Just as summer was ending and the Pope was preparing for his trip to Cuba and the US, two journalists were able to conduct long interviews with him in Rome. Here are the essential parts:
Pope Francis gave two wide-ranging radio interviews in September, discussing everything from the current refugee crisis facing countries across Europe to the reasons he called the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy, to how he wants to face his own death.
The pontiff spoke on September 13 to Argentine radio station FM Millennium. On September 14, a lengthy interview recorded the prior week, between him and Aura Miguel, the Vatican correspondent for the Portuguese station Radio Renascença, was released.
The Aura Miguel interview, also released in an English version, finds the Pope mixing expansive thoughts about the political situation in Europe with sometimes humorous and deeply personal remarks on his own life.
In one example towards the end of the encounter, Francis tells Miguel that he goes to confession about every 15 to 20 days, joking about his confessor: “I never had to call an ambulance to take him back, in shock over my sins!”
In another personal moment, the Pope is asked how he feels about his own global popularity.
“I often ask myself what my cross will be like … Crosses exist,” he responds. “You can’t see them, but they are there. Jesus also, for a certain time, was very popular, and look at how that turned out.” “
One thing consoles me,” Francis says. “That Saint Peter committed a serious sin — denying Jesus — and then they made him Pope.” “If they made him Pope despite that sin, with all the sins I have it is a great consolation, because the Lord will look after me as he looked after Peter,” he continues. “But Peter died on a cross, whereas I don’t know how I’ll die. Let Him decide, so long as he gives me peace, may His will be done.”
Among issues talked about at most length in the Portuguese interview is the continuing refugee crisis, the state of Europe, and Francis’ vision for a church that risks getting “bruised” by going out to those in need.
If somebody has a room in his house that is closed for long periods, it develops humidity, and a bad smell. If a church, a parish, a diocese or an institute lives closed in on itself it grows ill (just like with the closed room) and we are left with a scrawny Church, with strict rules, no creativity. Safe, more than safe, insured by an insurance agency, but not safe!
On the contrary – if it goes forth – if a Church and a parish go out into the world, then once outside they might suffer the same fate as anybody else who goes out: have an accident. Well in that case, between a sick and a bruised Church, I prefer the bruised, because at least it went into the street….
But, I ask, how often, in Church, has Jesus knocked on the door, but on the inside, so as to be let out to proclaim the kingdom. Sometimes we appropriate Jesus, just for us, and we forget that a Church that is not going out into the world, a Church which does not go out, keeps Jesus imprisoned.
Earlier in the interview, Francis calls the current refugee crisis across Europe “the tip of an iceberg.” While acknowledging that people from the Middle East are fleeing war and hunger, the Pope says underneath that “is a bad and unjust socioeconomic system.”
The pontiff also acknowledges that there is a “danger of infiltration” into Europe by refugees who are a part of terrorist groups.
“It is a mixture of things and we can’t be simplistic,” states Francis. “Obviously, if a refugee arrives, despite all the safety precautions, we must welcome him, because this is a commandment from the Bible. Moses said to his people: ‘Welcome the foreigner, because you also were a foreigner in the land of Egypt.’”
Asked later for the reason why he called the Jubilee Holy Year of Mercy, the Pope responds simply: “Come all! Come and feel the love and the forgiveness of God.”
The pontiff then recalls the story of a Franciscan friar he knew who thought he forgave too much in the confessional, and felt guilty about it.
“Once we were talking and he said: ‘Sometimes I feel guilty,’” Francis says. “And I asked him: ‘And what do you do when you feel guilty like that?’”
“‘I go before the tabernacle, I look at the Lord and say to Him: Lord, forgive me, today I forgave so much, but let it be very clear that it is all your fault, because you were the one who set me the bad example!’” the Pope says the priest responded.
Asked about October’s upcoming global meeting of Catholic bishops on family life, known as a Synod, Francis likewise responds at first succinctly: “I ask that people pray a lot.”
Questioned on how the Synod should speak to those living in situations counter to Church teaching, the Pope states: “One thing should be very clear — something Pope Benedict left quite clear: people who are in a second union are not excommunicated and should be integrated into Church life.”
In Sunday’s interview with the Argentine station, Francis spoke about his rapport with the many people who are so excited to see him at his audiences, saying he feels a need to get close to them because they help revitalize him.
“When I embrace the people, it is Jesus embracing me!” the Pope says in that interview. “I receive a content life, happy, a witness.” Continuing on that subject, the pontiff says that priests should not isolate themselves.
“When a priest isolates himself, in his solemn or legalistic posture, or in the posture of a prince … when he distances himself, he embodies in a certain way those persons to whom Jesus dedicates the whole of chapter 23 of the Gospel of Matthew,” states Francis. “Those legalists, Pharisees, Sadducees, doctors of the law that feel themselves among the pure.”
The pontiff also spoke extensively in that interview on his message for the care of creation, saying he remembers one political leader who said: “It is not a matter of taking care of creation to make a better world for our children, because there will not be one.”
“If we continue this rhythm, there will not be one,” says Francis. “It means taking care of creation at this moment. We are facing the irreversible, and it is tragic.”
“On the other hand, it is not invincible,” he continues. “Because even if catastrophe arrives, I believe in a new Heaven and a new Earth. I have hope and I know that creation will be transformed.”
Lessons from South America
Excerpts from Pope Francis’ interview with Portuguese correspondent Aura Miguel in September
What is the challenge the Church must confront? You have spoken about a catechesis that often remains theoretical and lacks that ability to propose an encounter (with God) …Pope Francis: Well, it’s important that catechesis not be just purely theoretical. That doesn’t work. Catechesis means doctrine for life, and as such it’s got to be in three ways of speaking, three languages: The language of the mind, the language of the heart and the language of the hands. So, catechesis needs to be conveyed in those three languages so that the young person may think about and know what the faith is, but, at the same time, feel in his heart what the faith is and at the same time do things. If catechesis is missing any one of these three languages, these three ways of speaking, it’s not going to work. The three languages: to think what you feel and what you do, to feel what you think and what you do, to do what you feel and what you think.
Your Holiness, for the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, we await you in Portugal. Three Popes have already visited us, John Paul II three times. You, who love Our Lady so much, what do you hope for your visit in 2017?
Well, let’s clear things up. I really want to go to Portugal for the 100th anniversary. Also in 2017 it’ll be the 300th anniversary of the finding of the statue of Our Lady of Aparecida (Brazil)… The Virgin is (our) Mother. She is very much a mother. …What the Virgin is always asking us to do is to pray, to take care of our family, to keep the commandments. She’s not asking for strange things. Let us pray for the people who have lost their way, who are called sinners. We’re all sinners, and I’m the first of sinners. But the Virgin asks, and we need to prepare ourselves by responding to those requests of Our Lady, right? Those messages which are so motherly, you know. So motherly, right? And she shows herself to children. It’s a curious thing, but she’s always searching out simple souls. Isn’t that so? Very simple.
The refugee crisis…?
This is the tip of the iceberg. We see these refugees, these poor people who are escaping from war, escaping from hunger, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. But underlying that is the cause, and the cause is a socio-economic system that is bad, unjust, because within an economic system, within everything, within the world, speaking of the ecological problem, within the socio-economic society, in politics, the person always has to be the center. And today’s dominant economic system has removed the person from the center, and at the center is the god of money. It’s the fashionable god today. I mean, there are statistics. I don’t remember very well, but — this is not exact and I could be making a mistake — 17% of the population has 80% of the wealth.
And this exploitation of the riches of the poorest countries, in the near future, brings this result of all of these people who now want to come to Europe…
Which is the same thing that happens in big cities. Why are “favelas” (shantytowns) formed in big cities?….
It’s the people who come from the country because they have been deforested. They have made a mono-cultivation. They have no work, and they go to big cities….
Pope Francis is loved by all the world, your popularity is growing, as the polls reveal, so many want to see you as a candidate for the Nobel Prize…but Jesus warned his followers: “You will be hated because of my name.” How do you feel, Holiness?
Many times I ask myself what will be my cross, what is my cross. Because crosses exist. You don’t see them but they are there. And Jesus also was very popular at one time, and afterward he ended up like he ended up, right? That is, no one has purchased worldly happiness. The only thing I ask, is that the peace in my heart is preserved and that I am preserved in his grace, because until the final moment one is a sinner and can deny his grace. One thing consoles me: that St. Peter committed a very serious sin — to deny Jesus. After this they made him Pope. If with this sin they made him Pope, with all that I have, I console myself: Okay, the Lord will take care of me as he took care of Peter. But Peter was crucified, so I don’t know how I will finish. Whatever he decides. As long as he gives me peace, he can do what he wants….
What keeps you awake at night?
Can I tell you the truth? I sleep like a log. (laughs)….
How often do you confess?
Every fifteen, twenty days. I confess to a Franciscan Father, Father Blanco, who has the goodness to come here to hear my confession. And yes, I never had to call an ambulance to take him back, afraid of my sins. (laughs)
How and where would you like to die?
Wherever God wants. Seriously, no…wherever God wants…
The last: how do you imagine eternity?
When I was younger, I imagined it very boring. (laughs). Now I think that it’s a Mystery of encounter. It’s so unimaginable, but must be something very nice, very beautiful to meet with the Lord… Thanks to you and a big greeting to all the listeners on this radio. And, please, I ask them to pray for me. May God bless you and the Virgin of Fatima watch over you.