September 5th, 2014
04:06 PM ET
By Rafael Romo, CNN Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
(CNN) - It was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity: teenagers from five continents speaking directly with Pope Francis through a Google video chat.
The students from schools in Australia, Israel, Turkey, South Africa and El Salvador heard advice from the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, speaking Thursday from the Vatican in his native Spanish.
“In life,” the Pope from Argentina told them, “you can (do) either one of two opposite things: You can build bridges or walls. Walls separate and divide. Bridges get people closer.”
The Pope also allowed the teenagers to express their views during the video conference using the Google Hangouts platform.
A student from Istanbul reflected on world peace. “People from all nationalities that contain different religions and ethnic groups must learn how to live in peace,” the Turkish student said.
The Pope participated in the video chat after meeting with the directors of the Scholas Ocurrentes organization, an international education initiative based in Argentina that promotes development of young students through technology, sports, arts and culture. The Vatican is promoting the project.
The Pope spoke without a prepared text. Before the video chat, he had shared an anecdote from his childhood with Scholas directors in attendance.
Francis said he once got in trouble with his teacher for misbehaving. His mother, the Pope said, went to his school and made him apologize to the teacher upon confirming he had misbehaved.
“Today in many schools,” the Pope said, “a teacher will make an observation about a child and the next day the parents will denounce the teacher. The educational pact is broken!”
For dozens of Salvadoran students, the video chat with the Pope was cause for celebration. For a brief moment, the spotlight was on La Campanera, a community near San Salvador, the capital, plagued by gang violence and poverty.
“Beware of maras,” Pope Francis told them using the local word for gangs, “because in the same way that there are bridges that unite you there are also links that can destroy you. Be alert. There are groups that seek destruction, that seek war, that don't know how to be team players.”
There were also funny moments during the 20-minute video chat. A student from South Africa told the Pope in Spanish not to get nervous as he was about to ask a few questions. The Pope laughed out loud.
To a question from a Turkish boy about what young people should expect from the future, the Pope said he doesn't have a crystal ball. "The future," the pontiff said, "is in your heart, in your mind and in your hands."
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