Pope Francis Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Alfredo Borba

ROGERS PARK — Pope Francis will meet with college students throughout the Americas in a virtual forum hosted by Loyola University Chicago.

For “Building Bridges North-South,” the pope will speak with students from Central, South and North America on issues impacting young people throughout the Western Hemisphere. The 75-minute forum will start at noon Feb. 24 and will stream to the public in English, Spanish and Portuguese. To register for the event, click here.

The event is believed to be the first official forum between Pope Francis and college students and is the first visit — albeit virtual — of a pope to any American Catholic university, according to Loyola officials.

“We’re so excited and thrilled,” said Peter L. Jones, interim dean of Loyola’s Institute of Pastoral Studies. “This is exactly the kind of thing Pope Francis wants. He does not get the opportunity to interact with everyday people all that often. And he is so in-tuned to students.”

A flier for Pope Franci’s talk with college students hosted by Loyola University Chicago

Loyola’s event with Pope Francis came as the university was considering how to participate in the Catholic Church’s “synod” process.

A synod is a conference of church officials to consider the church’s direction. Pope Francis commissioned this synod in October and wants the conversation to be as far reaching as possible, Jones said.

Loyola officials began to think of how to engage students in the synod process and thought of holding meetings or working groups of students to discuss the church and how it could address worldwide problems.

University officials enlisted the help of Emilce Cuda, an Argentine theologian who teaches at Loyola and who is the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Latin America. Cuda is the first woman to hold that position in church history.

Cuda, who works with the pope, suggested inviting Pope Francis to the talks, Jones said.

The pope has made outreach and advocacy for young people a priority, and he has championed intervention on environmental and economic justice issues that are dear to young people, Jones said.

Shortly after reaching out, Pope Francis agreed to participate in the event, Jones said.

“As we were talking we said, ‘You know who would love this? Pope Francis,'” he said. “We were of course all shocked. But then we talked about whether we should really be surprised.”

After Pope Francis signed on, the event was changed from just Loyola students to students of Catholic colleges throughout the Americas.

The discussion with Pope Francis will include about 150 students. Prior to the talk, students were grouped together by region to discuss issues impacting them. A representative from the groups will summarize the discussion for Pope Francis, who will then weigh in and chat with the students, Jones said.

The discussion will be livestreamed for the rest of the world to see. Ultimately, the goal is to get college students thinking of how they would change the world, and for them to be supported in their efforts by a preeminent world leader.

“Our goal is to lift up and center students,” Jones said. “For them to be affirmed by someone like Pope Francis? What a gift that is.”

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