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What Pope Francis told a group of Miami students who want to improve the community

Pope Francis spoke virtually with high school students and adult volunteers from Miami and around the world on Thursday to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his global educational organization, Scholas Ocurrentes.

Nearly 30 students and volunteers, some of who came from Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles, gathered at the Telemundo studios in Doral to commemorate the organization’s mission of creating a “culture of encounter through education.”

Scholas Ocurrentes, founded by Pope Francis in 2013, is a nonprofit educational organization that promotes cultural exchanges and social integration through community-based projects in education, sports and the arts.

During the international event, the South Florida group unveiled a mural they painted for the theme of connecting across cultures and differences.

“What we did was make a mural that symbolizes the encounters young people have across different socioeconomic realities, different cities across the United States and also different beliefs, since not everyone is Catholic,” Maria Martha Barreneche, executive director of Scholas USA, told the Miami Herald in Spanish.

Students and volunteers unveil their mural at the Scholas Ocurrente anniversary event in Telemundo.
Students and volunteers unveil their mural at the Scholas Ocurrente anniversary event in Telemundo.

Students also had the chance to ask the pope a question: What role does Scholas education play in contributing to cross-cultural encounter and connection in this country?

His answer: It creates a space for young people to not only find each other, but it’s also an educational proposal that respects and embraces each person’s authenticity despite differences.

“Unfortunately, some circumstances and political measures do not help overcome the crisis of the lack of encounter between communities, but instead transform them into a maze,” the pope told the students in Spanish. “The lack of encounter is a situation that cannot be overcome alone; it has to be done together.”

Jorge Valero, 21, one of the Scholas volunteer educators at the event and a student at the New World School of the Arts in Miami, said that the pope’s answer was “exactly what Scholas is.”

“Scholas works to create a space to create a dialogue for students to be able to talk about what aches their hearts, what causes issues for them,” Valero said. “It was phenomenal to get the students to understand that there is somebody listening to them ... that their voices are being heard by people who can help them make a change.”

Students across the world

Scholas chapters from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Spain were also tuned in to the anniversary event, and each one got to present a community project they worked on.

Those in Buenos Aires talked about helping young adults from a marginalized neighborhood complete their first year of college. In Granada, Spain, volunteers founded the “Be Together” initiative (Estar Juntos) that connects adolescents to senior centers to keep them company.

“Francis says that the culture of encounter is the answer to the crisis of disconnect that we live,” Barreneche said. “Especially in American society, which is troubled with violence, discrimination and the lack of acceptance to differences, despite that, this country is made up of really diverse groups.”

To learn more

For more information on Scholas, visit https://scholasoccurrentes.org/en/