Be witnesses of God's presence, pope tells theology students

Pope Francis greets Abbot Gregory Polan, leader of the confederation of Benedictine monasteries, during an audience with a group of Catholic and Protestant theology students from Germany at the Vatican Dec. 18, 2020. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a world that seems less tolerant of religion, theology students have a mission to be witnesses of God's love and goodness, Pope Francis said.

"It will be your task to enter into dialogue with a world where there seems to be less and less room for religion," the pope told a group of Catholic and Protestant theology students from Germany, during an audience Dec. 18 at the Vatican.

It is "a task that we share with all believers of different religions, knowing that making God present is good for our societies," he said.

The German theology students are part of "Theologisches Studienjahr" ("Theological Study Year"), which had been held every year at the Abbey of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Jerusalem.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the students were unable to travel to the Holy Land and were hosted this year at the Pontifical University of Sant'Anselmo in Rome.

Despite being unable to study in Jerusalem, the pope said that "divine providence granted us this opportunity to meet at the Vatican.”

"Even if you cannot experience the Holy Land this year, finding yourself almost in 'exile,'" the pope said, the "in-depth study of sacred Scripture, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue will always remain a distinctive feature of your program. I am convinced that Rome, too, will offer you various possibilities in this regard.”

Pope Francis said the yearlong study will be "an important stage in your formative, spiritual and human journey" and encouraged the students to be witnesses for their peers and for all people of "the importance of God" and the fullness that faith can bring in one's life.

Religions, he said, can "make a valuable contribution to building fraternity and defending justice in society."