(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis had a pair of major public engagements on Tuesday afternoon: a meeting with students, faculty and other representatives of the world of education and culture at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador in Quito; and a meeting with representatives of Ecuadorean civil society, in the church of St. Francis, also in Quito.
The venue for the first encounter is a private institution founded in 1946 and belonging to the Archdiocese, which has been operated by the Society of Jesus since its founding. It counts 30 thousand students across 14 faculties and institutes in the arts, sciences and applied disciplines ranging from the sacred sciences to the natural & social sciences, to architecture, engineering, and nursing, as well as law and medicine.
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In remarks prepared for the occasion, Pope Francis said, “Our academic institutions are seedbeds, places full of possibility, fertile soil which we must care for, cultivate and protect: fertile soil thirsting for life.” He then put a question directly to the educators present: “Do you watch over your students, helping them to develop a critical sense, an open mind capable of caring for today’s world?”
The Holy Father also put a series of questions to the students in attendance, whom he described as Ecuador’s present and future, the seedbed of their society’s future growth: “Do you realize that this time of study is not only a right, but a privilege?” he asked. “How many of your friends, known or unknown, would like to have a place in this house but, for various reasons, do not? To what extent do our studies help us feel solidarity with them?”
Speaking to his whole audience, Pope Francis said, “As a university, as educational institutions, as teachers and students, life itself challenges us to answer this question: What does this world need us for? Where is your brother?”
Pope Francis drew his prepared remarks to a close with a prayer: “May the Holy Spirit inspire and accompany us,” he said, “for he has summoned us, invited us, given us the opportunity and the duty to offer the best of ourselves.” The Holy Father went on to say, “He is the same Spirit who on the first day of creation moved over the waters, ready to transform them, ready to bestow life. He is the same Spirit who gave the disciples the power of Pentecost.”
“The Spirit does not abandon us,” he concluded. “He becomes one with us, so that we can encounter paths of new life. May he, the Spirit, always be our teacher and our companion along the way.”
Following the meeting at the University, Pope Francis made his way to the church dedicated to St. Francis – la iglesia de San Francisco – in Quito, which is the oldest Catholic religious house in all of Latin America, founded in 1536 by the Friars Minor, and built over the course of nearly a century and a half, concluding in 1680. It was at the main entrance of the church structure that Pope Francis was greeted by the mayor of Quito, Mauricio Rodas Espinel, who gave the Holy Father the keys to the city.
In remarks prepared for the members of civil society organizations gathered for the meeting, Pope Francis spoke of profound social and cultural changes Ecuador is facing along with every other Latin American country – new challenges which he said must be faced by every sector of society, challenges including migration, overcrowded cities, consumerism, crises in the family, unemployment and pockets of poverty. “All these factors create uncertainty and tensions which threaten social harmony,” said Pope Francis. “ Laws and regulations, as well as social planning, need to aim at inclusion, create opportunities for dialogue and encounter, while leaving behind all forms of repression, excessive control or loss of freedom as painful past memories.”
Pope Francis went on to say, “Hoping in a better future calls for offering real opportunities to people, especially young people, creating employment, and ensuring an economic growth which is shared by all (rather than simply existing on paper, in macroeconomic statistics), and promoting a sustainable development capable of generating a solid and cohesive social fabric.”
The Holy Father also spoke of the respect for others which we learn in the family finds social expression in subsidiarity, noting that, to recognize that our choices are not necessarily the only legitimate ones is a healthy exercise in humility. “In acknowledging the goodness inherent in others, even with their limitations, we see the richness present in diversity and the value of complementarity,” he said, adding that individuals and groups have the right to go their own way, even though they may sometimes make mistakes. “In full respect for that freedom, civil society is called to help each person and social organization to take up its specific role and thus contribute to the common good. Dialogue is needed and is fundamental for arriving at the truth, which cannot be imposed, but sought with a sincere and critical spirit.”
“In a participatory democracy,” the Holy Father went on to say, “each social group, indigenous peoples, Afro-Ecuadorians, women, civic associations and those engaged in public service are all indispensable participants in this dialogue. The walls, patios and cloisters of this city eloquently make this point: rooted in elements of Incan and Caranqui culture, beautiful in their proportions and shapes, boldly and strikingly combining different styles, the works of art produced by the ‘Quito school’ sum up that great dialogue, with its successes and failures, which is Ecuador’s history.”
“Today,” concluded Pope Francis, “we see how beautiful it is: if the past was marked by errors and abuses – how can we deny it! – we can say that the amalgamation which resulted radiates such exuberance that we can look to the future with great hope,” and, “the Church wishes for her part to cooperate in the pursuit of the common good, through her social and educational works, promoting ethical and spiritual values, and serving as a prophetic sign which brings a ray of light and hope to all, especially those most in need.”
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