Interview: Pope Talks about the Virgin of Fatima, the World Youth Days the Church and Abuses with CNN

He also talks about the role of women in the Church, how he rests, and the  Synod and the Liturgy .

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(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 06.09.2022).- Pope Francis gave an interview to Maria João Avillez, subsidiary of CNN in Portugal. The interview was held on August 12 but the editorial decision was broadcast in a special program at the beginning of the first week of September. Here is the translation in English. 

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Why are these days [the World Youth Days, ndt] become something so important for the Church and for you?

Answer: Saint John Paul II had the idea. These Days are the ones that, in some way, connect young people of different regions of the world; they make possible a universalization of youth. And they are fortified because the young people strengthen one another and speak for themselves and feel supported. Even if they speak different languages and come from different cultures, they come together. And, together, they perceive common desires, common desires. They have a common language. Young people’s languages are always very creative. You should see the words the young people invent for a specific situation, but this creativity is a sign of being anchored in the present and of looking to the future. One thing that helps is to know one another to feel strong and to undertake their path to the future. Its origin was Saint John Paul II’s genius. 


Youth and the world await your presence in August 2023 and your message.

Answer: I intend to go. The Pope will go. Francis will go or John XXIV, but the Pope will go (laughs). 


We all hope and trust that it will be Pope Francis . . . 

Answer: Whatever God wills. 


How does Pope Francis see young people today exactly as they are? 

Answer: When you go to a meeting with young people you must be prepared for them to speak with you in another language. Young people have their own language, which comes from their culture, because there is a youth culture. It also comes from youth’s creativity. You can’t go to speak to young people with the language of a European, for example, or of a South American. You must speak with the language of young people, which doesn’t mean that it’s something small. They have their culture and a progressive language, which goes ahead. They must be listened to in their way of interpreting things and answer them in a way they can understand. I can’t respond to a youth facing a difficulty with an old theology book. “Look, it says here … “ He doesn’t understand it. When I am faced with a human problem, a theological problem, I must answer in a language they can understand and in a language that is in consonance with their experience. The ‘air’ of young people is the present – today. 


And how can the Days’ meeting be also a time of reconciliation for the difficulties that the Portuguese Church is living? 

Answer: Distance is what accentuates difficulties. If I get angry with you, I distance myself – you continue on your way and I on mine, and there’ll never be reconciliation. Instead, when distances are shortened, when persons approach one another, there is dialogue, there are discussions, perhaps, but it doesn’t matter. It’s necessary to dialogue and then we can build reconciliation. For instance, in countries where there are two different cultures, many people try to have both cultures meet and this is very easy with young people, through sport, art, an orchestra, common interests, conversations, because young people are very apt in getting close. We, adults, already have more vital experience and we protect ourselves more. We defend ourselves. Young people are far more intrepid. So, how is it brought about? By getting close, not in an artificial way but through things of common interest. The Youth Days are without a doubt a global meeting of young  people. 

One of the things that are evident in the Pope is the very genuine and sincere tranquillity and joy with which he converses with young people, but I ask the question the other way around: what do you get from your dialogue with young people? 

Answer: I’ll tell you a story. Two months ago I had a meeting with ten young people who spoke Spanish, but of Latin America, Africa and Spain, here in Rome. We spent five hours, more or less, in two stages. Each one said what occurred to him and, needless to say, there was no old woman of novenas. One who wasn’t anticlerical approached me, another had harsh criticisms, but they talked freely. Some were Catholics, others were baptized but didn’t practice, others weren’t Catholics. And I learned because they set enormous difficulties before me and I wasn’t that worried about answering the difficulty, because it was like playing pong-pong; they threw [the ball] and I responded. Rather, I tried to see what was the underlying culture that he or she had to set me before that difficulty and that was very useful for me. And I respect it. I respect spontaneity. What a find very difficult is dialogue, especially with adults, because young people don’t fall into this, it’s a double entendre, that is, the diplomatic language where a person says something but thinks another. No. 


Hypocrisy . . . 

Answer: Hypocrisy, that’s the word. The word says it all because it comes from the Greek: hypo more crisis, that is, to think, hypo, underneath. No one in this group was a hypocrite. Each one said what he wanted to say, with the vehemence he wanted, and no one offended me. Some attacked me, but they didn’t offend me because they were very sincere. When we give room to young people, there is sincerity. There can be errors, but who doesn’t commit them? One must listen and, in any case, converse about it. But young people’s spontaneity is an immense richness. 


One aspect you emphasize a lot is the value and importance of inter-generational dialogue. You have talked about the treasure and wisdom of the elderly to teach young people. What must we learn from one another? 

Answer: Young people must have a vision towards the future and a vision of the past. Young people that look only to the future have no support. Young people must dialogue with their roots. Do I then seek refuge in the root? No, because that doesn’t bear fruit. But to look at the roots  can only be done through dialogue with elders. It’s one of the things I insist on because sometimes young  people go to visit  an elderly man in his home, play the guitar . . . groups of young people. At first they are a bit uncomfortable, they don’t know . . . However, when they start to talk they get enthusiastic. Of course, because they listen and then discuss with their elders and they feel rooted. This doesn’t mean that you have to do what they did in their life, but you must listen to them, because they are your roots. The roots of their culture, their homeland, their way of being, everything, of your family. The culture of a grandfather and of a grandmother is one of the greatest blessings.  When a youth advances he looks to the future but he is able to dialogue with his elders. An Argentine poet has a very beautiful phrase: “All that the tree has flowering comes from what is buried.” 


We, Portuguese, remember that you were already in Fatima. Did this profound spiritual experience make the Jesuit Bergoglio more Marian or was he already so? 

Answer: My family always educated me in devotion to Mary. My family is very Salesian, Our Lady Help of Christians, is something we’ve lived since we were little, because we already had a devotion to Mary in our family. I’m Marian, I like the Virgin very much, but in Fatima I felt something more. Fatima left me mute. For me, Fatima is the Virgin of silence. I don’t know how much time I was there, I wasn’t really aware of it, but to be in the presence of the Virgin, simply to be, nothing else . . . 


There are many people that say there is no silence such as that of Fatima . . . 

Answer: It’s true. I felt it. It happened to me. I see it is universal; I didn’t know they said that. It happened to me without knowing it. And, for me, Portugal is Fatima. I hope the Portuguese won’t get cross, but it’s my experience. 


How does a Pope pray?

Answer: I haven’t changed my way of praying. It might be that I’ve deepened it, I don’t know. But I pray the Rosary. I do so as I did when I was a child. I pray with the Bible and I meditate. I pray the Liturgical Office every day, that is, in different ways. I place myself before God and sometimes I get distracted, but He doesn’t get distracted. And that consoles me. I don’t remember what Saint was worried because he fell asleep during prayer. And his confessor said to him: “Thank God. It’s a grace to fall asleep before the Lord.” To pray is to be in God’s presence and to let Him speak. One can’t pray without freedom. This is very clear. And each one must pray as the Holy Spirit inspires him.

How can we be attentive when the Holy Spirits wants to speak to us? 

Answer: A person feels, for example, before an event, before a reading, before a poor man on the street or a sick person, one feels something and it’s the Holy Spirit Who motivates the person to do something. The Holy Spirit speaks in all languages. Recall the morning of Pentecost, the noise because the people didn’t understand anything, they said they were drunk. Why? Because each one spoke in their own language and it was a great day, because You are the author of the differences but, on the other hand, You build harmony with all those differences, which is different from order. There can be order . . . You go to a cemetery and everything is in order, but there’s no life. There is life in harmony and this is what the Holy Spirit does. He gives you this, he gives another something, and something else to another, but everything in harmony and that is the ecclesiastical sense. Sometimes there are persons that say: “I’m very religious, very religious. I defend Christian values . . .,” but they are incapable of living in harmony with the Church. They lack the Holy Spirit, they have a religious ideology but they don’t have the Holy Spirit.


You know that part of the world is angry with the Church today. The situations of abuse by some members of the clergy is news. In Portugal we are living difficult and hard days. What are the profound reasons for this wound? What is lacking? Is it formation? Is it the lack of accompaniment? Is it the logic of institutional self-preservation? 

Answer: I can answer elegantly, saying “yes, it’s true, the Church is suffering, and so on.” 


But it’s not sufficient.

Answer: No. I want to be very clear about this: the abuse of men and women of the Church –abuse of authority, abuse of power and sexual abuse– is a monstrosity  because the man or woman of the Church– be he a priest, a Religious or a layman –has been called to serve and to create unity, to contribute to growth, and abuse always destroys. Mistreatment is a tragic reality of all times, but also of ours. 


The difference is that now it’s known. 

Answer: Now it’s known, and it’s good that it’s so. However, what is not known, because it continues hidden, is mistreatment within the family. I don’t remember the percentage, but I believe 42% or 46% of abuses happen in the family or in the neighbourhood. And that’s hidden. Last week I met with a very serious group that works with abuse in Brazil and they gave me the percentages. Then there is another percentage in sports, in sports fields, in clubs. Sometime they take advantage of children in clubs. Then in schools and they gave me the percentage: that 3% of the abuses happen with men and women of the Church. ‘Ah, 3% is little.’ No. Even if it were only one it’s a monstrosity. 

So I simply say: all this exists but I pay attention to them  and I am responsible  for it not happening again. And, unfortunately, the culture of abuse is very widespread. Also pornographic films, in which the abuse of minors is filmed. I ask, in what country do they do this? Can’t they be sanctioned? We don’t know where they are made, but it is part of our culture. There are people in some telephone services that enable one to enter in sexual services  and some are the abuse of children, others of other things, that is, our culture is an abusive culture. 

So, when we speak of abuses, I’d say it’s necessary to have this whole view; in the second place, an effort must be made not to hide things because in some sectors, such as the family, the tendency is to hide them; in the third place, we must take the percentage that worries us and fight against it. That is, I don’t deny the abuses, even if it were only one it’s monstruous, because the priest or nun must take the boy or girl to God, and by abusing them they destroy their life. It’s monstruous; it destroys lives. And then they come with questions: ‘Is it because of celibacy?’ It’s not because of celibacy. Abuse is something destructive and humanly diabolic. There isn’t celibacy in families and it also happens there. Hence it’s simply the monstrosity of a man or a woman of the Church, who is sick in psychological terms, or is malevolent and uses his position for his personal satisfaction. It’s diabolical.

What does the Church do to treat this wound? 

Answer: The Church took a decision after the Chicago “explosion” [in fact it was in Boston, but the Pope said Chicago, ndt]. The “explosion” happened in Cardinal Law’s time. He became aware of it and began to track the cases of abuse. The Church knows that 40% or more happens in neighbourhoods and in the family, but what matters here are the consecrated [persons] in the community. And one thing that is [now] very clear is: zero tolerance. Zero. A priest cannot continue being a priest if he is an abuser. He cannot. Because he is either sick or a criminal, I don’t know. But it’s clear that he’s sick. It’s human baseness, no? A priest exists to guide men to God and not to destroy men in the name of God. Zero tolerance. And it must continue to be so. I suffer with the cases of abuse that reach me. I suffer, but it must be faced. 


You recently dedicated an Apostolic Letter to the Liturgy and to Liturgical Formation. Why has this issue of the Liturgy, of the Liturgical Rite suddenly become so confused and complex in the Church? 

Answer: I think it’s a situation of crisis, of deficient liturgical formation and, on the other hand, the lack of piety in the celebration of the Mass, which some don’t like to celebrate. This causes scandal and some look for safer ways. The liturgical problem is important. I prepared two Documents: one, Traditionis Custodes, which should discipline well the old Rite and the other, the last, an Apostolic Letter, to open horizons somewhat and give some liturgical spirituality. The Liturgy is the great work of the Church. It’s the work of Adoration and Praise. So a Church that doesn’t celebrate the Liturgy well is a Church that doesn’t know how to praise God, that, deep down, doesn’t know how to live. It’s important for me to discipline the Liturgy well. 


The Dicastery for Bishops, in charge of appointing new Bishops, includes three women for the first time. How must we read the sign of the choice of three women for the Dicastery? 

Answer: Men and women are baptized. And the Church is feminine, [not masculine]. She is woman, she is Bride of Christ. And in the normal administration of the Church women were lacking. Well now there are secretaries of the Synod of Bishops, the Vice-Governor of the Vatican, is a woman. And why not also propose women in the election of Bishops? A personal experience: the most mature reports I received to confer priestly Ordination to seminarians were written by women of the neighbourhoods where they went to work in the parish. And, moreover, women are in charge of carrying the maternity of the Church, so, it’s good to have women who think how Bishops should be when it comes to choosing Bishops, that is, the entrance of women is not a feminist fashion; it’s an act of justice that had been left to one side culturally.  ‘Do you want to do something for the Church? Become a nun.’ No. Can one be a layman or a laywoman that works or here, in the Vatican, are there only men? No, all the baptized have a place here. 

This isn’t something that I’ve invented, but has been done for 20 or 30 years and is being implanted little by little. For example, for some years, for three years, the Secretariat of Economic Affairs, the Economic Council has had six Cardinals and six laymen, and a Cardinal who is President — all men. In the appointment three years ago, which is not known, I appointed five women and one man to six lay posts. And it began to function better., because women are able to administer another type of things. Women have a different way of doing things than we do because they reason differently, they have a different maternity, which is different. On one occasion I received a Head of State or Government, I don’t remember, a woman who was at the head of a country and who had resolved a conflict that was difficult to resolve. She was a married woman with children and I asked her: “Tell me, Doctor, how were you able to resolve this conflict. She remained silent and began to move her hands like this. I looked but didn’t understand. And she said: ‘As we mothers do.’ It’s another type of resolution of conflicts, of problems. Also the new economy, with the new economists, for example Mariana Mazzucato in the United States and others, is opening ways of economies on these more creative  and more fruitful lines. And women are mothers, and a mother is not the same as a father. Women are able to manage better on their own. 

There is a statistic: in general –but this is a curiosity–, a man who is widowed has many difficulties in maintaining his family. He has to marry again  or . . . A widowed woman is able to maintain her family alone. She does one thing with one hand, and another with the other. That’s how they act. And this is something I want to say  because it’s a tribute to women: a woman never abandons what is lost. Sometimes in Buenos Aires I had to go to a parish in another place and, in the bus, I’d pass the prison. I did so several times, because it is in a place where buses go by. And I’d see the line of prisoners’ mothers going to see their sons. A woman would give her all for her son. She would not reject her son. Fathers hardly went. The women [thought]“he is my blood.” Once, a woman was crying in the prison. I had gone to visit the inmates and I took her to one side and asked her: ‘Why are your crying?’ She looked at me and said: ‘He is blood of my blood,’ she said. That’s what a woman feels, that’s her way of feeling. It’s not a silly thing. A woman is able to bring God’s quality, which is tenderness. 


Which great feminine figures of the history of the Church, of the Bible, have inspired you? 

Answer: There is a figure in the Old Testament that I like, Judith. A courageous woman, defending her people, capable of cutting off the enemy’s head. She was a complete woman. And, obviously, Mary, the Virgin, She is the woman, the feminine par excellence. In Mary one finds strength, service . . . femininity. When we approach the Virgin we find all this femininity in Her. In the Scriptures . . . I stay with Mary. I like Judith because she was courageous and all. There are courageous women. There are several. An Italian theologian has just published a book in which he studies all the women of the Bible. There are strong women, very strong. And others that are very intelligent. Delilah, for example [laughs]. 

I have a question here on your humour, because it’s something that characterizes you.

Answer: In this regard, I want to point out that for over 40 years I pray Saint Thomas More’s prayer for a sense of humour. I say that prayer. I ask for that grace, the sense of humour. It’s a prayer that begins: “Give me, Lord, a good digestion and also something to digest.” And it goes on like this. I copied that prayer in my Apostolic Exhortation “Excultate, Jubilate” [In fact it’s called Gaudete et Exsultate, and it’s the third time the Pope calls it mistakenly, ndt], in note 101. . If somone wants to see it, it’s there. 


Mozart has a wonderful ‘Exsultate, Jubilate.’

Answer: In the famous “Alleluia.” There was a film of my time . . . You are more modern , and I am older [laughs]. In my time there was a very nice film, ‘100 Men and A Girl,’ with Diana Durbin and Toscanini. I remember that film, which I saw as a child. She sang the ‘Alleluia’ of ‘Exsultate, Jubilate.’


I would like to hear you regarding the Synodal Journey underway. Will it help to clarify the spiritual proposal that the Synods makes to the world? 

Answer: In this case, it’s necessary to take recourse, somewhat, to history. At the end of the Council, Saint Paul VI realized, or already knew, that the Western Church, the Latin Church, had lost the synodal dimension. The Eastern Churches hold Synods. The Western Churches don’t do so. So he created the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops so that they would begin to get accustomed to it. And on the 50th anniversary of its creation, I gave an address explaining what had happened and the theological foundations of synodality. It happened five or six years ago. Then, a consultation was carried out of all the Bishops on the subject of the next Synod. Two key subjects arose: priests and synodality. I chose synodality to end the catechesis on synodality. 

Sometimes it’s confusing: it’s said that synodality is a sort of parliament, where each one says what he thinks but to be in a Synod is something else. Said in another way: there is no Synod without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Who is the Synod’s protagonist? The Holy Spirit. And how is this done? Each one says what he feels, or what he thinks, and then they look for harmony together – again the word of the Holy Spirit. I like Saint Basil because he defines the Holy Spirit as harmony. He says: “He is harmony.” Thus, there is diversity in the Synod, what each one says, but it’s the Spirit Who creates the harmony. If the Holy Spirit isn’t present, it’s a parliament. OK, but we don’t call it a Synod. It’s a parliament. We have to have the synodal attitude of discernment. And this is what the Church –thanks to Saint Paul VI who created all this–, has been learning for 54 or 55 years. 


You have already talked twice of harmony, but you know that the Church –and not only because of the abuses–, is very divided regarding the Synod. Sometimes it’s almost a civil war within the Church, Bishops against one another … Am I exaggerating? 

Answer: Yes, a bit, but I do understand it. Thank God it’s a civil war. It would be worse if it were an ecclesiastical war. In every process there are those that are very advanced, those that go forward more and those that go back more. It’s necessary to let the processes end. Then a concept is slowly sedimented, very slowly. For example, the fact that we mentioned earlier that there are women in the Curia is a cultural process, a process of justice, but if a lady had said this 100 years ago . . . 100 years ago they would have said ‘this woman is crazy.’ Because the Holy Spirit gives us ways of maturing the Church. And in this maturation, there are those that don’t think it’s right, they wait, they are behind. It’s the theology of the way: some run ahead and some stay behind. And the good Pastor, one who has the function of Pastor, the Bishop, must be able to move among the People of God, he must be with those that are ahead, he must be in the middle, and he must be [with those that ] are behind. A Pastor that is only in one place isn’t good. He has to talk with those that go ahead  to mark the rhythm, and help them not to get lost, and be in the middle to smell the scent of the people and be behind with the more reluctant to change and accompany them. That’s why I say that a Pastor must be universal in regard to the holy faithful People of God. Clericalism, which is a perversion, robs the Pastor of this universality and makes him Pastor of a sector or of a pastoral modality. I command here and you obey. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit is hidden. 


When you wrote “Laudato Si’,” you confessed that you were inspired by your brother Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, and when you wrote “Fratelli Tutti” you also said you were very much inspired by the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb. Is faith strengthened and broadened in the inter-religious dialogue? 

Answer: Of course, because the inter-religious dialogue does not consist in creating balances, in seeing how we are going to agree. It’s to listen. ‘What do you think? How do you feel?’ and see your point of view, listen to it, discuss it, but walk together as persons. In my city, in the ‘30s there was a group of very conservative Catholics. They told me that all Protestants were going to hell. They told me everything about Luther. I was four years old when I first heard the word ecumenical, said by my grandmother. We were walking on the street and, on the other side, there were two women of the Salvation Army; they had a hat and a big bow tie, and I asked my grandmother: ”Are those women nuns?” And my grandmother said: “They are Protestants, but they are good people.” That was the first ecumenical comment I heard, and to see that God acts through cultures, through religious traditions, in another way of dialogue, always. Dialogue is necessary. One never loses by dialoguing, never. 

There are indispensable dialogues. You have said that you would like to go to Kiev and to Moscow. What can you say to Presidents Putin and Zelensky? 

Answer: I don’t  know. I’ve talked to both; both have come to visit me. Now there’s no more time and . . . I always think that if we talk we can go forward. Do you know who doesn’t know how to dialogue? Animals, they are pure instinct. If you let yourself be led by instinct . . . However, dialogue is to leave instinct to one side and to listen. Dialogue is difficult. 


It seems very difficult there.

Answer: It’s difficult, but it starts in the family. If there isn’t dialogue in the family, if there is only shouting and arguments in the family, the children don’t learn to dialogue. 


When are you going to go to Kiev or to Moscow? 

Answer: It’s in the air. I still don’t know. I’m talking with them. Tomorrow, for example [the interview was on august 12, but it was only broadcast on September 5, ndt], I have [scheduled] a telephone call with President Zelensky. We’ll see. In fact. Representatives of mine went to Kiev — three Cardinals. One of them went three times and was there the whole of Holy Week, and the Under-Secretary of State, let’s say, in charge of international relations, went there. My presence is strong there. I can’t go now because after the trip to Canada my knee’s recovery was hard and the Doctor has prohibited me from going. ‘You can’t travel to Kazakhstan.’ But I’ve been in touch by phone. And I do what I can. And I ask everyone to do what they can. Among us all we can do something. And I accompany as much as I can with my grief and my prayers, but the situation is truly tragic. 


What is the daily life of the Pope like? Now, in  August, it’s a month of vacations. But you are here working, with a full agenda. You’re not in Castel Gandolfo. Don’t you like it or don’t you have the time? 

Answer: Not Castel Gandolfo . . . I’ve turned the residence into a museum. There were many things here, in the Vatican Museums, which had no space to exhibit them, so I turned the house I wouldn’t go to into a museum. There are places where one must go. If I like, I can go, because there are two other places. I spend my vacations reading, listening to music and praying a bit more. I like opera very much. 


Which composer? 

Answer: Wagner.


Do you have time for opera now? 

Answer: Yes, I play it, and listen to it while I work.


How is your day to day when you are not on vacation? Too heavy? 

Answer: It’s organized. I like to organize. I get up early, at four o’clock in the morning. But I’m already asleep at 10 o’clock at night. 


Is it necessary to get up early?

Answer: I wake up automatically. I’m like the chickens. I get up at four, I pray my prayers. Sometimes I celebrate Mass at that time or later when I can’t. Then the work begins. I go to bed at nine and turn off the light at ten. I sleep six hours. 


Where do you get your strength to believe in the victory of the good over this very triumphant evil? What is the root of your faith?

Answer: Every period has had its good and its evil, and I don’t dare say that today everything is evil. No, there are very good things in these days. Faith is rooted in Jesus Christ, the Lord of History. He is the Lord of History. The evil happening now has happened before in another way, that is, the wheat and the chaff are together. 


What we have to do is separate them.

Answer: That’s right. When someone says “we are perfect,” [it’s not so]. Jesus said that they grow together and are separated in the harvest. We must get used to living historical situations. Some are not good, they are bad.  God knows it. 


I would like to ask you a word that sheds light and reconciliation on the path of the Portuguese Church, which is going through a very difficult time at present, until the World Youth Day. 

Answer: I’d say the following: look at the window. Look at the window, and ask yourself: “Does an open window have life? If it’s not opeb, open it as soon as possible. Don’t be myopic. In regard to a problem or anything, know that we are moving towards the future , that there is a way. Look at the way. Don’t close yourself in a band. Always keep the window open. I ask: “What is your window? What is your hope?” “It doesn’t occur to me.” Look fori t there and create it, as you cannot live without hope; you can’t live without that positive impulse  of hope. On the contrary, if you curl up as a snail in yourself and that’s not healthy. Open the window, this is my advice to prepare the Youth Day. Open the window. Look beyond your nose, look beyond. Look, open, look at the horizon and enlarge your heart.


How can I thank you for this time?

Answer: Pray for me. Pray for me, but for me, not against me [laughs].


Translation of the Portuguese original by ZENIT’s Editorial Director and, into English, by Virginia M. Forrester

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