The U.S. embargo on Cuba, education, care of the environment, war, and peace were all themes touched on by Pope Francis in a satellite television conference with youth from Havana and New York Thursday.
Ten youth participated in the Sept. 17 event, five of whom were students from New York, and five students from different schools in the Cuban capital of Havana.
In the question and answer session, youth from both countries spoke with each other and the Pope, asking him questions such as how to care for the environment, how to be a good leader, and the right of children to play.
Francis also told the youth he will do what he can to build bridges between the two countries, but stressed that policies can take a while, and friendships are the first thing they should foster.
Hosted by Scholas Occurrentes, the television conference was organized in anticipation of Pope Francis’ Sept. 19-27 visit to Cuba and the United States.
It was transmitted via satellite and held in collaboration with The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Filming was done by CNN in New York, and by Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Center on the part of the Pope.
The conference was broadcast on CNN the evening of Sept. 18.
Please find below CNA’s full translation of the encounter:
The first question from a youth in New York, had to do with the responsibility of safeguarding the environment.
Pope Francis: It’s one of those things that has to start from youth: putting yourself in charge of caring for the environment. The environment, right now, is part of the excluded. It’s screaming for us to pay attention, for us to take care of it. So, how can a youth put themselves in charge of the environment? First of all, seeing the problems that happen in your neighborhood, in your city, in your nation: Which environmental problems exist? Or, when you read the news, for example: the Polar bear in Alaska that had to go higher. Why? Because of the dissolution of the glaciers. So, making yourself realize that there are serious problems, but there are also small problems. In the encyclical (Laudato Si’) there are many things that we can do. Indications. For example, to always use biodegradable material. You know that one plastic bag which is not biodegradable, it stays for millennia and does damage to the environment. Use biodegradables for everything. If you work in the field, in the orchard, realize that monoculture hurts the earth. The crop needs to go by varying, according to the year, so that the land is restored, is regrown. Or, look for concrete things you can do. Paper waste is impressive. The waste of electricity. This forces the power plants to use ways of manufacturing electricity that poison the environment. Care for the common home. The environment is the common home. Speaking with a person who knows this, some time ago, I told them: ‘Yes, we have to make decisions for future generations, for our children,’ and they replied: ‘Yes, if things continue like this, I wonder, will there be new generations? The problem is serious. Become aware, become aware. In the Pacific Ocean, for example. The islands of the Pacific Ocean, including the independent States, if things continue as they are, in twenty years they won’t exist. So, what can I do from my place? The little bit that I do, but it’s a little more, a little more, a little more. To add to the volume of saving our common home.
The second question from a youth in Havana, about the leadership of the Holy Father.
Pope Francis: Look, I will tell you only one thing: a leader is a good leader if they are able to bring our other leaders from the youth. If a leader wants to be a leader by himself, he’s a tyrant. That is, a true leader is fertile and each one of you, each one of you, has the seed of leadership inside. Make it grow. Be leaders in what touches you to be leaders. Leaders of thought, leaders of action, leaders of joy, leaders of hope, leaders of the building of a better world. This is the path for you, but you have the seed. Solitary leaders are here today, but tomorrow they’re not. If they don’t plant leadership in others, if they don’t serve, they are dictators. I have no desire to be a dictator. Because of this, I like to plant, not to sow.
At this point a youth from New York showed a photograph of a dry tree, which supported a little bird on a branch.
Pope Francis: Yes, in the photo, the tree is dead, the bird is alive. That bird needs, in a few months, to make a nest to lay eggs and have little birds, but if the tree is dead, how is it going to build it’s nest? This is what it’s like when we don’t care for the environment. A death brings another death. A death brings another death and, then, instead of sowing hope, we sow death. The path is reversed: to care for life. And one life brings another. The image, the most beautiful photo would be a living tree and a living bird. This is how we are right now. Part of humanity is dying, but dying alone and making others die, does not allow others to live. The picture you chose is very significant.
A youth from Havana asked the Holy Father for his intervention in ending the embargo on Cuba.
Pope Francis: Alleluia. I’m going to do what’s possible, everything, not to forget. Building bridges or unblocking so that there is communication, so that communication leads to friendship. One of the most beautiful things is social friendship. This is I would like for you to achieve: social friendship.
On social friendship, a youth from New York voiced concern about the lack of education in different countries of the world.
Pope Francis: Yes. Education is one of the human rights. A child has the right to be loved. A child has the right – the human right – to play. A child has the right to learn and to smile. A child has the right to education. And here, we can continue listing rights. I think that we are in a time of crisis in the world of education. Do you think of the amount of children, in the countries at war right now, who don’t have an education? Thousands and thousands of children. Think about thousands and thousands of children excluded from the possibility of education. It’s a challenge. It’s a challenge that we have to face. And we have to start with ourselves. Educating among ourselves. The service of educating ourselves. Don’t wait until the governments reach an agreement. Many years will pass, because it’s difficult. The educational pact is broken. To educate among ourselves. How many children your age, how many boys and girls go on weekends, holidays, to educate, to give classes to others, to teach them. Education is a human right. A people that isn’t educated, due to war or all the reasons there are for not being able to have an education, is a people that decays, decays, decays, and can even fall to the level of instincts. So you, if you want to do something, organize yourselves to help governments, the States, to educate children that don’t have access to the right of education. A child has the right to play. And part of education is to teach children how to play, because one learns how to be social in games, one learns the joy of life. Committing oneself to the education of children. Education is a human right.
Speaking about the right of children to play, to live in peace, the Holy Father took out of his pocket a bullet that was given to him that morning by a young person from a country at war.
Pope Francis: The right to play. The right to joy. The right to smile. I’ll share just one thing with you: this morning I received a group of youth. One was from a country at war and they gave me this. This is a bullet from the many that continually fall on their city and on their children, (and) to survive, they have to be closed inside their house, they don’t have the right to play. There are other places where a child doesn’t have a right to play simply because they live the anguish of hunger, of loneliness, of the street. Do you know how many children live on the street? We have lost the notion of the amount of children who don’t have the joy of playing, either because of war, poverty or because they live on the street. And these children who don’t know how to communicate with the joy of the game, are prey to traffickers. They use them for juvenile delinquency, to steal, for drugs, for prostitution, for many other things. Perhaps the best way to educate children is to give them the opportunity to play. Remember this little project. Hundreds of kids hiding, unable to play, so as not to be dead.
Concluding the encounter, the bullet shown by the Pope was symbolically buried under the olive tree of peace.
Pope Francis: It was a pleasure to spend this time with you. Continue forward. Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid. Fear paralyzes. You move. There are so many things to do. The future is in your hands. It’s there. Carry it forward. May God bless you, and each one, whatever your religious affiliation, I ask you to pray for me. Thank you, thank you.