Two Saint Louis University students recently participated in a webinar discussion with Pope Francis.
The virtual dialogue with Pope Francis on Feb. 24 was part of the ongoing synodal process, which will culminate with the bishops’ Synod on Synodality in October 2023. SLU students Quique Riojas and Amy Cook were among a group of university students from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean who addressed Pope Francis on a variety of topics.
During the nearly two-hour discussion, students spoke about their studies and shared perspectives on issues ranging from immigration to economic and environmental justice. Pope Francis responded to each group and could be seen on the video taking notes as students spoke.
Riojas, a political science major from Iowa, migrated to the United States from Mexico about 10 years ago. Cook, a junior environmental science major, grew up in Jefferson City, Missouri, and was adopted from China as an infant.
Their specific cohort addressed two primary topics: the need of bishops to fulfill their teaching mission regarding climate change, as detailed in Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’”, and viewing Catholic social teaching as a tool of evangelization.
Riojas especially sees how the latter topic is an important point of discussion for the Archdiocese of St. Louis as it begins the All Things New strategic pastoral planning initiative. The process will examine all facets of the local Church and ultimately strengthen evangelization efforts. It also will identify opportunities for improvement and renewal within the entire structure of the archdiocese, including parishes, schools, archdiocesan offices and agencies and other ministry efforts.
As the local Church considers its future structure, Riojas suggested that some facilities could be repurposed as centers with justice-minded missions — which in turn can serve as a way to evangelize others. Ideas included training people in nonviolent intervention methods, mutual aid, helping migrants and protecting our common home through environmental justice.
“The common narrative in the Church is to close buildings,” said Riojas, adding that some have in turn ended up vacant and abandoned. “This land is useful for evangelizing and social justice missions, which are really two sides of the same coin.”
Formally titled “Building Bridges North-South,” the session with Pope Francis was organized by the Institute of Pastoral Studies, Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage, and the Department of Theology at Jesuit-run Loyola University Chicago, and in conjunction with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. The discussion was interpreted and captioned in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The pope spoke in Spanish.
More than 130 students from 58 universities in 21 countries participated in the discussions in seven regional groups that were held over the past several weeks to prepare for the dialogue with Pope Francis.
Riojas said the session with Pope Francis was just the first step in what he hopes will become an ongoing dialogue among the university students who participated and with other Church leaders, including Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“One of the main things in my eyes we’re trying to combat here is a feeling of fatalism or defeatism with the decline in Catholic population,” Riojas said. “That’s not something we’re going to accept. It’s the same with climate change — some people have said it’s too late to do anything, but there are things that we can do. All of that is a big part of Pope Francis’ platform, which is fighting back against the defeatism that we see both inside and outside of the Church.”
>> Watch online
To watch a recording of the discussion with Pope Francis, see https://stlreview.com/3IWc2Vw