Pope Francis receives a soccer ball from Jose Maria del Corral, president of Scholas Occurrentes.Associated Press/LaPresse Andrew Medichini (APN)
Dozens of Ibero-American cities have proposed to bet on sustainable development as the only possible way to combat climate change. Fifty mayors from different Latin American countries have met in Rome for three days to advance this objective. Together, they have created a community of work and exchange of ideas to share experiences and train on environmental protection, biodiversity, socioeconomic development, social inclusion or well-being of citizens, among other topics.
Within the framework of the first World Congress of Educational Ecocities, which culminated this Thursday, and which was organized by the Scholas Occurrentes Foundation, which has a network of more than half a million schools worldwide and CAF-Development Bank of America Latina, the councilors have participated in different activities such as group dynamics, workshops, spaces for the exchange of ideas and discussions with international experts to strengthen their management and leadership capacities and to seek solutions to the great development challenges facing cities.
The meeting has served to identify the main problems and put on the table responses to the major challenges that cities face, especially those related to environmental protection and the promotion of the well-being of citizens. “Mayors live closely the day to day of their cities, they are the ones who are closest to the people and the ones who provide solutions to people’s problems. In this meeting, a community has been generated among them, they have connected and have found common ground in their vocation of service to change their cities and have created a network to share solutions. It does not matter if it is Argentina, Ecuador, Portugal or Panama, the problems of the communities are very similar”, Christian Asinelli, CAF’s Corporate Vice President of Strategic Programming, pointed out in conversation with this newspaper.
A two-hour meeting with the Pope
Despite the wide variety of realities they represent, all the municipalities have encountered common problems, such as migration, violence, crime, climate change, social inclusion, work with young people or strengthening democracy. “We all understood that from the proximity of local governments we can do many things. One of the ideas is to work training our people and through CAF implement concrete solutions”, said one of the participants in the meeting, Yamandú Orsi, mayor of Canelones, Uruguay.
A group of Latin American mayors and the vice president of CAF, Christian Asinelli, pose this Thursday with Pope Francis in the Vatican. Courtesy CAF
As Asinelli explains, the mayors agree that the main challenge is to “activate participation mechanisms in the new generations that make them get involved in the public policies of their communities and look to the future with optimism.” “Education is the basis for building the future,” says the vice president of CAF, who calls for a more just and inclusive world that gives more voice to young people.
As a climax to the congress, the group of local authorities presented their conclusions and purposes to Pope Francis, who met with them for two hours and who symbolically blessed their project with words of encouragement.
“The meeting with the Pope was very emotional, there was an incredible connection, Francisco greeted all the mayors one by one and left messages for everyone,” says Asinelli, also an Argentine, who has known the pontiff since his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires and who has participated in numerous initiatives with him. “The Pope pays attention to all sectors, he believes in the peripheries, he shared with us two hours of talks, listening, he sent messages, and he stressed that it is important to find spaces to be able to work with those who are closest to the communities, like the mayors”, explains the vice president of CAF, who found Francisco “very good, jovial, with a great sense of humor”.
“Integral ecology”, the term used by Francis in his green encyclical, Laudato sí, to describe the whole of human, environmental, economic, social and cultural ecology and with which he suggests a renewed conception of human relations and with the nature, was one of the guiding threads of the congress.
In the meeting, the Pope also confirmed that he wants to travel to his native country, Argentina, next year, although he qualified that he hopes it will be possible. “My idea is to travel next year. We will see if it is possible, ”he said briefly when asked by the presenter of the event.
The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú also participated in the work of these days, who shared her impressions on youth leadership, new technologies, migratory processes, community empowerment and the dichotomy between the global and the local. “People cannot continue to be deeply materialistic,” the Guatemalan indigenous leader and activist told the mayors, referring to the problems facing modern societies. “Today leaders are multidisciplinary, they have to know how to plan, they have to know law, they have to have practical experience. The universal dynamic is in your hands. I admire the mayors and the mayors. The hope in the people is whether or not we solve their problems. The local leadership is extraordinary,” added Menchú.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner also assured in her speech that global warming is generating new migrations due to poverty, insecurity and the effect of climate change on agricultural land. “Mother Earth is the only home we have,” Menchú said. The Guatemalan advocated “resuming the multilateral politics of the planet,” and suggested to the authorities that they forge alliances with self-managed organizations, movements, and initiatives.
The pontiff criticizes the lack of sexual education
CAF-development bank of Latin America has promoted the Biodivercities Network with the aim of integrating the concepts of cities and biodiversity, creating new positive links between the rural and the urban, and prioritizing circular economy scenarios, with the aim of transforming cities in spaces that coexist harmoniously with nature, where clean transport systems, resilient infrastructures or a greater number of urban parks or gardens in the heart of the metropolis are considered. This network of cities, which was the germ of the Rome congress, is currently made up of 119 cities from 17 countries in the region. And it has the objective of integrating the preservation of biodiversity in the management and planning of urban policies, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
In the meeting with the pontiff, who also connected by videoconference with young people from Argentina, the United States, Mexico and the Colombian Amazon and a group of elderly and young people from a residence in Spain, various current issues of interest to young people, such as poor sexual training, which he defined as a “problem” for young people. Responding to a question from a boy from Mexico about sexual violence and the educational system, Francisco pointed out that education “is a duty of society and of parents”, who must prepare the youngest so that they know “what is love in life.” And he criticized that pornography, which sometimes replaces education and affects the way young people relate emotionally and sexually, is “the crudest commercialization of love.” “Due to the lack of sexual education, we end up in the commercialization of love. Love is not to be commercialized and boys should not be used,” added Bergoglio.