Pope Francis is pictured during a private audience with President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic at the Vatican June 13. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Vatican City, Jun 13, 2014 / 07:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).-
In an interview granted with Spanish-language magazine "La Vanguardia"
on Monday, Pope Francis lauded Pius XII for his efforts in saving Jews,
discussed Orthodox-Catholic relations, as well as the motivations behind
his prayer meeting at the Vatican last Sunday.
Below, please find the full text of his interview in English:
Interview with Pope Francis: “One has to take the secession of a nation with grain of salt.”
“Our world economic system can’t take it anymore,” says the Bishop of
Rome in an interview with La Vanguardia. “I’m no illumined one. I didn’t
bring any personal projects under my arm.” “We are throwing away an
entire generation to maintain a system that isn’t good,” he opines with
respect to unemployed youth.
“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."
Pope Francis received
us last Monday in the Vatican - a day after the prayer for peace with
the presidents of Israel and Palestine - for this exclusive interview
with “La Vanguardia.” The Pope was happy to have done everything
possible for understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.
Violence in the name of God dominates the Middle East.
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.
And, what do you think about fundamentalism?
A fundamentalist group, although it may not kill anyone, although it
may not strike anyone, is violent. The mental structure of
fundamentalists is violence in the name of God.
Some say that you are a revolutionary.
We should call the great Mina Mazzini, the Italian singer, and tell her
“take this hand, gypsy” and have her read into my past, to see what
[she finds]. (He laughs) For me, the great revolution is going to the
roots, recognizing them and seeing what those roots have to say to us
today. There is no contradiction between [being a] revolutionary and
going to the roots. Moreso even, I think that the way to make true
changes is identity. You can never take a step in life if it’s not from
behind, without knowing where I come from, what last name I have, what
cultural or religious last name I have.
You have broken many security protocols to bring yourself closer to the people.
I know that something could happen to me, but it’s in the hands of God.
I remember that in Brazil they had prepared a closed Popemobile for me,
with glass, but I couldn’t greet the people and tell them that I love
them from within a sardine tin. Even if it’s made of glass, for me that
is a wall. It’s true that something could happen to me, but let’s be
realistic, at my age I don’t have much to lose.
Why is it important that the Church be poor and humble?
Poverty and humility are at the center of the Gospel and I say it in a
theological sense, not in a sociological one. You can't understand the
Gospel without poverty, but we have to distinguish it from pauperism. I
think that Jesus wants us bishops not to be princes but servants.
What can the Church do to reduce the growing inequality between the rich and the poor?
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
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
Does the conflict between Catalunya and Spain worry you?
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.
The prayer for peace from
Sunday wasn’t easy to organize nor did it have precedents in the Middle
East nor in the world. How did you feel?
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.
Why did you choose to place yourself in the eye of the hurricane, the Middle East?
The true eye of the hurricane, due to the enthusiasm that there was,
was the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro last year. I decided to go to
the Holy Land because President Peres invited me. I knew that his
mandate would finish this Spring, so I felt obliged, in some way, to go
beforehand. His invitation accelerated the trip. I did not think of
Why is it important for every Christian to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land?
Because of revelation. For us, it all started there. It is like “heaven
on earth.” A foretaste of what awaits us hereafter, in the heavenly
You and your friend, the Rabbi Skorka,
hugged each other in front of the Western Wall. What importance has that
gesture had for the reconciliation between Christians and Jews?
Well, my good friend professor Omar Abu, president of the Institute for
Inter-religious Dialogue of Buenos Aires, was also at the Wall. I
wanted to invite him. He is a very religious man and a father-of-two. He
is also friends with Rabbi Skorka and I love them both a lot, and I
wanted that that friendship between the three be seen as a witness.
You told me a year ago that “within every Christian there 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 inter-religious
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 every day 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.
How do you see anti-Semitism?
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.
One of your projects is to open the Vatican archives on the Holocaust.
They will bring a lot of light.
Does it worry you something could be discovered?
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 the rail network of the Nazis perfectly well 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
Do you still feel like a parish priest or do you assume your role as head of the Church?
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.
You are changing a lot of things. Towards what future are these changes going?
I am no illumined one. I don’t have any personal project that I’ve
brought with me under an arm, simply because I never thought that they
were going to leave me here, in the Vatican. Everyone knows this. I came
with a little piece of luggage to go straight back to Buenos Aires.
What I am doing is carrying out what we cardinals reflected upon during
the General Congregations, that is to say, in the meetings that, during
the conclave, we all maintained every day to discuss the problems of the
Church. From there come reflections and recommendations. One very
concrete one was that the next Pope had to count on an external council,
that is, a team of assessors that didn’t live in the Vatican.
And you created the so-called Council of Eight.
They are eight cardinals from all the continents and a coordinator.
They gather every two or three months here. Now, the first of July we
have four days of meetings, and we are going to be making the changes
that the very cardinals ask of us. It is not obligatory that we do it
but it would be imprudent not to listen to those who know.
You have also made a great effort to become closer to the Orthodox Church.
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.
the face of the advance of atheism, what is your opinion of people who
believe that science and religion are mutually exclusive?
There was a rise in atheism in the most existential age, perhaps
Sartrian. But after 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 to enter that field.”
You have met many Heads of State.
Many have come and it’s an interesting variety. Each one has their
personality. What has called my attention is the cross made between
young politicians, whether they are from the center, the left or the
right. Maybe they talk about the same problems but with a 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.
What do you think of the renunciation of Benedict XVI?
Pope Benedict has made a very significant act. He has opened the door,
has created an institution, that of the of the eventual popes emeritus.
70 years ago, there were no emeritus bishops. Today how many are there?
Well, as we live longer, we arrive to 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 and he will
tell me for sure.
You have a room reserved in a retirement home in Buenos Aires.
Yes, its a retirement house for elderly priests. I was leaving the
archdiocese at the end of last year and 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.
I am not going to ask you whom you support in the World Cup….
Brazilians asked me to remain neutral (he laughs) and I keep my word because Brazil and Argentina are always antagonistic.
How would you like to be remembered in history?
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.
This text was translated from the original Spanish by CNA's Alan Holdren, Estefania Augirre and Elise Harris.