Here is the interview that the Brazilian ambassador gave to ZENIT.
ZENIT: Ambassador, had you met the Pope already?
Fontes: I had the good fortune of being introduced to him three times in Brazil, during the World Youth Day. I told him so and he laughed and said yes, in Rio de Janeiro.
ZENIT: What did you talk about during this meeting?
Fontes: We addressed several points. He reiterated his pleasure with the 2013 Rio WYD and his visit to the basilica of Aparecida, as well as the welcome and cordiality of the people. Then we spoke about the international situation. He mentioned the Vigil for Syria, which he described as a moment of great ecumenism with the participation of other religions, and said he hoped there would be a positive outcome.
He also mentioned the importance of strengthening regional institutions in South America; that the integration of the different countries of Latin America is important so that we can have a stronger voice in the international community and the international agenda. He mentioned that he considers it important that the international community not be round (he made a gesture with his hands indicating a globe), but that it should be a poliedro, where all are together but preserve their peculiarities, characteristics and identities -- a lovely idea that greatly impressed me. I think it’s the first time I heard this expression.
ZENIT: Did you speak more about Latin America?
ZENIT: And about education?
Fontes: Yes, precisely, education within that context, because the more educated and prepared the people are, the better is their insertion in their communities.
ZENIT: Can Latin America have some relevance in Syria’s situation?
Fontes: I told the Pope that, in Brazil, the question of Syria goes beyond the humanitarian aspect. It is of great concern to Brazilian society because in my country there is an enormous Syro-Lebanese community. They number 12 million, counting their Brazilian descendants. It’s a community that has great influence in the politics and economy of our country.
ZENIT: What else did you speak about?
Fontes: We spoke about many things. I spoke to him about my professional and personal life. He asked me how it was and we enjoyed more than 20 minutes of conversation. He began by saying that he could speak “Brazilian” but not Portuguese.
ZENIT: And Church-State relations?
Fontes: In 2010 Congress approved a Concordat in the traditional patterns that the Church has with other governments. We had different legislations, but more by custom than an agreed frame. It was negotiated during the government of President Lula.
ZENIT: How do you explain the protests in Brazil?
Fontes: I was in Brazil from the beginning of this wave of protests that are still taking place. I think they are a moment of the democratic expression of the people. Democracy has no limits. When a process begins, as happened in my country more than 30 years ago, after a course of economic stabilization and social inclusion, with President Lula and now with President Dima, we have increasingly a greater number of Brazilians with access to consumption and services. So these people call for greater transparency, efficiency, better schools, transport and hospitals. They were democratic protests demanding more and better. This is in the interest of the Brazilian Government, because the concern was to increasingly insert more people annually. And this was one of the topics the Pope mentioned and recognized. And that process in Brazil is moving forward.
ZENIT: And about liberation theology, which was born between Brazil and Peru, now that there is a Latin American Pope?
Fontes: Look, 'I don’t like to teach the Our Father to the Vicar,' I don’t know much about Theology and I leave it to the specialists. I see that traditionally the Church has always been concerned with the poor. Today social insertion is important; however, I don’t know if that is or is not Theology of Liberation.
ZENIT: According to surveys, the Church is the institution in Brazil that has the most credibility, and now with Pope Francis?
Fontes: I think the Catholic Church in Brazil has enormous credibility which is born from its whole history. Evidently now, with Pope Francis, there is a return to her with enormous enthusiasm; a wind of joy is blowing.
[Translation by ZENIT]