VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has asked children and teens to promise Jesus that they will never bully others, or stand back and allow bullying to happen in their schools and neighborhoods.
Speaking to a stadium filled with an estimated 80,000 young people, parents, and educators in Milan on Saturday, during his one-day visit to the northern Italian city, the pope fielded several questions from children and adults.
Asked by a mother and catechist how best to foster an open dialogue between educators, students, and their parents, the pope offered several pieces of advice, but ended by expressing his concern about bullying, which he called “an ugly phenomenon in education these days.”
He warned parents and teachers to be on guard against bullying. He then turned his attention directly to young people, saying: “In silence, listen to me. In silence.”
“In your school, in your neighborhood, is there a girl or a boy who you mock or make fun of, because they have some some defect, because they are fat, or because they are skinny, or for this or that? Think it over,” he said. “And do you like to embarrass them, and even hit them for this? Think if over. This is called bullying.”
Halting the applause in the stadium, the Pope continued: “No, no! I still haven’t finished.”
“Please … promise the Lord, and never do this, or allow it to happen at your school or in your neighborhood. Do you understand?” he told young people, asking those who are being confirmed to do so when they receive the sacrament.
“Promise me,” he told children and teens. “Never, never mock or make fun of someone; a companion at school or in your neighborhood … Do you promise this, today?”
Not satisfied with their response, Pope Francis upped the ante: “The pope isn’t happy with your response … Do you promise this?” to which the youth gathered in Milan stadium gave a resounding ‘yes!’
“Good,” Pope Francis told them. “You have said this ‘yes’ to the pope. Now, in silence, think about what an ugly thing this is, and think about whether you are able to promise Jesus. Do you promise Jesus never to bully?”
“Yes!” the young people shouted.
“You promise Jesus…,” he said once more, as if to make sure they realized the One to whom they were pledging their promise.
“Yes,” they responded.
“Thank you. And may the Lord bless you!” he said, before inviting them to pray the ‘Our Father’ and granting them the Apostolic Blessing.
This is not the first time Pope Francis has addressed the problem of bullying.
Last May, in a meeting with YouTube celebrities and film stars including George Clooney and Richard Gear, the pope called for an end to “aggression and bullying.”
“Bullying is an aggression that conceals profound cruelty,” he said.
Recalling photos he received from a religious sister, of a child massacred in a civil war unfolding in Africa, he said bullying is a similar kind of cruelty because it “massacres” the mind.
In order to build a better world, Pope Francis said, “we need to eradicate all forms of cruelty.”