On his return flight from Latin America, Pope Francis held a lengthy press conference with journalists aboard the flight to Rome. As customary, the Holy Father did not hold back on answering questions, which ranged from his thoughts on the visit, criticisms against his words on capitalism, the controversial gifts he received from President Evo Morales, and even his thoughts on the vast amounts of selfies that people ask him to take.
When asked by a journalist from Paraguay regarding the fact that there is no cardinal from the country, the Holy Father quipped that it is not a sin to not have a cardinal. He also said that while the selection of cardinal depends on the circumstance and the people, it does not mean that the bishops of Paraguay have no value.
“Does Paraguay deserve a cardinal?” the Pope asked. “Looking at the Church of Paraguay I would say it does not only deserve one, but two. It is a lively church, a joyful Church, a fighting Church with a glorious history.”
The Pope was asked regarding the current situation between Bolivia and Chile, and if the Holy See, if asked, would be willing to mediate the conflict. Currently, the two countries are in a dispute regarding Bolivia’s access to the Pacific, which was lost following the War of Pacific with Chile in 1879-1883. The Bolivian government, led by President Evo Morales, has taken their dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), saying that his country’s struggle with poverty is due to its being landlocked. Chile argues that the borders were defined in a treaty signed in 1904.
Regarding the question, the Pope was cautious given the case in front of the ICJ. “Right now I have to be very respectful because Bolivia has made an appeal to an international court,” he said. “So if I make a comment right now as a head of state, it could be interpreted as me trying to meddle in the sovereignty of another state.” The Pope went on to stress the importance of dialogue and “healthy negotiations” in between the two states in order for the dispute to be resolved.
The 78-year-old Pontiff also addressed criticisms from the US regarding his comments on the current economic system that places profits above all else. While acknowledging that he has heard of the criticisms against him, the Pope said that he has not had time to study and dialogue with those who have argued against his thoughts.
“Since I have not had a discussion with those who have expressed criticisms, I do not have the right to state an opinion. Now I will visit the US but I need to start doing some studying. So far, I have only read the dossiers on these three beautiful Latin American countries. Now I have to study Cuba and the United States.”
One of the most controversial moments of the Pope’s visit arose from the exchange of gifts with Bolivian President Evo Morales. Among the gifts Morales gave the Pope was an image of Christ crucified on a hammer and sickle, the symbol of Communism. Initially, there were reports that the Holy Father was not pleased with the gift. However, the Holy Father said that he was surprised at the gift and the fact that it was designed by Fr. Luis Espinal, a Spanish missionary priest who was murdered in Bolivia in 1980 by paramilitary forces. The Pope explained that he viewed the gift as “a form of protest art.”
“In Buenos Aires, some years ago, there was an exhibition displaying the works of a good sculptor, a creative Argentine who is now dead. It was protest art, and I remember one piece was a crucified Christ on a falling bomber: a criticism against Christianity but because of its alliance with imperialism. I would qualify it as protest art, that in some cases can be offensive,” he said.
“Let us interpret it this way: I understand this piece and I did not find it offensive. I carry it with me. I left the decorative honours which President Morales gave me behind… I have never accepted such decorations but Morales acted in good faith, to please me, so I thought of it as coming from the people. I prayed it over and I thought I would leave them with Our Lady of Copacabana, so they go to the shrine. The wooden Christ I took with me.”
Another talked about moment was the Pope’s words during his homily at Semanes Park, in which he called for prayers for the Upcoming Synod of the Family in October. “I ask you to pray fervently for this intention, so that God can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or frightening, and turn it – by making it part of his “hour” – into a miracle. The family today, needs this miracle,” the Pope said on July 6th.
When asked what he meant, the Holy Father explained that his words were meant in the context of the Gospel proclaimed that day, which was of the miracle at the wedding of Cana.
“It said that the jugs of water were full, but they were for purification. Every person who joined the celebration performed his purification and left his spiritual filth behind. It was a rite of purification before entering into a house or the temple. Now we have this in the holy water,” he explained.
“Jesus makes the best wine out of dirty water, the worst water. The comment I wished to make was this: The family is facing a crisis, as we are all aware. This is evident in the Instrumentum Laboris (working document). I made reference to all of this. That the Lord would purify us from all that is emerging from these crises, that he makes us better people and that we move forward. The specific cases are all mentioned in the Instrumentum Laboris.”
The 78-year-old Pontiff also showed his humility when asked regarding the fact that although he addresses the poor as well as the rich he very rarely speaks on the middle class. Upon hearing the question, the Holy Father thanked the journalist and said: “that is a good correction.”
“You are right. It is a mistake on my part to not think of this. I will comment on this, but not to justify myself. But you are right. I have to think about it. The world is polarized; the middle class is much smaller. The polarization between rich and poor is great, this is true. Perhaps this has lead me to not realize this,” he said.
“In the world, there are several countries that are not doing well, but in general in the world the polarization can be seen. The number of poor people is great and so, why do I speak about the poor? Because it is the heart of the Gospel; I always speak of the Gospel, of poverty, not that it is sociological. Then on the middle class, there are some words that I have said a bit in the past, but the common people, the simple people, the worker have great value. But I think you’re telling me something that I must do. I must go deeper in this teaching. I thank you, thank you for your help.”
The journalists also asked some light-hearted questions to the Pontiff, ranging from how he can endure such a long trip to his thoughts on selfies. A journalist asked the Pope what’s his secret to his energy, saying: “my father is several years younger than you and has half of your energy.”
“You meant to ask what drugs am I taking! That’s your question!” the Pope replied jokingly. “Well, mate (tea) helps. But I did not try the coca (leaves) that is clear!”
When asked regarding selfies, the Holy Father said that not only did he see it as another culture, but also he “felt like a great-grandfather.”
“Today as I was leaving, a big police officer asked if I would take a selfie with him; a man who was around 40 years old. I told him, ‘What are you, a teenager?’ It’s another culture, but I respect it.”
Concluding the press conference, Pope Francis reflected on his trip saying that the Church in Latin America offers a richness to the world. He noted the presence of so many children with their parents, which he said was a lesson for the people in Europe, where the birth rate continues to drop exponentially.
The Church in Latin America, he concluded, is a Church with many problems, but y
oung. It can be at times undisciplined, it can be disciplined later on but it gives us so much good, he said.
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For an unofficial transcript of the Pope’s press conference, go to: http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/francesco-sudamerica-42350/