Pope Francis- Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius, models for today

By: Roberto Catalano
Source: Papa Francesco – Enea, Anchise e Ascanio modelli per oggi | Letsdialogue (whydontwedialogue.blogspot.com)

I would have never thought that a pope, an Argentinian pope, could provide such a provoking and at the same time true interpretation of the tragic conclusion of the story of Troy. I had to deal with these topics when I was in high school. However, back then worries were completely different even if they related to the academic field that made me attend in these days an extremely interesting meeting at the Vatican. I will talk about it in my next post.

This morning at 8 AM the whole group of academics has been summoned to the hall Paolo VI where Pope Francis stayed with us for about half an hour, firstly as group- about fifty people- then, personally with each one of us. The meeting was about one of the projects that are very close to the Pope’s heart. Some years ago, he launched it himself: the Global Educational Pact. The idea came to a group of rabbis that had informed the Holy See about the need to look at the future with creativity of processes and educational approaches. Pope Francis had taken the challenge after launching- in Buenos Aires, a challenging educational project: Schola Occurrentes. The Global Compact on Education was implemented in the first months of the year. During this year, the world has been fighting against the pandemic and wars in different parts of the world, the last nuclear risk conflict between Russia and Ukraine. I found myself involved in this project even if I did not know much of the subject, specifically in the intercultural and interreligious context. Over the last months, together with the Sophia University Institute and other institutions, I promoted webinars and moments of reflection. In these days, the Ministry for Catholic Education summoned about fifty experts and people working at the Global Compact for a moment of reflection and outlook.

Today, at its conclusion, there was the moment of dialogue with the pope. As always, his message was short and effective. It dealt with three figures anything but religious nor Christian. This time, Francis referred to the Greek Latin mythology using Aeneas as a model to face crises, not just the educational one that often leaves us with no ways out in today’s world. When we are disheartened, the pope reminded us that crises are always opportunities to grow and not to shut ourselves away, which is the real risk.

But how to seize these opportunities? The solution was provided by Aeneas abandoning a destroyed and burning Troy with his old father on his back and his little boy Ascanius holding his hand. On one hand, there are the roots, the memory we come from that we cannot forget. On the other hand, there is the future we are looking at. Aeneas could have thought about himself and running for his life. However, he did not do that. It was impossible to him leaving his father who had generated him. His father also was standing for his family, cultural and social heritage that he could not leave under the ashes of Troy. At the same time, a father never abandons his child not just because of life he has given him but also because the child is his future.

This is the brilliant interpretation by Francis. Today, in the face of the disruptive fire of the problems we have to face, as Aeneas in the face of a burning Troy, we shall continue walking towards the future without repudiating and forgetting our past. Over the years, I have often found myself in situations like these. I was tempted to run for my life, on my own. Yet, I often found myself in the face of my human, family, cultural and even spiritual roots.

I cannot repudiate them and, on several occasions, I happened to encourage others to do the same. It would be like becoming stateless people with no homeland nor civil status, including a socio-cultural and spiritual status.  Then, in the face of the frequent and inevitable tensions between the old and the new, “founders” and “future” listening to both, I realized that both are necessary for societies, groups, communities and institutions. Without them one shuts oneself away and eventually dies of asphyxia. This morning, Pope Francis defined tis temptation “backwardism”. This is another word coined by Bergoglio which perfectly expresses the real sense of the temptation that often attacks us, especially as the years roll by for us and for the institution or community we belong to.

Therefore, Aeneas is a real and imitable image for educators who do not deny the past and update it to look better at the future instead. This is a real global challenge for the educational pact that must be adjusted to this moment, where we can see a radical change. In the face of such change, we are called to put our past on our shoulder and keep walking towards the future, knowing that the future is created in the present.