Pope Francis' Interview With Belgian Youth (March 31, 2014)

I believe that the poor are the center of Jesus proclamation

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The following is a translation of the full interview of the Holy Father last Monday with some young people from Flanders, Belgium, accompanied by the Bishop of Ghent, H.E. Monsignor Lucas Van Looy. The youth asked their questions in English and the Pope replied in Italian.

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–Q: They are part of a young people’s group, born during the Rio WYD, because at Rio they wished to communicate also to other Flemish young people what they did there; they are a group of 12 – the others are outside here, among other things, they came also with …

–Pope Francis: But I want to greet them, the others, afterwards, yes!

–Q: Then we can organize it … And they really do the work of entering and inserting themselves in the media as young people, stemming from their Christian inspiration. And it is also in this sense that they want to pose the questions. She, instead, is not a believer – so there are four of that group – you are not a believer, but it seemed to us also important, because we are a very secular society in Flanders, and we know we have a message for all. So she was very happy …

–Pope Francis: Ah, I’m pleased! We are all brothers!

–Q: Indeed, yes. The first question is: thank you for having accepted our request, but why did you do so?

–Pope Francis: When I hear that a young man or young woman has anxiety, I feel that it is my duty to serve these young people, to give a service to this anxiety, because this anxiety is like a seed, which later will go forward and bear fruit. And I feel at this moment that with you I am doing a service to what is most precious at this moment, which is your anxiety.

–Q: Everyone in this world seeks to be happy. But we have asked ourselves: Are you happy? Why?

–Pope Francis: Absolutely, I am absolutely happy. And I am happy because … I don’t know why … perhaps because I have a job, I’m not unemployed, I have a job, the job of a pastor! I am happy because I have found my way in life and it makes me happy to follow this way. And it’s also a calm happiness, because at this age it’s not the same happiness of a youth; there is a difference – a certain inner peace, a great peace, a happiness that comes also with age. And also with a way that has always had problems; now, too, there are problems, but this happiness doesn’t go away with problems, no. It sees the problems, suffers them and then goes forward. It does something to resolve them and goes forward. However, in the depth of my heart there is peace and happiness. It is truly a grace of God for me. It’s a grace. It’s not my own merit.

–Q: You show in many ways your great love for the poor and for wounded persons. Why is this so important for you?

–Pope Francis: Because this is the heart of the Gospel. I am a believer; I believe in God; I believe in Jesus Christ and in his Gospel, and the heart of the Gospel is the proclamation to the poor. When you read the Beatitudes, for instance, or you read Matthew 25, you see there how clear Jesus is about this. This is the heart of the Gospel. And Jesus says of himself: “I have come to proclaim freedom to the poor, salvation, the grace of God …” — to the poor. Those who are in need of salvation, who are in need of being received in society. Then, if you read the Gospel, you see that Jesus had a certain preference for the marginalized: the lepers, the widows, orphan children, the blind … marginalized persons. And also great sinners … and this is my consolation! Yes, because he is not even alarmed by sin! When he met a person like Zacchaeus, who was a thief, or like Matthew, who was a traitor of the homeland for money, he wasn’t frightened! He looked at him and chose him. This is also poverty: the poverty of sin. For me, the poor are the heart of the Gospel. I heard, two months ago, that a person said, because of this talk of the poor, because of this preference: “This Pope is a Communist.” No! This is a banner of the Gospel, not of Communism – of the Gospel! However, it’s poverty without ideology, poverty … And, therefore, I believe that the poor are the center of Jesus’ proclamation. It’s enough to read it. The problem is that, sometimes in history, this attitude to the poor was ideologized. No, it’s not so. Ideology is something else. It’s like this in the Gospel, it is simple, very simple. This is seen also in the Old Testament; that is why I always put it at the center.

–Q: I don’t believe in God, but your gestures and your ideals inspire me. Perhaps you have a message for us all, for Christian young people, for persons who don’t believe or have another creed or believe in a different way?

–Pope Francis: I believe we must look, in our way of speaking, for authenticity. And for me, authenticity is this: I am speaking with brothers. We are all brothers. Believers, non-believers, of this or that religious confession, Jews, Muslims … we are all brothers. Man is at the center of history, and this is very important for me: man is at the center. In this moment of history, man has been removed from the center, he has slid to the fringe, and at the center – at least at this moment – is power, money. And we must work for persons, for man and woman, who are the image of God. Why young people? Because young people – taking up what I said at the beginning – are the seed that will bear fruit along the way. But also in relation with what I said now: in this world, where power and money are at the center, young people are thrown out. Children are thrown out – we don’t want children, we want less, small families: children are not wanted. The elderly are thrown out: so many elderly people die by a hidden euthanasia, because they are not taken care of and they die. And now young people are thrown out. Just think that in Italy, for instance, youth unemployment from 25 years and younger is almost 50 %. In Spain it is 60% and in Andalusia in the South of Spain, it’s almost 70%. I don’t know what the percentage is in Belgium …

–Q: Somewhat less: 5-10% …

–Pope Francis: It’s small, it’s small, thank God. But think what it means to have a generation of young people who don’t have work! You can say to me: “But they can eat, because society feeds them.” Yes, but this isn’t sufficient, because they don’t have the experience of the dignity of bringing the bread home. And this is the moment of the “passion of young people.” We have entered a throw away culture: what doesn’t serve globalization is thrown away — the elderly, children, young people. However, this way the future of a people is thrown away, because the future of a people is in the children, in young people, in the elderly. It is in children and young people because they carry history forward, and the elderly are those who must give us the memory of a people, how the journey of a people was. And if they are thrown out, we will have a group of people without strength, because the will not have many young people and children, and will be without a memory. And this is very grave! And that is why I believe that we must help young people so that they can have a role in society which is needed at this difficult historical moment.

–Q: However, do you have a specific message, a concrete message for us, so that we can – perhaps – inspire other persons, as you do? Also people who don’t believe?

–Pope Francis:

You have said a very important word: “concrete.” It is a very important word, because one goes forward in the concreteness of life; one doesn’t go forward with ideas alone! This is very important. And I think that you young people should go forward with this concreteness of life. Many times, also, with actions linked to situations, because this must be done, this … but also with strategies. I’ll tell you something. I have talked, because of my work, also at Buenos Aires, with so many young politicians, who came around to greet me. And I am happy becaus
e, whether they are of the left or the right, they are speaking with a new sound, with a new style of politics. And this gives me hope. And I think that at this moment must and go forward. May they be courageous! This gives me hope. I don’t know if I’ve answered: concreteness in actions.

–Q: When I read the newspapers, when I look around, I wonder if the human race is really capable of taking care of this world and of the human race itself. Do you share this doubt? (Translator) … We throw away, as you said. Do you also feel this doubt sometimes, do you doubt and say: but where is God in all this?

–Pope Francis: I ask myself two questions on this issue: where is God and where is man? It is the first question that, in the account of the Bible, God asks man: “Adam, where are you?” It is the first question to man. And I also ask myself now: You, God, where are you?” When man finds himself, he seeks God. Perhaps he doesn’t succeed in finding Him, but he follows a path of honesty, seeking truth, by the path of goodness and the path of beauty. For me, a young person who loves the truth and seeks it, loves goodness and is good, he is a good person, who seeks and loves beauty. He is on a good path and will certainly find God! Sooner or later he will find Him! However, the path is long and some persons don’t find it in life. They don’t find it in a conscious way. However, they are so true and honest with themselves, so good and so loving of beauty, that in the end they have a very mature personality, capable of an encounter with God, which is always a grace – because the encounter with God is a grace. We can go on the path … Some find Him in other persons … It is a path to undertake … Each one must encounter Him personally. God is not encountered by hearing this said, nor does one pay to encounter God. It’s a personal path, this is how we must encounter Him. I don’t know if I’ve answered your question …

–Q: We are all human and commit errors. What have your errors taught you?

–Pope Francis: I have erred, I err … The Book of Wisdom in the Bible says that the just man errs seven times a day! … In order to say that everyone errs. It is said that man is the only animal that falls twice on the same point, because he doesn’t learn immediately from his mistakes. One can say: “I haven’t erred,” but one doesn’t improve; this leads to vanity, arrogance, pride … I think that the errors in my life were and are great teachers of life, great teachers. They teach one so much. They also humiliate one, because one can feel oneself a superman, a superwoman, and then err, and this humiliates one and puts one in one’s place. I won’t say that I’ve learned from all my mistakes: no, I think that I’ve not learned  from some because I am headstrong, and it’s not easy to learn. However, I have learnt from many mistakes and this has done me good, it has done me good. And it’s also important to acknowledge one’s mistakes: I’ve erred here, I’ve erred there, I’m erring there … And also to be careful not to go back to the same mistake, to the same hole …. Dialogue with one’s mistakes is a good thing, because they teach one; and the important thing is that they help one to become a bit more humble, and humility does one so much good, it does so much good to people, to us, it does us so much good. I don’t know if this is the answer …

–Q: (translator) Do you have a concrete example of how you learned from a mistake? She (the girl who asked the question) dares …

–Pope Francis: No, I will say it, I wrote about it in a book, it’s public. For instance, in leading the life of the Church, I was appointed Superior when I was very young, and I made so many mistakes with authoritarianism, for instance. I was too authoritarian at 36 … And then I learnt that one must dialogue, one must hear what others think … But one doesn’t learn once and for all, no. The path is long. This is a concrete example. And I learned from my somewhat authoritarian attitude, as religious Superior, to find a way not to be so authoritarian, or to be more … but I still err. Are you happy? … Do you dare ask something else?

–Q: I see God in others. Where do you see God?

–Pope Francis: I seek,  I seek to find Him in all the circumstances of life! I seek … I find Him in a reading of the Bible, I find Him in the celebration of the Sacraments, in prayer and I also seek to find Him in my work, in persons, in different persons … Above all, I find Him in the sick: the sick do me good, because when I am with a sick person I ask myself, why him and not me? And I find Him with prisoners. Why this prisoner and not me? And I talk with God: “You always do an injustice: why him and not me?” And I find God in this, but always in dialogue. It does me good to seek Him throughout the day. I don’t succeed in doing this, but I try to do it, to be in dialogue. I don’t succeed in doing it exactly so: the Saints did it well, I still don’t … but this is the way.

–Q: As I don’t believe in God, I don’t understand how you pray or why you pray. Can you explain to me how you pray, clothed as Pontiff, and why you pray? As concretely as possible …

–Pope Francis: How I pray … many times I take the Bible, read a bit, then leave it and let the Lord look at me: that’s the most common idea of my prayer. I let the Lord look at me. And I hear – but this isn’t sentimentalism – I hear profoundly the things the Lord says to me. Sometimes he doesn’t speak – there is nothing, emptiness, emptiness, emptiness … but a stay patiently there, and I pray like this. I am seated, I pray sitting down, because it hurts me to kneel, and sometimes I fall asleep in prayer … It’s also a way of praying, as child with his Father, and this is important: I feel myself a child with the Father. And why do I pray? “Why” as cause or for what persons do I pray?

–Q: Both …

–Pope Francis: I pray because I need to do so. I feel this, which drives me, as if God is calling me to speak. This is the first thing. And I pray for persons, when I meet persons who strike me because they are sick or have problems, or there are problems that … for instance war … Today I was with the Nuncio in Syria, and he showed me photographs … and I’m sure that this afternoon I will pray for this, for those people … I saw photographs of the dead from hunger, the bones were such …. At this time – I don’t understand this – when we have what is necessary to feed the whole world, there are people who die of hunger, for me it is terrible! And this makes me pray in fact for these people.

–Q: I have my fears. What are you afraid of?

–Pope Francis: Of myself! Fear … Look, in the Gospel, Jesus repeats so much: “Be not afraid” Be not afraid!” He says this so many times. And why? Because he knows that fear, I would say, is something normal. We are afraid of life, we are afraid in face of challenges, we are afraid before God … We all are afraid, all. You must not worry that you are afraid. You must feel this but not be afraid and then think: “Why am I afraid?” And before God and before yourself you must try to clarify the situation and ask for help from another. Fear is not a good counselor, because it counsel you badly. It pushes you to a way that’s not right. That’s why Jesus said so often: Be not afraid! Be not afraid!” Then, we must know ourselves, all of us: each one must know himself and find the areas where we can err the most, and to be somewhat afraid of that area, because there is bad fear and good fear. Good fear is like prudence. It’s a prudent attitude: “Look, you are weak in this, and this and this; be prudent and don’t fall.” Bad fear is the one you say annuls you somewhat, annihilates you. It annihilates you, it doesn’t let you do anything: this fear is bad and must be thrown out.

–Q: (translator) She (the girl) has asked this question because sometimes it’s not easy in Belgium,
for instance, to speak about one’s faith: this was also a way for her, because so many don’t believe, and she said: “I want to ask this question because I also want to have the strength to give witness …

–Pope Francis:  Look, now I understand the root of the question. To witness with simplicity, because if you go with your faith like a flag, like the Crusades, and you engage in proselytism, that’s no good. The best way is witness, but humble witness: “I am like this,” with humility, without triumphalism. That’s another sin of ours, another bad attitude, triumphalism. Jesus wasn’t triumphalist, and history also teaches us not to be triumphalist, because the great triumphalists were defeated. Witness: this is a key, it interpellates. I give it with humility, without engaging in proselytism. I offer it, it is so. And this does not create fear, does not go on a Crusade.

–Q: (translator) There is a last question …

–Pope Francis: The last? It’s the terrible one, the last is always …

–Q: Our last question: Do you have a question for us?

–Pope Francis: The question I’m going to ask you isn’t original. I take it from the Gospel, but I think that after having heard you, it’s perhaps the right one for you at this moment. Where is your treasure? This is the question. Where does your heart rest? On what treasure does your heart rest? Because your life will be where your treasure is. The heart is attached to the treasure, a treasure that we all have: power, money, pride, so many … or goodness, beauty, the wish to do good … We can have so many treasures … Where is your treasure? This is the question that I ask, but you must give the answer yourselves, by yourselves.! At your home …

–Q: They will make you know the answer with a letter …

–Pope Francis: They give it to the Bishop … Thank you! Thank you, thank you! And pray for me.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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