On June 9, the day when illness forced him to rest, Pope Francis granted a long interview to the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia. The full text was also made available by the website Il Sismografo. The interview was carried out by a Portuguese journalist, Henrique Cymerman, who is a Middle East correspondent for La Vanguardia, Antena 3 and the Israeli TV Channel 2. Meeting him on the outward flight to Amman, the Pope, who had seen Cymerman sitting next to a Palestinian colleague, had asked him to protect him during his trip to the Holy Land. Cymerman was involved in the organization of the June 8 Prayer for Peace, held at the Vatican, and during the interview Francis noted this: “The fact that this has taken place is in good part thanks to you.” Here are ample extracts from the Pope’s responses on various topics.
“The persecuted Christians are a concern that touches me very deeply as a pastor. I know a lot about persecutions but it doesn’t seem prudent to talk about them here so I don’t offend anyone. But in some places it is prohibited to have a Bible or teach the catechism or wear a cross… What I would like to be clear on is one thing, I am convinced that the persecution against Christians today is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church. Today there are more Christian martyrs than in that period. And, it’s not because of fantasy, it’s because of the numbers.”
“It’s a contradiction. Violence in the name of God does not correspond with our time. It’s something ancient. With historical perspective, one has to say that Christians, at times, have practiced it. When I think of the Thirty Years’ War, there was violence in the name of God. Today it is unimaginable, right? We arrive, sometimes, by way of religion to very serious, very grave contradictions. Fundamentalism, for example. The three religions, we have our fundamentalist groups, small in relation to all the rest. A fundamentalist group, even if it does not kill anyone, even if it does not strike anyone, is violent. The mindset of fundamentalism is violence in the name of God.”
Me? A Revolutionary?
“For me, the great revolution is going to the roots, to recognize them and see what these roots have to say today. There is no contradiction between being a revolutionary and returning to the roots. Moreover, I believe that the way to make real changes is to begin from identity. One can never take a step forward in life if not from the past, without knowing where I come from, what my name is, what cultural or religious last name I have.”
“I know that something could happen to me, but it’s all in God’s hands. I remember that in Brazil, they had prepared a Popemobile closed with glass. But I cannot greet people and tell them that I love them from inside a sardine can, even if it is crystal. To me this is a wall. It is true that something can happen to me, but let’s be realistic, at my age I don’t have much to lose.”
Poor and Humble Church
“Poverty and humility are at the heart of the Gospel, and I say this in a theological, not sociological sense. You cannot understand the Gospel without poverty, which, however, should be distinguished from pauperism. I believe that Jesus wants bishops to be servants and not princes.”
Money and Wars
“It’s proven that with the food that is left over we could feed the people who are hungry. When you see photographs of undernourished kids in different parts of the world, you take your head in your hand, it is incomprehensible. I believe that we are in a world economic system that isn’t good. At the center of all economic systems must be man, man and woman, and everything else must be in service of this man. But we have put money at the center, the god of money. We have fallen into a sin of idolatry, the idolatry of money.
“The economy is moved by the ambition of having more and, paradoxically, it feeds a throwaway culture. Young people are thrown away when their natality is limited. The elderly are also discarded because they don’t serve any use anymore, they don’t produce, this passive class… In throwing away the kids and elderly, the future of a people is thrown away because the young people are going to push forcefully forward and because the elderly give us wisdom. They have the memory of that people and they have to pass it on to the young people. And now also it is in style to throw the young people away with unemployment. The rate of unemployment is very worrisome to me, which in some countries is over 50%. Someone told me that 75 million young Europeans under 25 years of age are unemployed. That is an atrocity. But we are discarding an entire generation to maintain an economic system that can’t hold up anymore, a system that to survive must make war, as the great empires have always done. But as a Third World War can’t be done, they make zonal wars. What does this mean? That they produce and sell weapons, and with this the balance sheets of the idolatrous economies, the great world economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money, obviously they are sorted. This unique thought takes away the wealth of diversity of thought and therefore the wealth of a dialogue between peoples. Well-understood globalization is a wealth. Poorly-understood globalization is that which nullifies differences. It is like a sphere in which all points are equidistant from the center. A globalization that enriches is like a polyhedron, all united but each preserving its particularity, its wealth, its identity, and this isn’t given. And this does not happen.”
Divisions Between Catalonia and Spain
“All division worries me. There is independence by emancipation and independence by secession. The independences by emancipation, for example, are American, that they were emancipated from the European States. The independences of nations by secession is a dismemberment; sometimes it’s very obvious. Let’s think of the former Yugoslavia. Obviously, there are nations with cultures so different that couldn’t even be stuck together with glue. The Yugoslavian case is very clear, but I ask myself if it is so clear in other cases. Scotland, Padania, Catalunya. There will be cases that will be just and cases that will not be just, but the secession of a nation without an antecedent of mandatory unity, one has to take it with a lot of grains of salt and analyze it case by case.”
Prayer for Peace
“You know that it wasn’t easy because you were there, and much of that achievement is due to you. I felt that it was something that can accidentally happen to all of us. Here, in the Vatican, 99% said it would not happen and then the 1% started to grow. I felt that we were feeling pushed towards something that had not occurred to us and that, little by little, started to take shape. It was not at all a political act — I felt that from the beginning — but it was rather a religious act: opening a window to the world.”
Journey to the Holy Land
“I decided to go because President Peres invited me. I knew that his mandate would end this spring, and so I felt obliged, in some way, to go beforehand. His invitation hastened the trip; I had not thought of doing it.”
“Within Every Christian Is a Jew”
“Perhaps it would be more correct to say, ‘You cannot live your Christianity, you cannot be a real Christian, if you do not recognize your Jewish roots.’ I don’t speak of Jewish in the sense of the Semitic race but rather in the religious sense. I think that interreligious dialogue needs to deepen in this, in Christianity’s Jewish root and in the Christian flowering of Judaism. I understand it is a challenge, a hot potato, but it can be done as brothers. I pray the Divine Office every day with the Psalms of David. We do the 150 psalms in one week. My prayer is Jewish, and I have the Eucharist, which is Christian.”
“I cannot explain why it happens, but I think it is very linked, in general, and without it being a fixed rule, to the right wing. Antisemitism usually nests better in right-wing political tendencies that in the left, right? And it still continues (like this). We even have those who deny the Holocaust, which is crazy.”
Pius XII and Opening the Vatican Archives
“They will bring a lot of light.”
“What worries me regarding this subject is the figure of Pius XII, the Pope that led the Church during World War II. They have said all sorts of things about poor Pius XII. But we need to remember that before he was seen as the great defender of the Jews. He hid many in convents in Rome and in other Italian cities, and also in the residence of Castel Gandolfo. Forty-two babies, children of Jews and other persecuted who sought refuge there were born there, in the Pope’s room, in his own bed. I don’t want to say that Pius XII did not make any mistakes — I myself make many — but one needs to see his role in the context of the time. For example, was it better for him not to speak so that more Jews would not be killed, or for him to speak? I also want to say that sometimes I get ‘existential hives’ when I see that everyone takes it out against the Church and Pius XII, and they forget the great powers. Did you know that they knew perfectly well the rail network of the Nazis to take the Jews to concentration camps? They had the pictures. But they did not bomb those railroad tracks. Why? It would be best if we spoke a bit about everything.”
Priest or Pope?
“The dimension of parish priest is that which most shows my vocation. Serving the people comes from within me. Turn off the lights to not spend a lot of money, for example. They are things that a parish priest does. But I also feel like the Pope. It helps me to do things seriously. My collaborators are very serious and professional. I have help to carry out my duty. One doesn’t need to play the parish priest Pope. It would be immature. When a head of state comes, I have to receive him with the dignity and the protocol that are deserved. It is true that with the protocol I have my problems, but one has to respect it.”
Changes and Future Plans
“I have no flash of inspiration, I have no personal project, simply because I never thought that I would remain here at the Vatican. Everyone knows: I arrived with a small suitcase to go right back to Buenos Aires. What I’m doing is accomplishing what the cardinals spoke about in the general congregations before the conclave to discuss the problems of the Church. From there came reflections and recommendations. A very concrete one was that the future Pope should be able to rely on an outside Council, a group of advisers who did not live in the Vatican. The board of eight cardinal is composed of members from all continents and has a coordinator. It meets here every three months. Now, on July 1 we will have a four-day meeting and we are making changes that the cardinals themselves are asking for. It is not imperative that we make them, but it would be unwise not to listen to those who know the situation.”
“The invitation to Jerusalem from my brother Bartholomew was to commemorate the encounter between Paul VI and Athenagoras I 50 years ago. It was an encounter after more than a thousand years of separation.
“Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has made efforts to become closer and the Orthodox Church has done the same. Some Orthodox Churches are closer than others. I wanted Bartholomew to be with me in Jerusalem and there emerged the plan to also come to the Vatican to pray. For him it was a risky step because they can throw it in his face, but this gesture of humility needed to be extended, and for us it’s necessary because it’s not conceivable that we Christians are divided. It’s a historical sin that we have to repair.”
Faith and Atheism
“There was an increase in atheism during the existentialist age, perhaps due to the influence of (Jean-Paul) Sartre. But afterward came a step toward spiritual pursuits, of encounter with God, in a thousand ways, not necessarily the traditional religions. The clash between science and faith peaked in the Enlightenment, but that is not so fashionable today, thank God, because we have all realized the closeness between one thing and the other. Pope Benedict XVI has a good teaching about the relation between science and faith.
“In general lines, the most recent is that the scientists are very respectful with the faith, and the agnostic or atheist scientist says, ‘I don’t dare go there.’”
Heads of State and Politics
“Many have come and it’s an interesting variety. Each one has their personality. What has called my attention is the cross-section of young politicians, whether they are from the center, the left or the right. Maybe they talk about the same problems but with new music, and this I like, this gives me hope because politics is one of the more elevated forms of love, of charity.
“Why? Because it leads to the common good, and a person who, [despite] being able to do it, does not get involved in politics for the common good, is selfish; or that uses politics for their own good, is corrupt. Some fifteen years ago the French bishops wrote a pastoral letter reflecting on the theme ‘Restoring Politics.’ This is a precious text that makes you realize all of these things.”
When Benedict Stepped Down
“Pope Benedict has made a very significant act. He has opened the door, has created an institution, that of the eventual Popes emeritus. Seventy years ago, there were no emeritus bishops. Today how many are there? Well, as we live longer, we arrive at an age where we cannot go on with things. I will do the same as him, asking the Lord to enlighten me when the time comes and that He tell me what I have to do, and He will tell me for sure.”
When I Thought of Retiring
“Yes, it’s a retirement house for elderly priests. I was leaving the archdiocese at the end of last year and had already submitted my resignation to Benedict XVI when I turned 75. I chose a room and said, ‘I want to come to live here. I will work as a priest, helping the parishes.’ This is what was going to be my future before being Pope.”
Soccer World Cup
“Brazilians asked me to remain neutral (he laughs) and I keep my word because Brazil and Argentina are always antagonistic.”
How I Would Like to Be Remembered
“I have not thought about it, but I like it when someone remembers someone and says: ‘He was a good guy, he did what he could. He wasn’t so bad.’ I’m OK with that.”