Just months after becoming pope in 2013, Pope Francis founded an organisation in his native Argentina called Scholas Occurentes, aimed at bringing together teenagers from different backgrounds to get them involved in civil society.
This week the smiling pope held a reception at the Vatican to mark the signing of an alliance between Scholas Occurentes and World ORT, the global Jewish education organisation.
They plan to extend the intiative’s work by staging a conference next year in the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires, for hundreds of teenagers from all over the world to take part in multiracial and inter-religious dialogue.
For the last four years, Scholas has brought together young people for a variety of civil projects which might affect their lives, like improving street lighting in their neighbourhood.
It has supported teenagers wanting to take their projects to local councils with a view to creating new laws, and the scheme has helped encourage young people and adults to become involved in society.
The organisers say the deal is a strong match: students at two ORT schools in Buenos Aires already take part in Scholas’s work, and businessman Dario Werthein - the chair of World ORT’s trustees - is an Argentinian national.
The alliance will bring together young people from all over the world, with different religions and socioeconomic backgrounds, to participate in open and meaningful dialogue.
Although the focus will be on discussion rather than projects, organisers hope they will encourage the teenagers to launch projects similar to Scholas Occurentes when they return to their home countries.
Mr Werthein said: “World ORT and Scholas share a common goal: to make the world a better place through education. This collaboration will allow us to reach more places and for each and every one of the children to develop their potential, no matter where they come from.”
Avi Ganon, World ORT’s chief executive, added: “We see in this co-operation an important tool to promote tolerance worldwide. The signing of this agreement is a powerful reminder of what can be achieved by establishing equal and respectful dialogue between communities.
“I look forward to schools in World ORT’s international network leading by example in this exciting initiative.”