Pope Francis recently added a celebrity gloss to his special project, Scholas Occurrentes (Schools of Encounter), when he honored George Clooney, Salma Hayek, and Richard Gere as his arts ambassadors to help build a “culture of encounter.” The award of the Olive Medal of Peace to these actors drew surprised responses. And rightly so.
Scholas is an organization born in Argentina, whose mission is to school-aged children the world over. It operates under the authority of Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, also an Argentine and chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS). It was Sorondo who arranged for the participation of Jeffrey Sachs, a global proponent of abortion and population control, at the Pontifical Academy’s climate change workshop in 2015. When the inevitable criticism of this collaboration surfaced, Sorondo defended it. Critics pointed to the use of children as “change agents,” where students are taught to embrace popular globalist agendas and policies, often contrary to the values of their own parents and sometimes even the Church.
Scholas promotes an “encounter of peace” in 430,000 member schools and educational associations in 190 countries that span religions, cultures, and ethnicities. The hope is that via shared interests in sports, arts, and technology the next generation will “encounter” each other, enjoy greater social integration, and create a more peaceful world.
Five months after Francis’ election, Scholas Occurrentes was designated as an “International Organization of Pontifical Right.” Since then, Scholas has built a very strong presence on social media – part of the technology component – as a means of connecting groups. There is a Facebook page, a busy Twitter account, and large YouTube channel featuring many encounters with Pope Francis. The Holy Father will publish a book later this year with answers to questions that teens submit to him through Scholas online platforms and Google “hangouts.”
In his remarks to the Scholas last week, Pope Francis urged his guests to “Help the world recover the language of gestures.” A handshake and a smile add to the words that we communicate. And, it might be said, so do the “leading figures” and ambassadors chosen to represent an initiative of the Catholic Church. “Important values can be transmitted by celebrities,” said Lorena Bianchetti, a representative of the event.
But what does George Clooney symbolize for a pontifical educational effort? Recently Clooney, like Pope Francis, criticized Italy for not accepting more Syrian refugees. This shared concern for refugees may be the basis of Clooney’s invitation and award. The celebrity spends part of the year in Italy in his 22-room, $50 million villa on Lake Como, where, so far, he and wife Amal have not yet transmitted the value of welcoming a refugee family.(Read more.)