For the Day:

POPE OF SURPRISES

Pope spoke to journalists aboard the papal plane from Bangui to Rome, on 30 Nov. 2015

Fr. Lombardi: Holy Father, welcome to this encounter, which by now is a tradition we all wait for. We are grateful that after such an intense trip you still want to find the time for us. I also thank the EBU (European Broadcasting Union), who organized the live feed, throughout the world from the Central African Republic.

Bernard Namuname
(Kenya): Your Holiness, I greet you. While in Kenya you met with poor families from Kangemi, you listened to their stories of exclusion from basic human rights. The same day you went to the Kasarani stadium where you met the youth, and they also told you their stories of exclusion due to selfish greed and corruption. What were you feelings and what should be done to end the injustices?

Pope Francis: On this problem, I have already spoken strongly. The first time was at the meeting of the popular movements in the Vatican, the second at the meeting of the popular movements in Santa Cruz della Sierra (Bolivia). Then, in ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ and still strongly in the encyclical ‘Laudato Si’.’ I believe that 80 percent of the world’s riches are in the hands of 17 percent of the population… (He asks if someone knows the statistics precisely)

There’s an economic system where money is at the centre – the god of money. I remember that once a great French ambassador told me this expression – and he was not Catholic – “Nous sommes tombés de l’idolâtrie de l’argent” (We have fallen into the idolatry of money). If things continue like this, the world will also continue the same.

Listening to the testimonies of the youth and at Kangemi, I felt pain. I spoke clearly about rights. I thought how is it that people do not notice? I felt great pain. Yesterday, for example, I went to a paediatric hospital, the only one in Bangui and may be in the country. In the ICU they do not have instruments of oxygen. There were many malnourished children there. The doctor told me, majority of them will die soon because they have very bad malaria and are seriously malnourished.

I don’t want to give a homily, but the Lord always rebuked the people of Israel…that we accept and adore, because the word is god, idolatry. Idolatry is when a man or woman loses their identity card for being a child of God, and prefers to look for a god according to their own measure. That’s the beginning. If mankind does not change we will continue to have more miseries, tragedies, wars, children who die of hunger, of injustice. What does one think of those who have 80 percent of the world’s wealth in their hands? And this is not communism. This is the truth. But the truth is not easy to see.

Michael Mumo Makau (Kenya): What is the most memorable moment in your first trip to Africa? Are you coming back to the continent? And where is your next trip to?
Pope Francis: Let’s start with the last question. If things go well, I believe the next trip will be to Mexico. The details are not yet defined. About returning to Africa, I don’t know. I am old and the trips are difficult.

And the moment I remember? The crowds, their joy, their capacity to celebrate on an empty stomach. For me, Africa was a surprise. I thought, God surprises us, but even Africa surprises us. There were many moments. But the crowds, they felt visited. They have a very great sense of welcome. I saw in the three nations, they had this sense of welcome because they were happy to feel visited.

Moreover, each nation has its own identity. Kenya is a little more modern, developed. Uganda has the identity of martyrs. The Ugandan people, both Catholic and Anglicans, venerate the martyrs. I was at both the shrines – the Anglican, and the Catholic. The memory of the martyrs is their ‘identity card,’ the courage to give their lives for a cause.

The Central African Republic: the desire for peace, for reconciliation, for pardon. Until four years ago they had lived together – Catholics, Protestants, Muslims – like brothers! Yesterday, I went to the Evangelicals, who work hard. And then they came to Mass in the evening. Today I went to the mosque. I prayed in the mosque. The Imam even got into the pope mobile to take a ride around the small stadium. These are small gestures, is this which they want. There is a small group – I think Christian, or they say they are Christian, which is very violent. I don’t really understand this. It’s not ISIS, it’s another thing. The people want peace. Now, they will have elections. Meanwhile during the transition period they have chosen a woman (who was Mayor) as the caretaker President. She now organizes the elections. But, they are seeking peace, reconciliation, not hate, not hate.

Phil Pulella (Uganda): In Uganda you said corruption exists everywhere, and also in the Vatican. What is the importance of the press, the free, secular press in rooting out corruption wherever it is found?

Pope Francis: The free press, secular and/or religious must be professional. It’s important that they are truly professional, that the news isn’t manipulated. It’s important, because the denunciation of corruption and injustice is good work. The one in charge must do something, make a judgment, a tribunal. The professional press must tell everything, without falling into the three most common sins: misinformation, to tell one half but not the other; calumny, which is not professional. When there is no professionalism, you dirty the other person, with or without truth; defamation, to take away the good name of the person who right now hasn’t done anything wrong to anyone. These are the three defects that are an attack against the professionalism of the press. We need professionalism, what’s right: things are like this and this.

And on corruption? To see the data well and say it: this, this and this. If there is corruption, they should say it. And if a journalist, if truly professional, gets it wrong, should excuse himself. Things go very well like this.

Philippine De Saint-Pierre (France): You paid homage to the forum created by the Archbishop, the imam and the pastor of Bangui. Today more than ever, we know that fundamentalism threatens the entire planet. We also saw this in Paris. In this situation, do you think that religious leaders should intervene more in the political field? (Pope asks for clarification) …the religious “dignitaries,” bishops and imams?

Pope Francis: “To intervene in the political field,” if that means to make politics, ‘no’. Whoever is a priest, pastor, imam, rabbi, this is his vocation, but they make a “live politics” by preaching values., true values. And one of the greatest values is the fraternity among us. We are all children of God. We have the same Father. In this sense, we have to make politics of unity, reconciliation.

A word that I don’t like, but I have to use is “tolerance.” But, not only tolerance, but co-existence, friendship. That’s how it is. Fundamentalism is a sickness that exists in all religions. We Catholics have some, not just some, so many, who believe they have the absolute truth and they move forward with calumnies, defamation and they hurt (people), they hurt. And, I say this because it’s my Church, also us, all of us. It must be combatted.

Religious fundamentalism isn’t religious. Why? Because God is lacking there. It’s idolatrous, as money is idolatrous. Making politics in the sense of convincing these people who have this tendency, is a politics that we religious leaders must make, but fundamentalism that ends up always in tragedy or in crime, in a bad thing and it comes out in all religions, a little bit.

Cristiana Caricato (Italy): In Rome there was the trial of Msgr. Vallejo Balda, Ms. Chaouqui, (Maio) and two journalists. How was it possible that in the process of reform you began, two people like this were able to enter into a commission like the COSEA? Did you make an error?

Pope Francis: I think an error was made. Msgr Vallejo Balda entered for the role he had and he had it up until now. He was secretary of the Prefecture of Economic Affairs. (That’s how) he entered. I am not sure how she entered, but I think if I’m right it was he who introduced her as a woman who knew the world of commerce and such, no? They worked. When the work was done, the members of that commission that was called COSEA remained in some of their posts in the Vatican. Vallejo Balda was one.

But, the woman, Chaouqui did not remain in the Vatican because she entered with the commission and she didn’t remain. Some say she was upset about this, but the judges will tell us the truth about the intentions, how they did it. For me, it was not a surprise. I didn’t lose any sleep because it showed the fruit of work begun by the commission of cardinals, the C9, of seeking out corruption and other things that don’t work. And here, I want to say something, not about Vallejo Balda and Chaouqui, but everything. And then I’ll come back to this if you want.

The word “corruption,” one of the two Kenyans mentioned it. 13 days before John Paul II died, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger who was leading the Via Crucis spoke of the filth in the Church. He denounced it first. Then, in the Easter Octave after the Good Friday, Pope John Paul II died and he became pope. But, in the pro-eligendo pontefice Mass, he as Camerlengo spoke about the same thing, and we elected him for that freedom in saying things. So since then, it’s been in the air that, there is corruption in the Vatican. There is corruption there.

On this trial: I gave the judges the concrete charges, because what is important to the defense is the formulation of the accusations. I didn’t read the actual, technical charges. I liked to finish it before 8 Dec. for the Year of Mercy. But I don’t think they’ll be able to do it, because I would like all of the lawyers who are defending to have the (necessary) amount of time to defend, that they have the freedom of defense. All of them. But corruption has been around for a long time.
Caricato: How do you plan to proceed so that these things don’t happen again?
Pope Francis: I just thank God that Lucrezia Borgia isn’t around (laughs). But, I don’t know, continue with the cardinals, with the commissions to clean up.

Nestor Ponguta Puerto (Colombia): Thanks for all you have done for peace in our country and in the world. There’s a specific theme that has to do with that “change of political chess” in Latin America that has brought Mr. Macri in your country after more than 12 years of Kirchnerism. Things are changing a bit. What do you think of these new changes and the new direction that is taking over?

Pope Francis: I have heard some opinions, but honestly on this geopolitical question in this moment, I really don’t know what to say, I don’t know because there are problems in many countries on this line. But, I don’t know why or where it started.
It is true, many Latin American countries are in this situation of a few changes in their routes, but I don’t know how to explain it.

Juergen Baetz (Germany): HIV is ravaging Africa. In Uganda alone there were 135,000 new infections of HIV, in Kenya it’s worse. It’s the greatest cause of death in Africa. You have met with HIV positive children, you heard a moving testimony in Uganda. Yet you have said very little on the issue. We know that prevention is key. What about Church’s stand about the use of condoms?

Pope Francis: The question seems too small to me, it also seems like a partial question. Yes, it’s one of the methods. The moral of the Church on this point is found here faced with a perplexity: the fifth or sixth commandment? Defend life, or that sexual relations are open to life? But this isn’t the problem.

The problem is bigger…this question makes me think of the one they once asked Jesus: “Tell me, teacher, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Is it obligatory to heal?” This question, “is doing this lawful,” … but malnutrition, the development of the person, slave labour, the lack of drinking water, these are the problems. Let’s not talk if one can use this type of patch or that for a small wound, the serious wound is social injustice, environmental injustice, injustice that…I don’t like to go down to reflections on such case studies when people die due to a lack of water, hunger, environment…when all are cured, when there aren’t these illnesses, tragedies, that man makes, whether for social injustice or to earn more money, I think of the trafficking of arms, when these problems are no longer there, I think we can ask the question “is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

Because, if the trafficking of arms continues, wars are the biggest cause of mortality…I would say not to think about whether it’s lawful or not to heal on the Sabbath, I would say to humanity: “make justice,” and when all are cured, when there is no more injustice, we can talk about the Sabbath.

Marco Ansaldo (Italy): In the last week media were focused on two big events: your trip to Africa, for which all of us are obviously happy that it has concluded with a big success from every point of view; and the other, a crisis on an international level between Russia and Turkey. Frankly we don’t need this, during the lll World War you speak about. What is the position of the Vatican on this? Are you going for the 101st anniversary of the events in Armenia that will take place next year, just as you did last year in Turkey?

Pope Francis: Last year, I promised the three patriarchs that I would go. The promise is there. I don’t know if it can happen, but the promise is there.

Then, the wars. Wars happen for ambitions. Wars, I speak of wars not for defending oneself against an unjust aggressor but wars are an industry. In history, we’ve seen so many times that in a nation, the balance sheets aren’t going well, “Ah, let’s fight a war” and the offset is over. War is a business, a business of weapons. Terrorists, do they make weapons? Yeah, may be just little ones. Who gives them to them to make war? There an entire network of interests where there is money or power behind, either imperial or joint power.

But we have been at war for years and more all the time. The pieces are fewer and bigger. What do I think? Wars are a sin. They are against humanity. They destroy humanity. They are a cause of exploitation, of human trafficking, of so many things. They must be stopped. At the United Nations, twice I said this word, both in Kenya and in New York, that your work not be a “declarationist” nominalism, that it be effective, that they make peace. They do so many things. Here in Africa, I saw how the “Blue helmets” work. But this isn’t sufficient. Wars don’t come from God. God is a God of peace. God made the world. God made everything beautiful and then, according to the Biblical account, one brother kills another. It’s the first war, the first world war, between brothers. That’s what comes to me and it pains me greatly.

Francois Beaudonnet (France): The conference on climate change is going on in Paris. You have made a great effort to make everything turn out well. Do we expect too much from this conference? Are we sure that the COP21 will be the beginning of the solution?

Pope Francis: I am not sure. I am not sure. But, I can tell you: (it’s) now or never. But, from the first that was in Tokyo, they did few things. Every year, the problems are more serious. Speaking to a meeting of university students about the world we want to leave for our children, one said, “But are you sure there will be children in this generation? We’ve reached the limit. We’re on the verge of suicide, to use a strong word.

And, I’m sure that nearly all of those in Paris for the COP21 have this awareness and want to do something. The other day, I read that in Greenland, the glaciers have lost thousands of tons. In the Pacific, there’s a nation buying land from another nation to move the country because within 20 years it won’t be there any more. I am confident, I’m confident that these people will do something because I’m sure that they have the good will to do it. And I hope it happens and I pray it happens.

Delia Gallagher (U.S.A) You’ve made many gestures of respect toward Muslims. I was wondering, what do Islam and the teaching of the prophet Mohammed have to say to the world today?

Pope Francis: They have virtues, many virtues and these virtues are constructive. I also have the experience of friendship – it’s a strong word, friendship – with a Muslim, a world leader; we can talk, and he had his beliefs and I had mine, he prayed and I prayed. (There are) many values, prayer for example, fasting, religious values. Also other virtues…We can’t cancel out a religious because there are some, or even many fundamentalist groups at a certain point in history. It’s true, wars between religions have always been there throughout history, always. We also need to ask for forgiveness…

They have virtues, one can dialogue with them. Today I was at a mosque, an Imam prayed with me, he wanted to go around the small stadium with me in the popemobile, where there were many who couldn’t enter, and in the popemobile there was the Pope and an Imam. It was possible to speak. As everywhere, there are people with religious values, there are people who don’t…how many wars, not only religions, wars we Christians have made. It wasn’t the Muslims who sacked Rome.

Martha Calderon (U.S.A): We’d like to know a little bit more about your trip to Mexico. Also are you going to visit nations that are experiencing problems? Do you think about visiting Colombia or Peru?

Pope Francis: Trips at my age aren’t healthy. One can survive them but they are leaving their mark. I’m going to Mexico. First, I’d like to visit Our Lady, because she’s the Mother of America. If the Virgin of Guadalupe wasn’t there, I wouldn’t go to Mexico City to visit three or four cities that have never been visited by the Popes. But I will go to Mexico City for the Virgin.

Then, I’ll go to Chiapas, in the south, at the Guatemala border, then I’ll go to Morelia and almost certainly, on the way back to Rome, I’ll take perhaps a day, perhaps less in Ciudad Juarez. About the visit to other Latin American countries: In 2017, I have been invited to go to Aparecida. But I don’t know. There aren’t plans.

Mark Masai (Kenya): What would you tell the world that thinks of Africa just as a war-torn country full of destruction?

Pope Francis: Africa is a victim. Africa has always been exploited by other powers. From Africa, they came to America, sold as slaves. There are powers that only seek to take the great wealth of Africa, possibly the richest continent. But, they don’t think about helping the nation to grow, that they may work, that all may have work.
Africa is a martyr, a martyr of exploitation. Those who say that from Africa come all calamities and all wars perhaps don’t understand well the damage certain forms of development do to humanity. It’s for this that I love Africa, because Africa has been a victim of other powers.