun of, never mock a friend, a neighbor, etc. Do you promise this?” he said. Not satisfied with the strength of their answer, he again asked the youth the same question, which was then met with a roaring “YES!”
“Think in silence if you do this and if you are able to promise this to Jesus. Promise Jesus never to bully.”
Francis spoke to a stadium filled with youth at the end of his March 25th day trip to Milan.
The pope started his trip visiting the city’s impoverished “White Houses” complex greeting several of the families who live there, including a Muslim family.
He then headed directly to Milan’s cathedral where he met with the priests and religious before praying the Angelus and eating lunch with inmates at the city’s Casa Circondariale di San Vittore prison.
After lunch, he celebrated Mass at Milan’s Parco di Monza for the Feast of the Annunciation, traveling by car after to the Meazza-San Siro Stadium where he met with some 78,000 people, including catechists, volunteers and many of the 45,000 youth who have either received the Sacrament of Confirmation in 2017 or will receive it, along with their parents and family members.
After scripture readings and a series of performances by the youth, Francis responded to three of their questions, one of which was posed by a boy named Davide, one by a couple with three children, and one by the catechist.
In his response to Davide’s question about what helped him to grow in friendship with Jesus when he himself was young, the pope said it came down to three main things: His grandparents, playing with his friends, and participating in groups at this parish.
Francis recalled how one grandfather had told him “never go to bed without saying something to Jesus; tell him goodnight.” This reinforcement combined with the prayers he learned from his grandmothers and his mother helped reinforce the faith, he said.
“Grandparents have the wisdom of life, and with that wisdom they teach us to grow closer to Jesus,” he said, urging the youth to talk to their grandparents, “ask them whatever questions you want. Listen to what they say.”
Playing with friends also helps, he said, because in knowing how to play well with others, “without insulting each other,” you learn “to respect others, you learn to make a team, to work together, and this unites us to Jesus. So play with your friends!”
Parish life is also crucial, he said, and jestingly encouraged the youth to have the same excitement about Mass as they do about their groups and activities.
When answering the couple’s question on how they can transmit the beauty of the faith to their children without sounding boring, annoying, or authoritarian, Francis advised them to think of who helped them to grow in the faith.
He asked the stadium to take a moment and ponder the answer in silence, explaining that an important figure for him was the priest who baptized him and who was then present throughout his life until he entered the novitiate with the Jesuits.
“I never, never forgot that priest. He was an apostle of the confessional; merciful, good, a hard worker. And so he helped me to grow,” the pontiff said, explaining that he asked for this reflection because “our children watch us constantly; even when we are not aware.”
On this point, as he often has in the past, Francis warned against the damage it can do to children when they see their parents fight.
“You don’t understand the suffering a child experiences when they see their parents fight, they suffer. And when their parents separate, they pay the price,” he said, explaining that when parents bring a child into the world, “you must be aware of this.
“We take responsibility to help this child grow in the faith,” he said, and suggested that the couple read Chapters 1 and 4 of his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, a fruit of the 2014 and 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family.
Dedicated to love in marriage and in the family, the pope told them the chapters, particularly the first, would be helpful, and told them never to forget that “when you fight, children suffer and they don’t grow in the faith.”
He also stressed the importance of playing with their children and practicing the works of mercy together, which help nourish faith and family life.
Sunday is an especially good day to spend together as a family, he said, but noted that for some this is hard to do, since many have to work on weekends in order to provide for their families.
“Parents at this time can’t or have lost the virtue of playing with their children,” he said, explaining that whenever he hears a parent complaining about their children’s behavior, he often asks if they take time to just sit and play with their children.
Many parents “don’t know how to respond,” he said, recalling how he once spoke with a father who only saw his children on the weekends, since he left for work while they were still asleep and came back after they were already in bed.
“It’s this life that takes your humanity,” he said, and told parents to “play with your children, and transmit the faith.”