Pope Francis' message: "Seek and take risks."

Friday, August 4, 2023 - 16:46

"Dear brothers and sisters: Good morning!


Thank you, Madam President, for your words. Thank you. You said that we all feel like "pilgrims". It is a beautiful word, whose meaning deserves reflection. It means, literally, to leave aside the daily routine and set out on a journey with a goal, to "cross the fields" or "go beyond the limits", that is, to leave the comfort zone, towards a horizon of meaning. The term "pilgrim" reflects human behaviour, because everyone is called to confront great questions that have no answer, [do not have] a simplistic or immediate answer, but which invite one to undertake a journey, to overcome oneself, to go beyond. This is a process that a university student understands well, because this is how science is born. And this is also how the spiritual quest grows. To go on a pilgrimage is to walk towards a goal or in search of a goal. There is always the danger of walking in a labyrinth, where there is no goal. There is also no way out. Let us be wary of prefabricated formulas - they are labyrinthine - let us be wary of answers that seem to be within reach, of answers that are pulled out of our sleeves like playing cards; let us be wary of proposals that seem to give everything without asking for anything. Let us be suspicious.  Suspicion is a weapon for moving forward and not going round in circles. Suspicion is a weapon for moving forward and not always going round in circles. One of Jesus' parables says that the one who finds the pearl of great value is the one who searches for it with intelligence and initiative, and who gives everything, risks everything he has to obtain it (cf. Mt 13:45-46). To seek and to risk: these are the two verbs of the pilgrim. To seek and to risk.

Pessoa said, in a troubled but correct way, that "to be dissatisfied is to be a man" (O Quinto Império, in Mensagem). We should not be afraid of feeling restless, of thinking that what we have done is not enough. Being dissatisfied - in this sense and in its right measure - is a good antidote against the presumption of self-sufficiency and against narcissism. Incompleteness defines our condition as seekers and pilgrims, as Jesus says, "we are in the world, but not of the world" (cf. Jn 17:16). We walk "towards". We are called to something more, to a take-off without which there is no flight. Let us not be alarmed, then, if we find ourselves inwardly thirsty, restless, incomplete, longing for meaning and for the future, longing for the future! And here, along with longing for the future, let us not forget to keep this memory of the future alive. We are not sick, we are alive! Let us worry instead when we are ready to replace the road to travel with a stop at any oasis - even if that comfort is a mirage - when we replace faces with screens, the real with the virtual; when, instead of questions that tear, we prefer easy answers that anaesthetise; and we can find them in any manual of social relations, of how to behave well. Easy answers anaesthetise.

Friends, let me tell you: seek and risk. At this historic moment, the challenges are enormous, the groans are painful - we are living through a third world war in pieces - but we embrace the risk of thinking that we are not in agony, but in labour; we are not at the end, but at the beginning of a great spectacle. And it takes courage to think so. Therefore, be protagonists of a "new choreography" that puts the human person at the centre, be choreographers of the dance of life. I found the President's words inspiring, especially when she said that "the university does not exist to preserve itself as an institution, but to respond with courage to the challenges of the present and the future". Self-preservation is a temptation, it is a conditioned reflex of fear, which makes us look at existence in a distorted way. If seeds were preserved, they would completely waste their generative power and condemn us to famine; if winters were preserved, there would be no wonder of spring. So have the courage to replace fears with dreams; replace fears with dreams; do not be managers of fears, but entrepreneurs of dreams!

It would be a waste to think of a university committed to training new generations only to perpetuate the current elitist and unequal system of the world, where higher education is a privilege of the few. If knowledge is not accepted as a responsibility, it becomes sterile. If those who have received higher education - which today, in Portugal and around the world, remains a privilege - do not endeavour to give back part of what they have benefited from, they have not truly understood what has been offered to them. I like to remember that in Genesis, the first questions God asks man are: "Where are you?" (3:9) and "Where is your brother?" (4:9). It would be good to ask ourselves: where am I? Am I locked in my bubble or do I risk leaving my securities to be a practising Christian, a craftsman of justice, a craftsman of beauty? And also: where is my brother? Experiences of fraternal service such as the "Missão País" (Country Mission), and so many others that are born in the academic environment, should be considered indispensable for those who go to university. The diploma, in fact, cannot be seen only as a licence to build personal well-being, no, but as a mandate to dedicate oneself to a more just, more inclusive, that is, more developed society.

I have been told that one of your great poets, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, in an interview that is a kind of testament, to the question: "What would you like to see realised in Portugal in this new century?", answered without hesitation: "I would like to see social justice, the reduction of the differences between rich and poor" (Interview by Joaci Oliveira, in Cidade Nova, 3/2001). I refer this question to you. Dear students, pilgrims of knowledge, what would you like to see happen in Portugal and in the world? What changes, what transformations? And how can the university, especially Católica, contribute to this?

Beatriz, Mahoor, Mariana, Tomás, thank you for your testimonies; they all had a tone of hope, a charge of realistic enthusiasm, there were no complaints or illusory flights forward. You want to be protagonists, "protagonists of change", as Mariana said. Listening to you, I remembered a phrase that may be familiar to you, by the writer José de Almada Negreiros: "I dreamed of a country where everyone became a master" (The Invention of the Clear Day). This old man who speaks to you - because I am already old - also dreams that your generation will be a generation of masters: masters of humanity, masters of compassion, masters of new opportunities for the planet and its inhabitants, masters of hope. And masters who will defend the life of the planet, threatened at the moment by serious ecological destruction.

As some of you have said, we must recognise the dramatic urgency of caring for our common home. However, this cannot be done without a conversion of heart and a change in the anthropological vision that underpins economics and politics. We cannot be content with simple palliative measures or timid and ambiguous commitments. In this case, "the middle ground is only a short postponement of the collapse" (Encyclical Letter Laudato si', 194). Do not forget this. The middle ground is only a short delay from collapse. Rather, it is a matter of taking charge of that which, unfortunately, continues to be postponed, namely the need to redefine what we call progress and evolution. Because in the name of progress, the way has been opened for a great regression. Study well what I am telling you. In the name of progress, the way has been opened for a great regression. You are the generation that can meet this challenge, you have the most advanced scientific and technological tools, but please do not fall into the trap of partial visions.Do not forget that we need an integral ecology; we need to listen to the suffering of the planet alongside the suffering of the poor; we need to put the drama of desertification alongside the drama of refugees, the question of migration alongside the decline in the birth rate; we need to treat the material dimension of life within a spiritual dimension. Not to create polarisations, but to create global visions.

Thank you, Thomas, for saying that "an authentic integral ecology is not possible without God", that "there can be no future in a world without God". I would like to tell you to make faith credible through decisions. Because if faith does not generate convincing lifestyles, it does not leaven the dough of the world. It is not enough for a Christian to be convinced, he must be convincing. Our actions are called to reflect the beauty - joyful and radical - of the Gospel. Moreover, Christianity cannot be seen as a fortress surrounded by walls, standing like a bastion against the world. That is why I found Beatriz's testimony very incisive when she said that it is precisely "from the sphere of culture" that she feels called to live the Beatitudes. In every age, one of the most important tasks of Christians is to recover the meaning of incarnation. Without incarnation, Christianity becomes an ideology, and the temptation of Christian ideologies, in inverted commas, is very current; it is incarnation that allows us to marvel at the beauty that Christ reveals through every brother and sister, every man and woman.

In this regard, it is interesting that in the new Chair dedicated to the "Economy of Francis" they have included the figure of Clara. Indeed, the contribution of women is indispensable. How often, in the collective unconscious, it is thought that women are second-class, that they are substitutes, that they don't play the first team. And that exists in the collective unconscious. Women's contribution is indispensable. In fact, in the Bible, we see how the economy of the family is largely in the hands of the woman. She, with her wisdom, is the true "ruler" of the home, whose goal is not exclusively profit, but care, coexistence, the physical and spiritual well-being of all, and also the ability to share with the poor and the stranger. And it is fascinating to undertake economic studies from this perspective, with the intention of restoring to the economy the dignity it deserves, so that it does not remain in the hands of the wild market and speculation.

The Global Compact for Education initiative and the seven principles that establish its architecture include many of these themes, from caring for our common home to the full participation of women to the need to find new ways of understanding economics, politics, development and progress. I invite you to study the Global Compact for Education, to fall in love with it. One of the points it addresses is education for welcome and inclusion. And we cannot pretend that we have not heard the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 25: "I was passing by and they welcomed me" (v. 35). I followed Mahoor's testimony with emotion, when she evoked what it means to live with "the constant feeling of missing home, family, friends [...], of being homeless, without university, without money [...], tired and exhausted and overwhelmed by pain and loss". She told us that she regained hope because some people believed in the transformative impact of the culture of encounter. Every time someone practises a gesture of hospitality, it causes a transformation.

Friends, I am very happy to see you as a living educational community, open to reality and aware that the Gospel is not a mere ornament, but animates the parts and the whole. I know that your journey includes various areas: study, friendship, social service, civil and political responsibility, care for the common home and artistic expression. Being a Catholic university means above all this: that each element is in relationship with the whole and that the whole is found in the parts. In this way, at the same time that we acquire scientific competences, we mature as persons, in knowing ourselves and in discerning our own path. Path yes, labyrinth no. So let's go ahead! A medieval tradition tells us that when pilgrims on the Way of St James crossed paths, one would greet the other with the exclamation: "Ultreia", and the other would reply: "et Suseia". These are expressions of encouragement to continue the search and the risk of walking, saying to each other: "Come on, keep going, keep going!" And that is what I also wish for all of you, with all my heart. Thank you very much."


Pope Francis' speech
at the Meeting with Young University Students at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa