It’s not every day that a Zoom meeting is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
But then, it’s also not every day that your virtual meeting features Pope Francis.
That’s exactly what two Chaminade students got the chance to experience recently. The historic encounter with the Pope was part of a dialogue with students from North, Central and South America on the economic and environmental pressures contributing to migration and displacement.
Chaminade junior Alycia Tausaga, who is majoring in Environmental Science, and senior Joseph Durocher, a Biochemistry major, were part of a group of about 20 students in the West and Pacific Region. In total, the Pope met with about 100 students from across the three regions during the virtual meeting on February 24.
Tausaga said she felt inspired after listening to the Pope speak directly to her group.
“He took his time out to come to this historic encounter and to listen to what university students have to say and provide encouragement for the youth,” Tausaga said. “It was such a good opportunity to build the bridge, and it also allowed me to connect with other students from around the globe.”
The meeting was organized as part of an initiative called Building Bridges. University students were challenged to come together to seek ways to overcome the walls separating the peoples and cultures of South, Central and North America and provide opportunities for authentic dialogue and leadership.
Chaminade’s Rector and VP for Mission Bro. Edward Brink learned about the program after reading an article in the National Catholic Reporter. He reached out to Loyola University Chicago and was able to secure spots for two Chaminade representatives in a group of students from Catholic universities in the West and Pacific. Loyola University Chicago hosted the event in collaboration with the Argentinian theologian, Emilce Cuda, the head of the office of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, who asked the Pope to participate.
Tausaga and Durocher were selected because of their interest in climate change.
Durocher, who is a Ho’oulu Scholar, said students in the group coordinated before the meeting to discuss key issues and put together a presentation. “People are already aware that are migration and environmental issues,” he said. “This was about starting actual change.”
He added that he felt honored and “very special” to have been included in the dialogue.
“We have to stop just talking and not doing anything,” he said.
Tausaga, who is a National Science Foundation S-STEM Scholar at Chaminade, said as a Pacific Islander she’s seen the impacts of climate change firsthand. She said the meeting with the Pope reminded her of a well-known Hawaiian proverb: Huli ka lima i lalo or “turn the hand down.” In other words, instead of turning your palms out expecting something from others, turn them down and get to work in the soil.
“Turn your hands down to give and to work in the community,” said Tausaga. “Have heart and compassion for others. Be the voice to allow others to bring about change. That’s what this meeting with the Holy Father really highlighted for me. It strikes at the heart.”