Japanese students video chat with Pope Francis

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Students of Sophia University and the four Jesuit high schools in Japan had the rare opportunity to speak with Pope Francis via a live television hook-up between the Vatican and Japan. Speaking in Spanish, the Pope answered eight questions chosen from about 100 submitted by the students. His answers were simultaneously translated into Japanese.

The one-hour discussion held at Sophia University in Tokyo on December 18 drew a “studio” audience of more than 700 students and staff, and was broadcast live on the university’s YouTube channel.

The event was the brainchild of two Jesuits in Japan – Fr Juan Haidar SJ, director of the Sophia University Catholic Center, who had been a scholastic in Argentina when Pope Francis, Fr Jorge Bergoglio SJ, was the rector of the philosophy and theology faculty of San Miguel University in Buenos Aires, and Sophia University Vice President Fr Sali Augustine SJ. They began planning as early as May.

Also in the audience was Fr Renzo De Luca SJ, Provincial of the Japan Province, who had also been a scholastic under Fr Bergoglio’s supervision in Argentina.  “I was a guest, but greatly enjoyed kind of meeting Pope Francis and participating in this experience,” said Fr De Luca. “Even if there were only eight students chosen, they represented the audience well, and for all of us, this was something you cannot experience in another context. Even when you go to Rome, you cannot dream of having the Pope answer your questions for about five minutes each”. Fr De Luca mentioned that even though he did not speak during the event, the Holy Father noticed his former scholastic and made a humorous comment about the sweater he was wearing.

The Japan Province shares brief summaries of Pope Francis’ responses, provided by Fr Hideyuki Koyama SJ of Sophia University.

What has been your happiest experience since being elected Pope?

I feel that I myself have become younger through my contacts with people. That has been a source of my happiness.

What is the most important aim of university study?

Education that aims only at advancement and success, far from enabling a person to grow, rather makes the person smaller. It is important to harmonise the head (intellect), the heart (feeling), and the hands (work). One must also have the standpoint of “serving others.” Education that does not look toward service to others is an education that goes towards failure. It is a self-referential education that looks at itself, and this is dangerous.

What is your greatest hope and concern regarding present-day youth?

My great concern is that in their haste they will lose their memory and their roots. The message of Akira Kurosawa’s film “Rhapsody in August” is the need for dialogue between the young and the elderly, and shows how the grandchildren finally find their roots. I ask you to find your roots through speaking with elderly people. In facing the challenge of the present, those roots will bear fruit, and tomorrow they will flourish.

Wherein lies the importance of religion for the world today? (Question from a Myanmarese exchange student)

All religions promote human growth, but this must be for “serving others.” Fundamentalism is not grounded in religious teaching but is found in limited groups with social and political aims and can become a source of terrorism.

What is concretely necessary to achieve simultaneously the elimination of poverty and preservation of the environment?

The source of environmental problems is the dominance of the economy and the money market. The problem is that these move forward with no concern for environmental balance. In my country Argentina, in order to produce crops more efficiently, the land has been impoverished and farmers look for work in the cities. Such economic supremacy can lead to war.

What is your own self-image?

I make it a point not to look in the mirror. Once or twice a day I look at what has occurred within myself, reflect on my decisions, and avoid falling into vanity. I see myself as “a sinner forgiven by God”.

What do you think about co-existence with refugees?

They must be given education and work and be allowed to blend into society. Isolation can lead to terrorism.

What image do you have of Japan?

I think the Japanese are a diligent people with the experience of much suffering in the past. My concern is that the country’s strengths might be lost through things like excessive competition and continual spending.

The event concluded on a joyous note when all joined in singing “Happy Birthday” to the Pope in Spanish, as his 81st birthday had been the day before, December 17.