Pope on Return Flight from Japan and Thailand / Copyright: ZENIT's Deborah Castellano Lubov

PAPAL FLIGHT FEATURE: Pope Francis’ In-flight Presser Discusses Death Penalty, Legitimate Defense, Nuclear Arms and More (Zenit Is on Papal Flight)

“A sentence without a horizon is inhuman”

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Hiroshima was a true human catechesis on cruelty…

A sentence without a horizon is inhuman…

Just war theory and legitimate defense is a legitimate theory, but it must – ‘I repeat must’–be the ‘last’ resort…

Vatican finance scandals may have rocked us, but we are committed to working always toward better reform and transparency…

During the Pope’s In-flight Press Conference returning from his 32nd Apostolic Trip to Japan and Thailand, Nov. 19 -26, 2019, the Holy Father made these points. ZENIT’s Senior Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov, has been following the events from the papal flight. Here is an unofficial Vatican News translation of the transcript.

This trip had great personal significance for the Holy Father who as a young Jesuit dreamed of going to Japan as a missionary, and who also in Thailand was able to reunite with his cousin, a religious sister who is a missionary there, and assisted during the trip, served as a translator.

The last Pope to visit both countries was St. Pope John Paul II: Japan in 1981, and Thailand in 1984.

The Holy Father began by thanking the journalists for their work on this “intense trip,” acknowledging how different Thailand and Japan are from one another. While both nations have very small Catholic populations, both less than 1%, Thailand is very poor whereas Japan enjoys economic prosperity and wellbeing.

Yet despite being a small minority in Thailand, the Church is distinguished for its contributions in healthcare, education and social work. The Thai motto for the Pope’s trip was “Let Love Be the Bridge.”

Discussing the two countries, Francis observed: “You can’t evaluate things with a single category. Realities need to be evaluated according to categories that come from the same reality, and these are two completely different realities.”

Thus, he acknowledged it took twice as much work, and expressed he felt close to the papal flight press in this work.

Most of the questions focused on the leg of the two-country tour in Japan, whose motto for the trip was “Protect All Life.”

Addressing various questions on nuclear weapons, Pope Francis decried: “Hiroshima was a true human catechesis on cruelty.”

ZENIT brought our readers to the historic interfaith gathering there, where the Pope listened to victims one by one on Sunday evening, as well as to Nagasaki during the day, the country’s Christian capital, where he also prayed, offered words of comfort, and celebrated Mass.

Catechesis on Cruelty

“If you just go to Nagasaki, yes, ok: Christians, the atomic bomb, and there you stop.  But to go to Hiroshima, is only the atomic bomb because it’s not a Christian city like Nagasaki.  That’s why I wanted to go to both.  It’s true both suffered an atomic disaster. Hiroshima was a true human catechesis on cruelty. Cruelty.”


When Pope John Paul II visited Hiroshima, he made an appeal for peace which sounded an alarm against the nuclear arms race. During Pope Francis’ discourse there, he reminded all present that using –and then added off the cuff, “and possessing”—nuclear arms, is “immoral.”

Francis lamented he wasn’t able to see Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum. “I was only there for the time needed, it was a difficult day, but they say it’s terrible, terrible, also with letters from Heads of State, generals, who explained how to achieve a greater disaster.”

Nagasaki made him think of its history of martyrs and its being the country’s Catholic center, but the time in Hiroshima really made him reflect on the bombing and the harm inflict. “The experience of Hiroshima,” he said, for him “was very touching.”

A Threat to Humanity

Reiterating the use—and not only—but also the possession—of nuclear arms is immoral, the Roman Pontiff warned: “the folly of one person could destroy humanity.”

With an “accident of possession or the folly of some leader,” Francis stressed, “the folly of one person could destroy humanity.  Let’s think of what Einstein said:  the Fourth World War will be fought with sticks and stones.”

The Holy Father warned that even the mere possession, can – and has led—to catastrophic events, recalling how exacerbated had been the triple disaster on March 11, 2011, in Fukushima which claimed the lives of at least 20,000 and displaced some 200,000 others, with the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

While the majority of the press conference was dedicated to discussing the trip to both Asian nations, he also responded to questions on Hong Kong, financial scandals in the Vatican, Latin America being “in flames” and more.

A Japanese journalist inquired about the fact that Pope Francis did not meet with during the Mass at the Tokyo Dome the individual who was condemned to death. “I did not know until afterward. I did not know about that individual,” the Pope clarified.

The death penalty, the Pope reminded, is immoral and cannot be done.


Not Only Hong Kong

The Holy Father also responded to a question about Hong Kong, noting such a phenomenon is not an issue limited to Hong Kong but something more general.

“Think about Chile, think about France – the democratic France – one year with the yellow jackets. Think about Nicaragua. Think of other Latin American countries”

Phil Pullella of Reuters asked about Vatican financial reform, to which the Pope expressed how those five individuals, who were suspended following the Vatican raids following a mandate by the Vatican prosecutors and whose identities were revealed by Italian media reports — would soon be questioned and interrogated to see if they had been guilty or not.

The Pope, again, reiterated that in all cases one must always begin with a presumption of innocence.

Reflecting on recent Vatican financial scandals, he said that he is happy because “everything has been clarified by internal mechanisms which are starting to work.”

Francis touched on the decision of the former head of AIF, the Vatican’s anti-money laundering entity, to resign, pointing out that his term had been expiring, and that once this trip is done, there will be the new leader of the entity. The Pope assured he had consulted to the highest international levels those who could recommend a valid successor.

Pope Francis also applauded Benedict XVI’s efforts to curb corruption during his pontificate.

Another French journalist asked about just war theory – a theme ZENIT’s Deborah Lubov had asked Pope Francis about during his return flight from Geneva for the 70th Anniversary of the World Council of Churches on June 21, 2017.

Latin America in Flames

Valentina Alazraki of Televisa addressed how “Latin America is in flames,” and asked the Pontiff specifically his analysis of the situation and if he is in some way reacting to it.

Francis confirmed immediately that the situation in the country is “in flames”, but noted that he has not been able to follow closely enough to give a full analysis. He did however express his closeness to all involved, and acknowledged ways the Holy See has tried to help.

The Holy Father also thanked two female reporters—Alazraki and Franca Giansoldati of Il Messaggero for their books on themes close to his heart, including on the environment. “Women work more and are more capable than men,” he stressed.

ZENIT will bring you the full transcript as soon as possible.



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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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