DePaul University organizes meeting between Pope Francis, students across Africa

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Pope Francis speaks to students during a webinar on Nov. 1, 2022, as DePaul University supported “Building Bridges Across Africa: A Synodal Encounter Between Pope Francis and University Students,” a virtual dialogue. The webinar featured students from DePaul and more than a dozen African universities. The Zoom discussion focused on the theme “Ubuntu: A Culture of Encounter; We All Belong.” (Screenshot)

University students from 10 countries in Africa met virtually with Pope Francis on Nov. 1 in a webinar organized by DePaul University.

The event was an expansion of the “Building Bridges” project, whose first virtual encounter included students from the Americas meeting virtually with Pope Francis Feb. 24, which was organized at Loyola University Chicago.

The November meeting’s theme was “Ubuntu: A Culture of Encounter, We All Belong.”

Father Stan Chu Ilo, a professor of World Christianity and African studies at DePaul, told Pope Francis that his emphasis on encounter is familiar to African listeners.

“When you speak about the culture of encounter, you speak like an African elder,” said Ilo, a co-organizer of the event and member of the Pan-African Catholic Theology and Pastoral Network, addressing the Holy Father. “Because the culture of encounter is the summary of the African Ubuntu, a shared ethical and spiritual wisdom in Africa that says that we are all together. We all belong; we all are connected, and we are held together by a bond of love in a shared universe.”

Students who talked with Pope Francis spoke of terrorism, migration, violence against women, the exploitation of natural resources, environmental catastrophe, economic inequality, arms trafficking and war and other problems facing young people in different parts of Africa, and asked the pope for advice on how to proceed and how to persevere.

Pope Francis advised them to organize, to be bold and committed in their efforts to build a better future with a culture of ubuntu between the global North and South. But he also counseled caution as they try to preserve their own lives, noting how many young people have been killed in Latin America as well as in Africa and other parts of the world when they try to stand up for their people.

“Be brave and remember to be committed,” Pope Francis said.

The students who participated have been meeting in regional groups of 15-20 students each, and they will continue to work on the issues they discussed going forward, taking Pope Francis’ advice into account.

One specific answer the pope gave to a student from Congo was that he plans to visit her country and South Sudan early next year, after a planned July 2022 visit had to be postponed because of the pope’s mobility issues.

Both “Building Bridges” sessions are part of the process of the Synod of Bishops, focusing on what it means to be a synodal church, one that walks together. The synodal process began in 2021 with listening sessions in dioceses around the world; in October, Pope Francis announced that the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops would meet for two sessions in October 2023 and October 2024.

Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, welcomed the young people to their virtual dialogue with Pope Francis. He quoted former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, saying that a society that cuts off its youth “surely will bleed to death.”

But, Cardinal Grech said, young people also must listen to their elders, who give them the roots they need to grow strong.

“It is important that we help one another to journey together,” Cardinal Grech said. “One of the ways young people can really engage with society is intergenerational dialogue. … Pope Francis is a very interesting person, even for me personally. I encourage you to not only enjoy your dialogue with a man of 86 years, Pope Francis, but also to get inspired to engage more with your elderly.”

DePaul Student Government Association President Kevin Holechko also welcomed the African university students to the dialogue.

Holechko, a DePaul senior, called it “one of the greatest honors” for DePaul to participate in the webinar.

“Our Vincentian mission calls on us to seek out the injustices of the world and help the marginalized,” he said.

Drawing on the success of Global Conversations, cross-culture dialogues with hundreds of students and professors worldwide, DePaul’s Global Engagement facilitated the webinar in partnership with DePaul’s Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology, the Pan-African Catholic Theology and Pastoral Network, the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, the General Secretariat of the Synod, Pontifical Commission for Latin America and Loyola University of Chicago.


  • pope francis
  • depaul university
  • africa
  • synod of bishops

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