ROME – Pope Francis on Friday asked Catholic school teachers to continue educating students on the importance of not being bullies — not only against those who are different or foreign, but also against the environment itself.

During an audience at the Vatican with the Italian Association of Catholic Teachers (AIMC), who were in Rome Jan. 3-5 for a conference on “Memory and the Future: Peripheries and Frontiers of Professional Knowledge,” the pope put both a culture of encounter and care for creation at the heart of things.

Francis asked that the teachers convey an ecological understanding that isn’t “schizophrenic, meaning, for example, one that cares for animals in extinction but ignores the problems of the elderly; or that defends the Amazonian forest but neglects the right to a just salary for workers, and so on. This is schizophrenia.”

“The ecology that must be taught is integral,” the pope said.

At the heart of this ‘”integral ecology” is a sense of responsibility, the pope added, that encourages students to start with everyday choices and actions. This outlook draws from Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’ (“On the Care of Creation”) that places Christ “at the center of the cosmos and at the root of creation.”

The pope also thanked teachers for the contribution they give the Church in promoting the culture of encounter, a bulwark of the Francis papacy, that focuses on meeting and being close to others, especially immigrants and refugees.

“Christian teachers, whether they work in Catholic or state schools, are called to stimulate in students openness toward the other as a face, as a person, as a brother and sister to me, understood and respected, with his history, his merits and defects, richness and limitations,” the pope said.

Francis urged teachers to “cooperate in forming kids who are open and interested in the reality that surrounds them, capable of care and tenderness – I think of bullies – who are free from the widespread prejudice according to which to have value one must be competitive, aggressive, hard toward others, especially toward who is different, foreign and in any way is seen as an obstacle to one’s own affirmation.”

Francis aded that this attitude is in “the air that often our children breath,” and he called teachers to offer a remedy of a “different, healthier and more humane air.” This can only be done, he said, with the collaboration of parents, and on this point, Francis invited teachers to rekindle the historic alliance between schools and families.

“We all know that this alliance has for long been in a crisis and in certain cases is completely broken,” Francis told teachers in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican, “but we cannot be nostalgic of the past.” Taking in consideration the changes that schools and families have undertaken in  recent years, the pope proposed a renovation of the “educational pact.”

Since that “synergy” is no longer a given, Francis pushed teachers to look for effective programs, with the help of experts.

“But before that, it’s necessary to promote a new ‘complicity’ — I am conscious of the use of this word –between teachers and parents. First of all by giving up on seeing each other as juxtaposed, blaming each other, but rather putting oneself in the shoes of one another, understanding the objective challenges that one and the other face today in education, and thus creating a greater solidarity: complicit solidarity.”

Francis concluded the audience by encouraging teachers to participate in associations, and not to be afraid of “the differences and even conflicts that normally exist in lay associations; it’s normal that they be there, it’s normal.”

He asked that with an evangelical spirit, teachers continue to search for “the true good of the association.”

“With the help of God and the pastors of the Church, you are called to bring the talent placed in your hands to fruition,” Francis said, before closing, characteristically, by asking that they pray for him.