Vatican Information Service released this lengthy transcript and translation of the Pope’s in-flight press conference during the return flight from South America.
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During the return flight from Paraguay to Rome, the Pope answered questions from the journalists who accompanied him on his apostolic trip to Latin America, as summarised below.
Question: Why does Paraguay not have a cardinal? What sin has Paraguay committed, so as not to have a cardinal?
Answer: Well, not having a cardinal isn’t a sin. The majority of countries in the world do not have a cardinal. The nationalities of the cardinals … are a minority compared to the whole. … At times, for the election of cardinals, an evaluation is made, the files are studied one by one, you see the person, the charism especially, of the cardinal who will have to advise and assist the Pope in the universal government of the Church. The cardinal, though he belongs to a particular Church, is incardinated in the Church of Rome, and needs to have a universal vision. This does not mean that there is not a bishop in Paraguay who has it, but you always have to elect up to a number, there is a limit of 120 cardinal electors. … I ask another question: Does Paraguay deserve a cardinal, if we look at the Church of Paraguay? I’d say that yes, they deserve two, but it has nothing to do with merits. It is a lively Church, a joyful Church, a fighting Church with a glorious history.
Question: We would like to know whether you consider just the Bolivians wish to have sovereign access to the sea, to return to having a sovereign access to the Pacific, and by what criteria. And, Holy Father, should Chile and Bolivia ask for your mediation, would you accept?
Answer: The issue of mediation is very delicate, and it would be a last step. That is, Argentina experienced this with Chile, and it was truly to stop a war. It was a very extreme situation, and dealt with very well by those appointed by the Holy See, always backed by John Paul II who was very interested. … At the moment, I have to be very respectful about this because Bolivia has made an appeal to an international court. So at present if I make a comment, as a head of State, it could be interpreted as involvement or pressure on my part. It is necessary to be very respectful of the decision of the Bolivian people who made this appeal. … There is another thing I want to make very clear. In the Cathedral of Bolivia, I touched on this issue in a very delicate way, taking into account the situation of the appeal to the international court. I remember the context perfectly – brothers have to engage in dialogue, the Latin American peoples need to engage in dialogue. I stopped, I was silent a moment, and then said, “I’m thinking of the sea”. I continued, “dialogue and dialogue.” I think it was clear that my comment referred to this problem, with respect for the situation as it is at present. It is in an international tribunal, so it is not possible to speak about mediation or facilitation. We have to wait.
Follow-up question: Is the Bolivians’ wish just or not?
Answer: There is always a base of justice when there is a change in the territorial borders, particularly after a war. So this is under continuous revision. I would say that it is not unfair to present something like this, this wish. I remember that in the year 1961, during my first year of philosophy, we were given a documentary about Bolivia … called “The Ten Stars”. And it presented each one of the nine provinces and then, at the end, for the tenth, there was the sea, without a word. That stayed in my mind. It was the year 1961. In other words, it is clear that there is a desire.
Question: Ecuador was in a state of unrest before your visit, and after you left the country those who oppose the government returned to the streets. It seems that they would like to use your presence in Ecuador for political ends, especially because of the phrase you used, “the people of Ecuador have stood up with dignity”. I would like to ask you, if possible, what did you mean by this phrase?
Answer: Evidently there were some political problems and strikes. I don’t know the details of politics in Ecuador and it would be foolish of me to give an opinion. Afterwards I was told that there was a type of hiatus during my visit, which I am grateful for, as it is the gesture of a people on their feet, of respect for the visit of a Pope. … But if these problems resume, clearly, the problems and political debates continue. With regard to the phrase you mentioned: I refer to the greater awareness of their courage that the people of Ecuador have been gaining. There was a border war with Peru not long ago. There is a history of war. Then, there’s been a greater awareness of Ecuador’s ethnic diversity and dignity. Ecuador is not a throwaway country. Or rather, it refers to the people as a whole and to all of the dignity of the people who, after the border war, stood up with ever greater awareness of its dignity and the wealth it has in its diversity and variety. In other words, it cannot be attributed to one concrete political situation. That phrase – I was told, I did not see it myself – was manipulated to suggest that the government had put Ecuador on her feet, or that she had been raised to her feet by those opposing the government. One comment can be manipulated, and I believe that in this we must be very careful.
Question: In your address to popular movements in Bolivia you spoke about the new colonialism and the idolatry of money that subjugates the economy, and the imposition of austerity measures that continually “tighten the belt” of the poor. For some weeks now in Europe there is the situation in Greece, which risks leaving the Euro zone. What do you think about what is happening in Greece, and which also affects all of Europe?
Answer: I am near to this situation, as it is a phenomenon present throughout the world, all over the world. Also in the East, in the Philippines, in India, in Thailand. There are movements that are organised among themselves not as a form of protest but in order to keep going and to be able to live. And they are movements that have momentum, and these people – there are many of them – do not feel represented by union, as they say that the unions are now corporations and do not fight – I am simplifying somewhat – for the rights of the poor. And the Church cannot be indifferent to this. The Church has a social doctrine and is in dialogue with this movement, and does so well. You have seen the enthusiasm of feeling that the Church – they say – is not distant from us, the Church has a doctrine that helps us to fight for this. It is a dialogue. The Church does not choose an anarchic path. No, we are not anarchists. These people work, they try to work hard even with waste, with what is left over; they are real workers.
Then, regarding Greece and the international system, I do not understand it well … but it would certainly be all too simple to say that the blame lies only on one side. If the Greek government has advanced this situation of international debt, it too bears responsibility. With the new Greek government, there have been steps in the right direction, towards revision. I hope, and it is the only thing I can say to you, as I do not know the situation well, that a way will be found to solve the Greek problem, and also a path of supervision so that other countries do not experience the same problem, and that this may help us to go ahead, as the path of loans and debts never ends. I was told, about a year or so ago, that there was a United Nations project … whereby a Country can declare itself bankrupt – which is not the same as being in default – but it is a project I heard about and I do not know how it ended or whether or not it was true. If a company can declare bankruptcy why can’t a country do it, so that we can then go to the aid of others?
Then, with regard to the new colonialisms,
evidently these are a question of values. The colonialism of consumerism, for example. The habit of consumerism is the result of a process of colonisation, as it leads to a habit that is not one’s own and causes a personality imbalance. Consumerism also upsets the balance of the domestic economy and of social justice, as well as physical and mental health, for instance.
Question: Holy Father, what did you think when you received the hammer and sickle with Christ on it, offered by President Morales? And what became of the object?
Answer: I didn’t know about it, and I was not aware that Fr. Espinal was a sculptor and also a poet. I found out in these days. I saw it and it was a surprise to me. It can be qualified as belonging to the genre of protest art. For example, in Buenos Aires a few years ago there was an exhibition of protest art by a good, creative Argentine sculptor – he is dead now – and I remember a work which was a crucified Christ on a bomber that was falling down. It was a critique of Christianity allied with imperialism, in the form of the bomber. Firstly, then, I did not know about it and secondly, I would qualify it as protest art that can in some cases be offensive; in some cases. Thirdly, in this specific case: Fr. Espinal was killed in the year 1980. It was a time in which liberation theology had many different threads, one of which was the Marxist analysis of reality, and Fr. Espinal subscribed to this. … In the same year, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arrupe, sent a letter to the whole Society regarding the Marxist analysis of reality in theology, stopping this to some extent, saying no, this doesn’t work, they are different things, it is not right. And four years later, in 1984, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith published its first short volume, its first declaration on liberation theology, which it criticised. Then there was the second, that opens up more Christian perspectives. … Let us consider the hermeneutics of that period. Espinal was an enthusiast of the Marxist analysis of reality, but also of theology. That work came from this. Espinal’s poetry also belongs to the protest genre: it was his life, his thought. He was a special man, with great human geniality, who fought in good faith. Through a hermeneutics of this type I understand the work. To me it was not offensive. But I had to apply this hermeneutics and I say this to you, so that there are not any mistaken opinions. I now carry the object with me, it is coming with me. You perhaps heard that President Morales wished to bestow two honours on me: one is the most important in Bolivia and the other is of the Order of Fr. Espinal, a new Order. I have never accepted honours, but he did this with such good will and with the wish to please. And I thought that this comes from the people of Bolivia – I prayed about this and thought about it – and if I take them to the Vatican they will end up in a museum where nobody will see them. So, I decided to leave them to Our Lady of Copacabana, the Mother of Bolivia, and these two honours will go to the Shrine of Copacabana, to Our Lady. However, I am taking the the sculpture of Christ with me.
Question: During the Mass in Guayaquil, you said that the Synod will have to develop true discernment to find concrete solutions to the difficulties faced by families. And then you asked the people to pray because even that which may seem impure to us, which may seem scandalous or frightening, can be transformed into a miracle by God. Can you clarify what “impure”, “scandalous” or “frightening” situations you were referring to?
Answer: Here again there is a need for a hermeneutics of the text. I was talking about the miracle of the wine during the wedding at Cana and I said that the jars of water were full, but they were intended for purification. Or rather, every person who entered the feast carried out a rite of cleansing, leaving behind their spiritual impurities. It is a purification rite performed before entering a house or a temple. A rite that we have in holy water, which is what remains to us of the Jewish ritual. I said that Jesus made good wine with the impure water, the worst water. In general, I thought about making this comment: the family is in crisis, we all know this. … I was referring to all of this, in general: that the Lord may purify us of these crises, of the many things that are described in the Instrumentum laboris. It is a general issue, not referring to any particular point.
Question: Seeing how well the mediation went between Cuba and the U.S., do you think it would it be possible to do something similar between other delicate situations in other countries on the Latin American continent? I’m thinking of Venezuela and Colombia.
Answer: The process between Cuba and the United States was not mediation. It did not have the character of mediation. There was a wish that came … And then, to tell you the truth, three months went by, and I only prayed about the matter … what could I do with these two who had been like this for more than 50 years. Then the Lord made me think of a cardinal. He went there and talked; then knew nothing more and months went by. One day the secretary of State, who is here, told me, “Tomorrow we will have the second meeting with the two teams.” … “Yes, yes, they are talking, the two groups are talking …”. It happened by itself. It was not a mediation. It was the goodwill of the two countries, and the merit is theirs, the merit is theirs for doing this. We did hardly anything, only small things. And in mid-December, it was announced. … Now, I am concerned that the peace process in Colombia must not come to a halt. I have to say this, and I hope that the process goes ahead. In this sense, we are always willing to help, in many ways. It would be a bad thing if it did not go ahead. In Venezuela, the Episcopal Conference is working to make peace there, too. But there too, there is no mediation.
Question: One thing we have heard very little of is a message for the middle class, that is, people who work, who pay their taxes, normal people. My questions is: why are there so few messages for the middle class in the Holy Father’s teaching?
Answer: Thank you, it is a good correction? You are right, it is an error on my part. The world is polarised. The middle class is becoming smaller. The polarisation between rich and poor is great, this is true, and perhaps this has led me not to take account of it. Some nations are doing very well, but in the world in general polarisation is very evident. And the number of poor is large. And why do I speak of the poor? Because they are at the heart of the Gospel. … Then with regard to the middle class, I have said a few words, but somewhat “in passing”. But the common people, the simple people, the worker, that is a great value. But I think you are telling me about something I need to do: I need to deepen the magisterium on this.
Question: Now that Cuba will have a greater role in the international community, do you think that Havana will have to improve its reputation with regard to human rights and religious freedom? And do you think that Cuba risks losing something in its new relationship with the most powerful country in the world?
Answer: Human rights are for all, and are not to be respected only in one or two countries. I would say that in many countries throughout the world human rights are not respected. … What will Cuba or the U.S. lose? Both will gain something and lose something, because this happens in negotiations. Both will gain, this is sure: peace, encounter, friendship, collaboration. These they will gain … but what will they lose, I cannot imagine. They may be concrete things. But in negotiations one always [both] wins and loses. But returning to human rights, and religious freedom: just think that in the world there are some countries, even in Europe, where you cannot make a religious sign, for different reasons. The same applies to other continents. Religious freedom is not re
spected in all the world: there are many places where it is not respected.
Question: Holy Father, in summary, what message did you want to give to the Latin American Church in these days? And what role can the Latin American Church have, also as a sign to the world?
Answer: The Latin American Church has a great asset: it is a young Church … with a certain freshness, also some informalities, it is not very formal. In addition it has a rich body of theological research. I wanted to encourage this young Church and I believe that this Church can offer us much. One thing that really struck me was that in all three countries, in the streets, there were many fathers and mothers with their children. … I have never seen so many children! It is a people – and also a Church – that has a lesson for us, for Europe, where the declining birthrate is worrying, and there are few policies for helping large families. France has a good policy for helping large families and it has achieved a birthrate of more than two per cent, but in others it remains at zero percent. … The greatest asset of this people and of this Church is that it is a living Church. I believe we can learn from this and correct it as otherwise, if we no longer have children … It is what touches me most about this tendency to cast aside: children are discarded, the elderly are discarded, and through the lack of work, the young too are discarded. These new nations of young people give us greater strength. For the Church, I would say that a young Church – with many problems, because it has problems – I think that this is the message I find: do not be afraid of this youth and this freshness of the Church. It can also be a somewhat undisciplined Church, but with time it will become disciplined, and it offers us much that is good.