VATICAN CITY (CNS) ─ Be courageous in caring for and accompanying others, helping them to dream big, cultivating their unique gifts and flourishing, Pope Francis told university chaplains and pastoral workers.
"The work of education is a true mission in which individuals and situations are accepted with all their lights and shadows -- their shadows, too -- with a kind of 'parental' love," the pope said.
"This facilitates in a unique way the growth of those seeds that God has sown within each person," he said Nov. 24 in an audience at the Vatican with people taking part in a conference on pastoral care in Catholic universities, sponsored by the Dicastery for Culture and Education.
Pope Francis told them he had "three approaches that I consider important to your service: to appreciate differences, to accompany with care and to act courageously."
"Each person must be accompanied as he or she is, and that is where the dialogue, the journey and progress begin," he said, explaining the importance of seeing and appreciating people's different qualities with patience, openness and creativity.
As the prophet Isaiah said, God "creates the brightness of the sun, but does not despise the flickering light of 'a dimly burning wick,'" referring to accepting people's "lights and shadows" with love, the pope said.
"Believing in the vitality of the seeds that God sows," he said, means accompanying and caring "for what is silently growing and coming to light in the, at times, confused thoughts, desires and affections of the young people entrusted to you."
"Your attitude has to be more than just apologetic, dealing with questions and answers, prohibitions: do not be afraid to confront those realities," he said.
There are "certain ideological currents within the church, in which people end up being reduced to a figure that is flat, without nuance" and without the "edges," "shadows," breadth and depth of real individuals, he said.
Uniformity does not make people flourish, he said. "If we wisely value a person for who he or she is, we can make that person into a work of art."
Jesus himself "teaches us the art of caring" and "how to draw out the best from his creatures, by caring for whatever is most fragile and imperfect in them," the pope said.
"Care for all of them, without seeking immediate results, but in the sure hope that, when you accompany young people and pray for them, miracles spring up," he said.
The pope also encouraged his audience to "act courageously" since "nurturing the joy of the Gospel in the university environment is an indeed exciting yet demanding undertaking" which requires courage and taking risks.
"Where there are no risks, there are no fruits: this is a rule," he said.
He told them to do everything they can to help young people "dream and aspire to the measure of Christ: to the height, breadth and depth of his love."