Pope tells young South Asians not to deny fraternity even in persecution
At the approach of the synod, Francis talked online for an hour and a half with 12 university students from India, Pakistan, Nepal, and the Indian diaspora in the Persian Gulf. He urged them to fight for their ideas, but always” extending a hand to others”. For him, “education must be free, a right” for everyone.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis and twelve Indian, Pakistani and Nepali students from local Catholic universities took part in an online encounter titled "Building Bridges in South Asia," organised by Loyola University Chicago, a Jesuit establishment, in cooperation with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
Several topics were touched during the event, like the difficulty of living one's Christian faith in a hostile context, which often can become open persecution in South Asia; the need not to resign oneself to the half-truths that are all over social media, polarising societies; not to mention the growing “commodification of education,” which is also affecting educational establishments in Asia.
Today’s encounter was the third event in an initiative that reflects the spirit of the synod that is about to open in Rome; the other two involved young people in Latin America and Africa.
For an hour and a half, Pope Francis listened to students’ questions and answered them. The third segment of the encounter was particularly intense when three young women – Florina from India, Niru Maya from Nepal, and Sheril from Pakistan – spoke specifically about the difficulty of living their Christian faith in a context of oppression and persecution.
Florina mentioned the suffering of Christians in Manipur, the Indian state where interethnic violence broke out in May and has taken an increasingly religious connotation. "How can we face these situations as Christians?" they asked Francis.
The pontiff said he was touched by their stories, citing many innocent people like the “woman who spent so many years in prison having done nothing wrong," he said, probably referring to Asia Bibi.
"Where is the root of intolerance?" he wondered. In giving an answer, he urged people to find it "in following an idea rather than the heart. When a tradition, even a Christian one, behaves like that, it becomes the ideology of our suicide.”
Following up Nepali Miru Naya in her testimony ("God has a plan for me"), Francis called on the faithful to persevere on this path. “Bearing witness to the Gospel with one's life is the only thing that matters," he said. “Continue to have dreams. Do not stop extending your hand to others; remember that we are brothers.”
The pontiff also urged all the other young people to be creative and nurture their self-esteem, in dialogue with others.
Upon hearing the testimony of a young woman from the Indian diaspora in the Persian Gulf who spoke about the difficulty in keeping connected with her roots, Francis cited the image of the diamond that becomes something different from a piece of glass only by chiselling its different sides.
Another topic that was of great interest to young people in South Asia was the relationship with new technologies and social media, which are used far too often to propagate falsehoods and engage in hate campaigns that exacerbate ancient caste discrimination.
In his reply, Pope Francis noted that "harmony is not uniformity, but the beauty of differences."
He urged the young people to rediscover other forms of communication, like poetry. "When I was a student I wrote poetry, then I was embarrassed to read them ... Each of you is a poem."
Struck by Sagarika, an Indian student who raised the issue of how education was becoming commodified, Francis stressed that "education must be free, a right, not a form of enrichment. We have to work on this.”
Finally, in taking his leave from the young Indian, Pakistani and Nepali university students, Francis told them: "Go forth without fear. Let me give you a piece of advice: Don't lose your sense of humour; it will be good for your mental health.”