Pope Francis: “I would not exchange being a priest for anything else” (link)
By Guillermo Marcó
Walking through St. Peter’s Square, I think of the millions of people who would like to have a chat with Pope Francis. I have had this rare privilege for years. In Buenos Aires I used to talk to him, sometimes more than once a day. Today contacts are less frequent, but he retains the freshness of closeness and friendship acquired over the years; he has not changed in this respect … Listening to him is especially interesting …
Fr. Guillermo Marcó: The first thing I want to ask you is what attracts you most in following Jesus.
Pope Francis: I can’t express it verbally. What I can say is that when I am in tune with him I feel at peace, I feel happy. When I don’t follow him, because I’m tired, because I set him a specific time or a time limit, I feel insipid. It is as if I were already filled with my own life… Someone once said to me: “God gives you freedom, he always gives you freedom, but once you know Jesus you lose your freedom.” This put me in crisis. I don’t know if one “loses” it or not, but the way in which the Lord calls you and establishes a dialogue with you makes you say: “No, I’m not going anywhere else, this is enough for me.” So I feel that balance – in the good sense of the term, not just psychological – of peace, even in those moments of great imbalance due to situations difficult to face.
There, in that confessional of the parish of San José de Flores, you were able to discern your vocation: what did you feel was particularly special in that call?
It’s curious because after that experience on September 21, I went on with my life without knowing what I was going to do. But there was something different that was slowly establishing itself. I didn’t leave there to go directly into the seminary… It was three years. It’s like a process that changes your orientations, your references. The Lord enters your life and rearranges it. And without taking away your freedom. I’ve never had the feeling that I’m not free.
You continue to define yourself as a “priest”: what do you like most about the priestly vocation?
Living [a life of] service. Once a priest told me – he lived in a very poor neighborhood, not a slum but almost, and he had his parish house next to the church – and he told me that when he had to close the door, people banged on the window. So he said to me: “I want to close that window too because they won’t leave you alone.” People won’t leave you alone. But on the other hand, he told me that if I closed the window it wouldn’t be quiet, but something much worse. Because once you get into the rhythm of service, you feel bad when you take a slice of selfishness for yourself. The vocation to service is a bit like this: you cannot imagine life if you are not living in service. I wouldn’t trade being a priest for anything after the experience of being a priest. With limits, errors, sins, but a priest.
What do you say to priests?
What I say to a priest is: “Be a priest.” And if it doesn’t work for you, find another way; the Church opens other doors for you. But don’t become a functionary. I like to say this: be a pastor of the people and not just a “public clergyman.”
How do you perceive the fraternity among the cardinals?
In the long run there is closeness. They may have different opinions, but the good thing is that they tell you what they think. I am afraid of hidden agendas – when you have something to say and don’t say it. I thank God that in the College of Cardinals there is communication, between both the new and the old, and that they have the freedom to speak… I don’t know if everyone does, but many do. Sometimes, “Hey, be careful of this” or “look out” … “Oh, thank you.” I think about it and then I solve it, I tell him how… or else I don’t listen to him, and I say: look, I didn’t listen to you because of this, this and this. But the dialogue is free.
You have your devotions. Here is this painting of Our Lady Undoer of Knots, a devotion begun in Germany. Can you tell us why you always sent it with notes in your envelopes?
I’ve never gone to where the original image is. It just happened that a German nun sent it to me as a greeting. I liked it. I began to have a devotion to this image in Argentina. The story is beautiful, though the picture is not worth much; it is from the low baroque of the 1700s, already decadent. It was by a painter of the time who put his wife through hell: they were very Catholic but fought every day. And one day he read the text of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, according to which the knots that our mother Eve had tied with her sin had been untied by our mother Mary with her obedience. The Council took it and inserted it, I believe, in the Constitution on the Church.
He liked it and so he asked Our Lady to untie the knot he had with his wife because they didn’t get along. And this is why, below, he paints the archangel Raphael with Tobias who leads him to look for his fiancée (now his wife) to meet her. The Virgin performed the miracle and it all started from there. I have taken on the devotion. Augsburg is the city – in the church of St. Peter in Perlach. I’ve never gone, though I was just a stone’s throw from there, in Frankfurt. But this was enough for me and the devotion was already starting in Argentina. It is as if Our Lady is able to help you, as the text of Saint Irenaeus says, to help you unblock things.
To unblock the knots of life.
It is the “motherhood” of the Madonna.
And what about St. Joseph?
It was my grandmother who put St. Joseph into my head… As a child she made me say prayers to St. Joseph. The devotion remained.
You also have a small picture of St. Joseph sleeping. Special intentions are placed upon it.
When they ask me for prayers, I put them below it. I say: “You who sleep, solve these problems.”
And Saint Therese?
Santa Teresina has always attracted me… The courage of the normal person. If you ask me what extraordinary things Saint Therese had done: none. She was a poor and normal nun. In her last days she also suffered the greatest darkness, the greatest temptations against the faith – she went through them all. She is a normal woman.
Finally, I ask you for short messages. The first message is aimed at children:
Take care of your grandparents. Talk to grandparents. Go visit your grandparents. Let the grandparents spoil you.
To the young people…
Don’t be afraid of life. Don’t stand still. Go on. You will make mistakes, but the worst mistake is to stand still, so keep going.
To the fathers and mothers…
Don’t waste love. Take care of each other, so you can take better care of your children.
To the sick…
Ah, this is difficult because advising patience is easy, but I don’t have it, so I understand when you get a little angry. Ask the Lord for the grace of patience and he will give you the grace to bear all of this.
Finally to the elders, of whom you speak so often…
To the elderly: do not forget that you are the roots. The elderly must pass this on to young people, children and teenagers. That verse from the Book of Joel: what is your calling as an elder – the old will see visions and the young will prophesy. When they are together, the old dream of the future and pass it on, and the young, supported by the old, are able to prophesy and work for the future. Together with the young people, do not be afraid of anything. An embittered old man is very sad. He’s worse than a sad young man. So go ahead, be together with the youth.
[End Fr. Guillermo Marcó interview with Pope Francis published on March 14]