Counteract vitriol by toning it down, talking less, listening more, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) — Addressing the fear of immigrants,
dissatisfaction with a “fluid economy” and the impatience and vitriol
seen in politics and society, Pope Francis told Rome university students to
practice a kind of “intellectual charity” that promotes dialogue and
sees value in diversity.

“There are lots of remedies against violence,”
but they must start first with one’s heart being open to hearing other people’s
opinions and then talking things out with patience, he said in a 45-minute
off-the-cuff talk.

“It necessary to tone it down a bit, to talk less
and listen more,” he told hundreds of students, staff and their family
members and friends during a visit Feb. 17 to Roma Tre University.

Arriving at the university, the pope slowly made his way
along a long snaking pathway of metal barricades throughout the campus,
smiling, shaking hands and posing for numerous selfies with smiling members of
the crowd. When handed a small baby cocooned in a bright red snowsuit for a
papal kiss, the pope joked whether the child was attending the university, too.

Seated on a platform facing an open courtyard, the pope
listened to questions from four students, including Nour Essa, who was one of
the 12 Syrian refugees the pope had brought to Rome on a papal flight from
Lesbos, Greece, in 2016.

The pope said he had received the questions beforehand
and wrote a prepared text, but he preferred to answer “from the
heart” and be “more spontaneous because I like it better that

Asked what “remedy” could counteract the
world’s violence and how to live well in such a fast-paced, globalized world of
“social networks,” the pope said today’s frenetic pace “makes us
violent at home.”

Family members don’t bother saying “good
morning” to each other, they absentmindedly say “hi” or eat
together in silence, each absorbed with a smartphone, he said.

The faster the pace in life, the more people become
“nameless” because no one takes the time to get to know the other,
ending up with a situation where “I greet you as if you were an

The tendency to de-personalize others, which starts in
one’s own heart, at home and with relationships, “grows and grows and it
will become violence worldwide,” he said.

“In a society where politics has sunk very low —
and I’m talking about society around the world, not here — one loses the
sense” of building up civic life and social harmony, which is done through

Pope Francis commented on the way many electoral
campaigns and debates feature people interrupting each other. “Wait!
Listen carefully to what the other thinks and then respond,” he said, and
ask for clarification when the point isn’t understood.

“Where there is no dialogue, there is
violence,” he said.

The pope said universities must be places dedicated to
this kind of openness, dialogue and respect for a diversity of opinions and

An institution cannot claim it is offering higher
education if there is no “dialogue, discussion, listening, where there is
no respect for how others think, where there is no friendship, joy of
play,” he said.

People go to university to learn and listen, but not
passively, the pope said. It is a place to actively seek the good, the
beautiful and the true, as a journey done together over time.

He also critiqued the so-called “fluid
economy,” which leads to a lack of stable, “solid” employment.

Networked trades and transactions in which a person can
make — like a business friend of his did — $10,000 in 10 minutes trading
commodities is an example of this “fluid” economy, he said.

This “liquidity” erases “the culture of
work” and everything that is “concrete” about labor
“because you cannot work and young people don’t know what to do,”
which can lead them to addictions or suicide.

“Or the lack of work leads me to join a terrorist
militia. ‘At least I have something to do and have meaning in my life.’ It’s
horrible,” he said.

Essa, the 31-year-old Syrian woman, told the pope she,
her husband and small boy were living in a refugee camp in Lesbos until
“our life changed in one day, thanks to you.” Already possessing
degrees from her studies in Syria and France, Essa was finishing a degree in
biology at Roma Tre.

She asked the pope to address the fear of immigrants,
saying she remembered a journalist on the papal flight a year ago asking about
people’s fear of those coming from Syria and Iraq and whether they threatened
Europe’s Christian culture.

“How many invasions has Europe had?” during its
long history, the pope asked.

Europe has been built upon invasions and movements of
peoples, he said. “Migration is not a danger, it is a challenge to
grow,” he said.

It is only logical that people migrate to escape from
conflict, exploitation, hunger and lack of development, he said.

“Don’t exploit. Don’t be the bullies that go to
exploit” these nations already suffering so much, he said.

Asking his audience to reflect on how the Mediterranean
Sea has become “a cemetery” with the drownings of so many immigrants,
he said those fleeing their homelands first must be seen as one’s own
“human brothers and sisters. They are men and women like us.”

Each country must determine how many refugees and
migrants it can properly welcome and integrate with structures and resources in
place so the newcomers can become contributing members of the community and not
isolated or “ghetto-ized.”

While trying to grapple with the way times change, he
said, it’s also true some things just stay the same. “If we don’t learn to
understand life as it comes, we will never ever learn to live it.”

Life is like being a
“goalie” where people have to be alert and ready to grab the ball
from whatever direction it comes, Pope Francis said. Today “is a different
age, that is coming from somewhere I didn’t expect, but I have to take it, I
have to take it as it comes without fear.”

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