VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis told Italian students to “dream big” like St. John XXIII and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about the world of peace and justice they would like to see.
And at the same time, he wished them a good Advent journey “made up of many small gestures of peace each day: gestures of acceptance, encounter, understanding, closeness, forgiveness and service. Gestures that come from the heart and are steps toward Bethlehem, toward Jesus, who is the prince of peace.”
Pope Francis met Nov. 28 with some 6,000 Italian schoolchildren, teens and their teachers, who have been participating in the program of the National Network of Schools for Peace.
The program is focusing on the theme, “For Peace. With Care,” and Pope Francis told them that the second part is essential.
“Usually, we talk about peace when we feel directly threatened, as in the case of a possible nuclear attack or a war being fought on our doorstep,” the pope said. And “we care about the rights of migrants when we have some relative or friend who has migrated.”
But even when war is not near or threatening someone known, “peace is always, always about us! Just as it always concerns another, our brother or sister, and he or she must be taken care of,” the pope told the students.
That kind of concern is shown by people who have won the Nobel Peace Prize, he said, but also by many “unknown people who quietly work for this cause.”
Pope Francis said he wanted to draw the students’ attention to two important witnesses to peace: St. John and Rev. King.
In the early 1960s, a time “marked by strong tensions – the building of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis, the Cold War and the nuclear threat” – St. John published his “famous and prophetic encyclical, ‘Pacem in Terris.'”
While the document was released in 1962, “it is very timely,” the pope said. “Pope John addressed all people of goodwill, calling for the peaceful resolution of all wars through dialogue and disarmament. It was a call that received great attention in the world, far beyond the Catholic community, because he had grasped something all humanity needed, which is still the case today.”
Pope Francis told them that a few months after the publication of “Pacem in Terris,” Rev. King, “another prophet of our time,” delivered his famous speech, “I have a dream.”
“In an American context heavily marked by racial discrimination, he made everyone dream with the idea of a world of justice, freedom and equality,” the pope said, quoting a line from the speech: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Then Pope Francis asked the youngsters, “What is your dream for the world of today and tomorrow? I encourage you to dream big, like John XXIII and Martin Luther King.”
The pope also encouraged them to consider joining other young people for World Youth Day in Portugal in early August to meet young people “from all over the world, all united by the dream of fraternity based on faith in the God who is peace, the father of Jesus Christ and our father.”