Benedict XVI received Guatemalan President Otto Pérez on Saturday for a 25-minute meeting that will be one of the last encounters between Benedict XVI and a world leader.
The president, who was accompanied by his wife, Rosa Leal de Pérez, and his daughter Lissette, gave the Pope a sculpture of the Virgin of the Rosary, patroness of Guatemala, and a green jade rosary.
ZENIT spoke with President Pérez, who told us he was impressed by the spiritual peace of the Pope, who confided that his resignation was an act of responsibility. He expressed his concern for emigration, which in Guatemala is profoundly affecting the family. The Holy Father assured the president that from his retreat he will "continue to pray for peace in the world, in Central America and in Guatemala."
ZENIT: What impression did Pope Benedict XVI give you?
Pérez: I had the impression that the Pope was very firm in his decision and in his conscience about it. Moreover, I saw him smiling very much and very happy. The Pope was very clear on the topics we discussed, with great depth and great tranquility. I felt he had much peace in his soul.
ZENIT: Did he say anything about his resignation?
Pérez: His words were very wise. I saw a Holy Father who was conscious that it was a difficult decision, but as he himself told me, it was a responsibility that he had to assume. I told him that initially it overwhelmed us, but that we now support him in his decision. And he assured me that that he would continue to pray from his retreat for peace in the world and, in this case, for Guatemala.
ZENIT: Had you met him before?
Pérez: I hadn't had that opportunity, but I felt as though I knew him, because of his way of being; from the first moment of our reception, he was very affable and smiling. The Pope made me feel very much at ease.
ZENIT: What topics did you discuss?
Pérez: We spoke of migrants, of the defense of life, of the fight against hunger, and of violence, especially that related to drug trafficking. The Pope is very abreast of the situation in Guatemala, about what is happening, and about the struggle we must have in our country.
ZENIT: Namely internal peace and border problems?
Pérez: It's internal security, because we don’t have border problems; what’s more, Central America is moving towards unification.
ZENIT: Is it true that the future Pope has already been invited to Guatemala?
Pérez: Indeed. I said to him that one of the purposes [of my visit was an invitation. He smiled and said it was something for the next Pope.
ZENIT: What did he say about immigration?
Pérez: That it’s always been a concern of the Church. That half of the bishops of the United States are Spanish-speaking, and that the churches in the United States have supported not only the protection of migrants’ rights, but also the legal side and they have even been concerned to have English lessons in the churches. And this in fact is the case. The Guatemalan and Latin American migrants feel very supported by the Church in the United States and that’s the line the Pope has given and that the Catholic Church follows.
ZENIT: Why is immigration a concern?
Pérez: He said that hopefully in Guatemala’s case there’d be fewer migrants because this phenomenon disintegrates the family. And the Pope is right, and it is one of the efforts we’ve made to avoid family disintegration. The only way is to succeed in making our economy grow and to create employment possibilities.
[Translation by ZENIT]