Pope Francis and José María Del Corral, president of the Scholas Occurrentes youth movement, smile during a meeting with the group’s volunteers in Cascais, Portugal, on Aug. 3, 2023. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 3, 2023 / 08:50 am (CNA).

In his first encounters with young people ahead of his arrival at World Youth Day later in the day, Pope Francis on Thursday urged his audiences to use their knowledge and skills to care for the planet and the poor.

The Holy Father began his second day in Portugal with a meeting with students at the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon, followed by a visit with young volunteers in a coastal town outside the city who promote education in poor communities.

At the university, the pope first heard the testimonies of four students who shared their academic experiences and hopes for the future. The theme there was “integral ecology,” a view of the interconnected nature of the world’s problems that Francis developed in Laudato Si’, his 2015 encyclical on the environment.

Tomás Virtuoso, 29, a second-year theology student with undergraduate and master’s degrees in economics, speaks to Pope Francis at the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon, Portugal, on Aug. 3, 2023. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

“It seems to me that my generation is being asked not to ignore the many insights that Laudato Si’ offers us,” said Tomás Virtuoso, 29, a second-year theology student with undergraduate and master’s degrees in economics.

“First, when it encourages us to bring the best of science to bear, trusting in the divine gift of reason, to continue to find effective solutions to the challenges we face,” he explained.

“Secondly, when it asks us to reject technological progress that does not have a strong ethical and spiritual root, that does not ensure respect for the inviolable dignity of the person and of all creation,” he continued.

“Thirdly, when it leads us to the firm decision to live according to the demands of the common good, the structuring principle of the Church’s social doctrine,” which “places the preferential option for the poor at the center,” he said.

“Finally, when it encourages young Catholics of my generation to evangelize, to fearlessly affirm that an authentic integral ecology is not possible without God, that there can be no future in a world without God.”

Working for a just society

In his remarks, Pope Francis urged students to “seek and risk,” reminding them that an education like theirs is both a gift and a responsibility.

“A university would have little use if it were simply to train the next generation to perpetuate the present global system of elitism and inequality, in which higher education is the privilege of a happy few. Unless knowledge is embraced as a responsibility, it bears little fruit,” he said.

“An academic degree should not be seen merely as a license to pursue personal well-being but as a mandate to work for a more just and inclusive — that is, truly progressive — society.”

Pope Francis meets with students at the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon, Portugal, on Aug. 3, 2023. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Speaking of the responsibility of environmental stewardship, the Holy Father challenged students not to be content with mere “palliative” or “halfway measures” that “simply delay the inevitable disaster,” as he observes in Laudato Si’.

“Rather, it is a matter of confronting head-on what sadly continues to be postponed: the need to redefine what we mean by progress and development,” he explained.

“In the name of progress, we have often regressed. Yours can be the generation that takes up this great challenge. You have the most advanced scientific and technological tools, but please, avoid falling into the trap of myopic and partial approaches,” he stressed.

“Keep in mind that we need an integral ecology, attentive to the sufferings both of the planet and the poor. We need to align the tragedy of desertification with that of refugees, the issue of increased migration with that of a declining birth rate, and to see the material dimension of life within the greater purview of the spiritual,” he said.

“Instead of polarized approaches,” the pope underscored, “we need a unified vision, a vision capable of embracing the whole.”

Order out of ‘chaos’

Later in Cascais, a picturesque medieval town and popular coastal resort west of Lisbon, Pope Francis met with young members of the Portuguese chapter of Scholas Occurrentes, an international youth movement. It was the pope himself, as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, who founded the group, which promotes education in poor communities around the world.

A view of the “Life between Worlds” mural project at the Portuguese headquarters of the Scholas Occurrentes youth movement in Cascais, Portugal. Pope Francis visited with members of the community on Aug. 3, 2023. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

While there, the pope was given a paintbrush he used to put the finishing touches on an elaborate “Life Between Worlds” mural that decorates the walls and ceiling of the group’s headquarters. “Old people and young people, rich and poor, children of different religions and nonbelievers, and young people of different nationalities participated in this work of art,” the group said in a statement.

In his unscripted remarks, the pope addressed the “chaos” some of the volunteers referenced in describing the challenges they face in their lives.

The pope reminded them that God always brings some good out of chaos, beginning with the first moments of creation.

“There it is in poetic language, how God makes light one day out of chaos, another day he makes man and goes on creating things and transforming chaos into cosmos,” he noted.

“The same thing happens in our lives. There are moments of crisis … that are chaotic … then the job of the people who accompany us, of a group like this, is to transform [that situation into] a cosmos,” he said.

After some time to eat and rest, the pope was set to arrive at the site of World Youth Day for a welcome service Thursday evening.

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