ROME — Highlighting the importance of a church that truly listens, Pope Francis will participate in a virtual meeting hosted by Loyola University in Chicago with students from North, Central and South America.

The Feb. 24 virtual meeting, titled “Building Bridges: A Synodal Encounter between Pope Francis and University Students,” will be an opportunity to “address the salient challenges of our times,” the university’s website said.

“The pope will dialogue with these university students who will share concrete educational projects that seek to justly transform environmental and economic realities,” as well as discuss the challenges of migration, it said.

Speaking with Catholic News Service Jan. 28, Michael Murphy, director of Loyola’s Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage, said he and several colleagues, including Emilce Cuda, an official at the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, discussed the idea of an event for university students in preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on synodality.

In November, he said, while discussing possible speakers for the event, “we kind of joked, ‘Hey, let’s see if Pope Francis is free.'”

Unbeknownst to them, Cuda presented the idea to Pope Francis who agreed to participate.

It was “not a whim on his part,” because it fits his vision and priorities, Murphy said. “We knew that so many universities have been asking him, ‘What is our role and how can we support'” the synodal process.

In preparation for the virtual meeting, students were divided into seven regional groups from North, Central and South America to talk about the thoughts, questions and dreams they would like to discuss with the pope, he said.

“I think it accomplishes what Pope Francis is trying to do: to be a listening church,” Murphy told CNS. “We want to make sure other students feel invited, too, and not be so exclusive in this.”

While the discussions will focus on issues ranging from migration to climate change, he said, bringing the young adults from different regions is important in itself, especially at a time of increased division, including because of the digital revolution.

He also hoped it would help build a bridge between the two continents where, often, colonial and indigenous “past and present collide.”

“What the pope wants to do is look at boundaries and see what we know and to remove as much as we can; to say, ‘Let us walk together,’ conscious of the brokenness of the past, but hopeful in the present,” he said.

Murphy told CNS he hopes the meeting will address the increasing polarization and “the sense of exceptionalism” that prevents one from listening to the needs and wants of others.

“I’m not trying to dismantle everything,” Murphy said. “I’m just saying let’s get real. The church is the living body of Christ. And it’s not some 16th-century enterprise, even though that is an important part of its tradition.”

“My dad always said, ‘You have two ears and one mouth for a reason,'” he said. “So, if we can unclog our two ears and listen better, I think that would be a good result.”