ROME – Piggy-backing on Monday’s interreligious summit to try and influence the COP26 United Nations summit on climate change scheduled for November, Pope Francis and faith leaders from around the world on Tuesday issued a similar appeal, in favor of a Global Compact on Education.

Education, Francis said, means accepting the other as they are, with no judgement nor discrimination, and upholding the rights of women, children and the most vulnerable. This is something which, he acknowledged, wasn’t always respected in the past.

“Today we are committed firmly to defend those rights and to teach young people to be a voice for the voiceless,” he said. “For this reason, education impels us to reject and denounce every violation of the physical and moral integrity of each individual.”

Faith traditions, the pontiff said, were coming together because, “if in the past, our differences set us at odds, nowadays we see in them the richness of different ways of coming to God and of educating young people for peaceful coexistence in mutual respect.”

He said education means that God’s name cannot be used to justify violence and hatred over other religious traditions and to condemn all forms of fundamentalism, defending the right of each person to act in accordance with their conscience.

In the past, he said, religion was used to justify discrimination against ethnic, cultural, political and other minorities.

Those gathered in the Vatican on Tuesday wanted to be defenders of the “identity and dignity of every individual and to teach young people to accept everyone without discrimination.”

Similarly, they said the exploitation and plundering of the planet that has been tolerated thus far, can no longer be accepted, with the religious leaders instead giving voice to the plea of nature for its survival: “For this reason, education commits us to love our mother Earth, to avoid the waste of food and resources, and to share more generously the goods that God has given us for the life of everyone.”

The meeting held on Tuesday coincided with the World Teachers’ Day promoted by UNESCO.

The meeting was organized by the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Committee for the Global Compact on Education, and took place in the Sala Clementina of the Apostolic Palace. The theme for the gathering was “Religions and Education: Towards a Global Compact on Education.”

This was the first such meeting held in the Vatican dedicated to education, and religious leaders from different backgrounds shared their commitment to an education rooted in putting the person at the center of every educational process, investing the best energies in quality education for all, and forming people who are willing to serve the community.

The Global Educational Compact is an initiative of Pope Francis that was originally set to gather world leaders and young people in the Vatican in May of 2020, but the event — called “Reinventing the Global Educational Alliance” — was postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions.

The Argentine pontiff was a high-school teacher in Argentina for a few years, and said the so-called educational compact is broken and access to education in the world is unequal due to poverty, discrimination, climate change, the globalization of indifference and the exploitation of human beings.

Nearly 20 representatives of the world’s different faiths were present, many of whom had been at the Vatican Oct. 4 pledging to promote sustainable lifestyles, ecological education, and public policies to mitigate the effects of climate change ahead of the United Nations COP26 meeting in November in Glasgow.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma