Meeting a Champion of Refugee Education

February 21, 2019

Pope Francis encourages continued effort for refugee education in audience that includes Pangea leadership

"Angels Unaware" is a sculpture made by Canadian artist Timothy P. Schmalz that depicts 140 migrants ranging from a Jewish man escaping Nazi Germany to a Syrian refugee fleeing the civil war.

Walking into Saint Peter’s Square it is hard not gawk at impressive baroque architecture that has stood at the center of one of the world’s major religions for 500 years. Marble pillars encircle it topped with sculptures of 140 saints looking down into the square. It is one of the most recognizable squares in the world. Look to the left and you will notice something changing, though.

There is an enormous bronze sculpture that grabs the eye of every visitor. The sculpture depicts 140 migrants throughout history, from a Jewish man escaping Nazi Germany to a Syrian refugee fleeing civil war. The figures are standing on a ship and among them you will notice the wings of an angel.

This is not unintentional. There are few world figures that are a greater champion of refugee solidarity than Pope Francis. Is has been one of, if not the most, outspoken global leaders on the subject. The sculpture is just one of the Pope’s many attempts to bring visibility to the plight of migrants and refugees worldwide. Another was the Pope’s support of the third Refugee and Migrant Education Network conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome from 26-28 September.

The Head of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of the Vatican State invited attendees at the conference to a private audience with him at the residence at the Vatican Palace - a place where he has actually refused to reside in favor of a more simple living option. There he gave a speech sharing his passion for refugee education.

CEO Drew Edwards meets Pope Francis at the Vatican Palace

He shared, “Your conference has been planned as a moment of reflection grounded in the needs of our migrant brothers and sisters, with particular attention to children and young people. You have heard [refugees] desire to pursue their education even though they have been uprooted from their native lands. I want to encourage you and to emphasize the importance of your contribution in three areas pertaining to your competence: research, teaching, and social promotion.”

He went on to say that education and teaching should be responsive to the changing needs of refugees, including distance learning.

He further advocated for attention to the intersection of climate change and migration saying, “The earth has been devastated by the excessive exploitation of its resources and by decades of pollution. As a result, more and more people are forced to leave their lands, which have become uninhabitable.”

Pope Francis described the unique opportunity that education plays in the empowerment of all, but also the unique opportunity to hosting schools where refugees not only receive, but contribute to host communities through their unique cultures, skills, and experiences.

Finally, Pope Francis took time to greet each member and exchange a few words. Pangea CEO Drew Edwards thanked the Pope for his commitment to advocating for the cause and dignity of refugees and their education.

Pangea continues to remain committed to providing access to meaningful education for all. Our work and research in refugee education is set to expand in 2023 in the Imvepi Refugee Settlement and beyond.