In an almost two-hour long dialogue with students from several Catholic universities from the Americas, Pope Francis condemned violence and conflict, but despite the opportunities to address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he chose instead to avoid specifically naming any of the world’s ongoing wars.

“Violence destroys the harmony of creation,” Francis said. “Violence does not build, it destroys. We can see this in all military dictatorships. We need the prophecy of non-violence because it is much easier to respond to a slap on the face with another, instead of turning the other cheek.”

We need the “gentleness of nonviolence,” the pope said, answering a question on this issue. Gentleness is one of the most beautiful human things, he said, with “attitudes that are born from the first caress of the mother to her baby.”

He also spoke of God’s tenderness, saying that he has three qualities: Closeness, mercy and tenderness. “If he is not tender, then he is not the Christian God,” Francis said.

The pope’s words came as he exchanged thoughts with students from several Catholic universities and colleges in North, Central and South America, in a dialogue hosted by Loyola University of Chicago. Sitting at a desk with a massive bookcase as background, the Argentine pontiff was often seen smiling and taking copious notes as students spoke to him in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

The online meeting brought Francis together with students from seven regional working groups of university and college students who engaged in a synodal process of preparation ahead of their dialogue with the pontiff. Young people from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America spoke to the pope and discussed a host of issues regarding migration challenges, including education, environmental sustainability, economic justice, and integral human development.

Some of the young Brazilians, Canadians, Americans and Argentines are migrants, migrating from one country to another or from the suburbs to the center of their cities in search of better life opportunities. Connected by smartphones, tablets and computers, divided into four blocks, they briefly told the pope their story, speaking about the emergencies of their countries or presented projects developed in recent years. The Argentine introduced himself as coming “from the land of [Lionel] Messi, and the pope.”

Representatives of each working group spoke about their studies and work and closed their short remarks with a question for Francis. The first group of students described the challenges facing migrants, ranging from discrimination, marginalization, extreme poverty, and holding on to their roots. Other students looked at the worsening gap between the rich and poor in society, the increasing numbers of those forced to leave their homes due to climate change – an estimated 20 million every year – and the need to promote non-violent struggle as exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King.

During his remarks, the pontiff said that in an ideal situation, people wouldn’t be forced to migrate, but remain in their own nations, “living well,” even if not living “la dolce vita.”

“Where there is violence, there is no harmony,” Francis said. “Through the path of non-violence, you reach sincerity and reject all hypocrisy. I tell you as a friend: do not enter into the game of hypocrisy.”

People today are forced to leave their homes, Francis said, because of political, economic and cultural problems, as well as wars, lack of work, and for religious persecution, starting a migration process “to see who will receive them.”

“Every migrant must be received, accompanied, promoted and integrated,” the pope said. “Each country, each state, has to say honestly, ‘I can receive so many, but no more’.” Afterwards, he said, the rest of the countries are called, “in a universal dialogue of fraternity,” to see how they can receive these migrants.

Francis also said that migrants should be able to stay in their native homeland and to live a life in harmony with nature, because “a good life is a life in harmony.”

The Argentine pontiff thanked the students for the dialogue on migration, because “we are children of migrants. My father migrated from Piedmont, Italy to Argentina.” Similarly, he said, the United States was constituted in great part by migrations, and as such, “we are countries of migrants. My land, Argentina, is a cocktail of migrants.”

“Building bridges is an integral part of Christian identity,” Francis said. “Christ comes to build bridges between the Father and us. A Christian who does not know how to build bridges has forgotten his baptism.”

The pontiff then thanked everyone for their efforts in building bridges between north and south and in so doing, responding to their Christian vocation to bring people together.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, offered the introductory remarks, saying that the students who took part in the dialogue efforts “understand the need to build bridges as opposed to erecting walls. That is the fundamental call of the Gospel. And it is so important today, as we hear about war in Europe,” in a clear reference to Russia invading Ukraine.

Building bridges, Cupich said, begins with the practice of listening, “whether we are a parent or a priest, a catechist or religious, lay leader or bishop, young person or old.”

“Only a synodal vision rooted in discernment, conversion and reform at every level, can bring to the church the comprehensive action in the defense of the most vulnerable in our midst, to which God’s grace is calling us to,” he said. “Pope Francis says it so beautifully: The Holy Spirit needs us. Listen to him by listening to each other. Don’t leave anyone behind.”