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Holy Father’s In-flight Discussion with Reporters (Full Text)

Comments on Wide Variety of Topics

Following is ZENIT’s translation of the Vatican-provided text of the Holy Father’s January 28, 2019, discussion with reports on his flight from Panama to Rome.

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Gisotti: Holy Father, we still have in our ears the cry of the Pope’s Youth, of Jesus Christ’s Youth, as Monsignor Ulloa said, this great joy, these intense days, which, however, gave you so much energy and I think we all saw on your face so much joy, the joy of this meeting, as well as the joy of the young people. And I have brought here something that I think many of the journalists that I know here  — this won’t be a document that enters in the Pope’s magisterium but it’s a document you hold so dear. This here is a song that a girl from Honduras wrote — Marta Avila — of whom yesterday I made you an image, and this song is practically a song against bullying, which was a bit the sign of a meeting with Scholas Occurrentes. This to say, in fact, how there was also present the element of pain of these young people, as well as the joy we also saw on so many occasions. I want to mention to you only one image that struck me so much, Holy Father, when you passed in the Pope-mobile and greeted, I saw so many young people that, after having greeted you, perhaps for just an instant embraced each other. This touched me, the sharing of the joy, that is, young people that embraced each other after having seen you even for only an instant, and this is perhaps something that is a lesson for us adults. When young people are happy, they share the joy; they don’t keep it to themselves. This is something I wanted to share with your and with the journalists. So, Holy Father, you also had — among the many surprises you gave us these days — a meeting with UNICEF people in the Nunciature, in fact, in the last moments before taking leave. I don’t know if before giving the floor to the journalists for questions, you wish to address a word of greeting first.

Pope: Good evening and then good rest, because I’m certain that you are all tired, after this very intense trip. Thank you for your work. For me also there were things I didn’t imagine, surprises, as Gisotti said, as this 16-year-old girl from Honduras, the 16-year-old girl from Honduras, a victim of bullying, sang with a most beautiful voice, which you wrote down. Then the meeting before leaving the Nunciature, with people of UNICEF of Central America . . . with some testimonies there of two boys and of two that work there. I heard things that touched the heart . . . It was an intense trip! The floor to you!

Q: Thank you for the trip; you gave us a lovely gift. You talked to volunteers about the fact that they have lived a mission, they know how the heart beats when one lives a mission. What was your mission in the Central American WYD?

A: My mission in a WYD is Peter’s mission, which is to confirm in the faith. And this isn’t done with cold commands and orders, but by allowing oneself to be touched in the heart and answering with what comes to one. I don’t conceptualize because I live it so in myself. I struggle to think that someone can carry out a mission with the head alone. To fulfill a mission it’s necessary to feel it, and when you feel it, it hits you: life . . . thoughts . . . in the airport I was greeting the President and they brought me a nice black child. They told me that this boy was crossing the border from Colombia: the mother is dead and he remained alone. He must be about five years old. He is from Africa, but they don’t know from what country, because he doesn’t speak English or French, but only his tribal language.  They adopted him. It’s the tragedy of a boy abandoned by life because the mother is dead there, the policeman handed him over to the authorities for them to take care of him. This is like a slap and it makes the mission take on colour. The mission affects me. It must be because I am . . . and it comes to me from inside. I say to young people that what they must do in life, they must do using three languages: head, heart and hands. Do what you feel, feel what you think, think about what you do.

I don’t know how to assess the mission. I go with all this to prayer and I remain before the Lord. Sometimes I fall asleep, but I entrust the mission to Him. This is how I conceive the Pope’s mission and how I live it.

There were cases in which difficulties were presented of a dogmatic type and it doesn’t come to me to answer only with reason but in another way.

Q:  Were the expectations you had of Panama satisfied?

A: The thermometer to understand it is exhaustion, and I am destroyed.

Q: Many girls in Central America get pregnant too early. The Church’s detractors say it’s the Church’s responsibility because it’s opposed to sexual education. What is your opinion on sexual education?

A: Sexual education must be given in school; sex is a gift of God, it’s not a monster; it’s a gift of God to love. That some then use it to earn money or to exploit is another problem. But it’s necessary to give an objective sexual education, without ideological colonization.  If you begin to give a sexual education full of ideological colonization, you destroy the person.

However, sex must be educated as a gift of God. To educate in the sense of having the best of people emerge and to accompany them along the way. The problem is the system: the teachers and textbooks must be chosen for this task. I’ve seen some rather dirty books. There are things that make one mature and things that do harm. I don’t know if they are working on this in Panama; I don’t go into politics. But it’s necessary to have sexual education. The ideal is to begin at home. It’s not always possible because there are so many varied situations in families. And, therefore, the school supplies this, because otherwise there will be a void, which will then be filled by any ideology.

Brocal:  (*** Brief premise in Spanish). During these days you talked with so many youngsters, no doubt you also talked with youngsters estranged from the Church or who find difficulties. In your opinion, what is it that youngsters find there? In your opinion, what are the reasons that estrange them from the Church? Thank you!

A: There are so many! Some are personal, but most are general! I think the first is the lack of Christians’ witness — of priest, of Bishops, I don’t say of Popes because it’s too much . . . but <Popes> as well! The lack of witness! If a Pastor is a businessman or an organizer of a pastoral plan, or if a Pastor isn’t close to the people — shepherd and flock — let’s say it with these terms. The Pastor must be in front of the flock, to mark the way, in the mist of the flock, to smell the odour of the people, and to understand what the people feel, what they need, how they feel, and behind the flock to protect the rear-guard.

However, if a Pastor doesn’t live with passion, people feel abandoned or in a certain sense <that they are> scorned or . . .they feel themselves orphans, and where there is orphanhood, I believe that . . .

I’ve stressed the Pastors, but also the Christians, hypocritical Catholics, no? Hypocritical Catholics, no? Those who go every Sunday to Mass <but> then don’t pay the Christmas bonus; they pay you under the table, exploit people, then go to the Caribbean, not only to papers but . . . to have a vacation, with the exploitation of the people. ”But I’m a Catholic, I go to Mass every Sunday!” If you do this, you give a counter-witness. And this is what it seems to me most distances people from the Church — also the laity. But I would say: don’t say you are a Catholic, if you don’t give witness. Say, “I am of Catholic education, but I’m tepid, I’m worldly, I’m sorry, don’t look at me as a model, this must be said. But I’m afraid of such Catholics, ugh? Who believe themselves perfect! But history repeats itself — Jesus Himself with the Doctors of the Law, no? “I thank you, Lord, because I’m not like this man . . . poor sinner . . . “This is a lack of witness. There are others, personal difficulties, but that’s the most general.

Q: For four days we saw so many young people praying very intensely. Among them, perhaps, there is a certain number that intend to embrace the religious life. But perhaps someone is hesitating because he thinks that it’s a difficult choice because he can’t get married. Is it possible that you will permit married men to become priests in the Catholic Church?

A: In the Eastern rite of the Catholic Church they can do so. The celibate option is made before the diaconate. In the Latin rite there comes to mind a phrase of Saint Paul VI: “I prefer to give my life before changing the law on celibacy.” It’s a courageous phrase, in a more difficult moment than this one. It was in ’68-’70. Personally, I think celibacy is a gift to the Church. In the second place, I say that I don’t agree to allow optional celibacy — no. It would only be a possibility in very remote posts. I’m thinking of the islands of the Pacific . . . When there is pastoral need, the Pastor must think of the faithful. There is an interesting book by Father Lobinger (name to be verified) — this is something being discussed by theologians; it’s not yet a decision of mine. My decision is: optional celibacy before the diaconate: no. It’s something personal of mine; I wouldn’t do it. And this remains clear. It’s only my personal thought. Am I closed, perhaps? I don’t see putting myself before God with this decision. Father Lobinger says that the Church does the Eucharist and the Eucharist does the Church. Father Lobinger asks: Who does the Eucharist in many posts? The directors of those communities are Deacons and Sisters or laymen themselves. And Lobinger says: an elderly married man can be ordained; it’s his thesis, but only he exercises the munus santificandi, namely, he celebrates Mass, administers the Sacrament of Reconciliation and does the Anointing <of the Sick>. Priestly Ordination gives the three munera: regendi, docendi and santificandi. The Bishop only gives him the license of the santificandi. The book is interesting. And perhaps it can help to think about the problem. I believe the topic should be open in this regard: where there is a pastoral problem because of the lack of priests. I don’t say it should be done, because I haven’t reflected on it, I haven’t prayed sufficiently about this. However, the theologians must study it. Father Lobinger is a fidei donum priest of South Africa. He is elderly now. I was speaking with an official of the State Secretariat, a Bishop, who had to work in a Communist country at the start of the Revolution. It was the 50’s. The Bishops ordained peasants secretly, good religious. Then, the crisis having past, thirty years later, the thing was resolved. And he told me the emotion he had when during a con-celebration he saw these peasants putting on the alb to concelebrate. This has happened in the history of the Church. It’s something to study, to think about and to pray about.”

Q: But there are also married Protestant <ministers> who become Catholic?

A: It’s true. Benedict XVI did the Anglicanorum Coetibus”: Anglican ministers who become Catholics and who live as if they were <of the> Oriental Churches. I remember in a Wednesday Audience I saw many with women and children.

Q: During the Via Crucis there were very strong words on abortion. Do radical positions respect women?

A: The message of mercy is for all, also for the human person that is in gestation. After having committed this failure, there is mercy also. But it’s a difficult mercy because the problem isn’t to give forgiveness but to accompany a woman who has become conscious of having aborted. They are terrible dramas. Once I heard a doctor who spoke about a theory according to which a cell of the just-conceived foetus goes to the mother’s marrow and it receives there also a physical memory. This is a theory, but to say what a woman thinks about what she has done . . . I tell you the truth. It’s necessary to be in the confessional, and there you must give her consolation. Therefore, I have given the authority to absolve an abortion out of mercy, because many times they must meet with the child. Many times I counsel them when they have this anguish: ”Your child is in Heaven. Talk with him. Sing to him the lullaby you were unable to sing to him. And I found there is a way of reconciliation of the mother with the child. With God there is already forgiveness; God always forgives. But mercy, you must elaborate on this. To understand well the drama of abortion, one must be in a confessional.

Q: Over these days you said you felt very close to the Venezuelans and, on Sunday, you asked for “a just and peaceful solution, in respect of human rights.” Venezuelans want to know what this means. The recognition of Juan Guaido, new free elections . . .? The people feel that you are a Latin American Pope and they want to sense your support.

A: I support all the Venezuelan people. If I started to say pay heed to these countries or to those others,” I would put myself in a role I don’t know. It would be a pastoral impudence on my part and I would do harm. The words I said I thought about and re-thought, I express my closeness and what I feel. I suffer for all this. We didn’t succeed in coming to an agreement (?).  — a just and peaceful solution. The spilling of blood makes me afraid. Therefore I ask those, who can help to resolve the problem, to be great. The problem of violence terrifies me. After all the effort made in Colombia, what happened in the school of police cadets is frightening. I must be a Pastor. And if they are in need of help, they must come to an agreement and ask for it.

Q: During your lunch with a group of young pilgrims, a young American girl told us that she has asked you about pain and about the anger of so many Catholics, particularly of the United States, because of the crisis of abuses. Many American Catholics pray for the Church, but many feel betrayed and despondent. After the recent news of abuses and cover-ups on the part of some Bishops, they have lost trust in them. What are your expectations and hopes for the February meeting so that the Church can begin again to rebuild trust between the faithful and their Bishops?

A: This is clever; it started from the WYD and arrived there. Congratulations. Thank you for the question. The idea of this was born in the G9, because there we saw that some Bishops didn’t understand well or didn’t know what to do or did a good thing and another mistaken thing and we felt the responsibility to give a “catechesis” on this problem to the Episcopal Conferences. That’s why they are called presidents. A catechesis that is first: to become conscious of the drama, what an abused boy is, and what an abused girl is? I receive regularly abused people. I remember one 40 year-old unable to pray. This is terrible; the suffering is terrible. First: they must become conscious of this. Second: they must know what they must do — the procedure, because often the Bishop doesn’t know what to do. Something that has grown very strong and hasn’t arrived at all the angles, let’s say it thus, and then that general program must be done, but it must reach all the Episcopal Conferences. What must the Bishop do, what must the Archbishop do, who is the Metropolitan, what must the President of the Episcopal Conference do. But so that it is clear, in the sense that there are, let’s say it in somewhat juridical terms, protocols that are clear. This is the main <thing>. But before what must be done, what I said first, is to become aware. Then there will be prayer there; there will be some testimonies to help to take stock, and then some penitential liturgy to ask forgiveness for the whole Church. But they are working well in the preparation of this. I permit myself to say that I have perceived a bit an inflated expectation. It’s necessary to deflate the expectations on these points that I mention, because the problem of abuses will continue; it’s a human problem, but human everywhere. The other day I read a statistic, there are those statistics that say 50 percent are denounced, 20 percent are heard, and>it diminishes. It ended thus: 5% are condemned — terrible. It’s a human problem and we must become aware of it. We also, resolving the problem in the Church, must become aware, we will help to resolve it in society, in families where shame makes one cover up everything. But we must first become conscious of it, have protocols and go forward.

Q: During this WYD you said that it’s absurd and irresponsible to regard migrants as carriers of social evils. . In Italy, the new policies on migrants have led to the closing of the CARA [Center of Reception for Asylum Seekers] of Castelnuovo di Porto, which you know well. It was an experience where one saw integration: the children went to school, and now those people risk uprooting. You chose to celebrate with them Holy Thursday of 2016. I would like to ask you what proof is there regarding the closing of the CARA of Castelnuovo di Porto?

Pope: I didn’t understand the question. Was it decided to do something?

Q: . . . to close the CARA of Castelnuovo di Porto where you went to celebrate Holy Thursday of 2016 and now there is the risk of the dispersion of that experience . . .

Pope: I heard rumours of what was happening in Italy but I was immersed in this [the WYD], so in fact ,I don’t know the thing well, but I imagine, I imagine. It’s true that the problem of migrants is a very complex problem, a problem that calls for memory, to ask oneself if one’s homeland is made up of immigrants. We, Argentines, are all migrants; the United States is all migrants. A Bishop, a Cardinal, I don’t remember which one wrote a very beautiful article: it was called “A Problem of Lack of Memory.” The words that I use . . . receive, an open heart to receive, to welcome, to accompany, to make one grow and to integrate. And I also say: the ruler must use prudence because prudence is the ruler’s virtue. I said this here during the last flight. It’s a difficult equation. There comes to mind the Swedish example that in the 70’s, with the dictatorships of Latin America, received so many, so many migrants, but all are integrated. I also see what Sant’Egidio does, for example. It integrates immediately. But last year the Swedish said to stop a bit because we can’t finish the course and this is the ruler’s prudence. It’s a problem of charity, of love, of solidarity and I confirm that the most generous nations in receiving migrants  — others haven’t succeeded in doing it as much, were Italy and Greece, also Turkey somewhat, somewhat. But Greece was most generous and Italy very <generous>. When I went to Lampedusa, it was the beginning . . . However, it’s true that one must think realistically. Then there is another important thing that it’s important to take into account: a way of resolving the problem of migrations is to help the countries from where they come. Migrants come because of hunger or because of war. Invest where there is hunger and Europe is capable of doing so, and it’s a way. To help to grow but there always is, speaking of Africa, that collective imagination that we have in the unconscious: Africa is exploited.  This is historical and this harms.  The migrants of the Middle East found other ways out. Lebanon is a marvel of generosity: it has more than one million Syrians. Jordan is the same, open; they do what they can. And Turkey has also received some and we in Italy have received some. But it’s a complex problem, which must be talked about without prejudices. Taking into account all these things that came to mind.

Gisotti: Thank you Hoy Father, now enjoy dinner and have a good trip. In a week’s time, we will see one another again for a very important trip, therefore . . .

Pope: I thank you so much for your work. I would like to say only one thing about Panama. I felt a new feeling. I know Latin America but . . . not Panama and this word came to me: Panama is a noble nation, I found nobility <there>. I want to say this. And I want to say another thing, which I also said when I returned from Colombia. Speaking of the experience of Cartagena and other cities: something that we in Europe don’t see. What is the pride in this case of the Panamanians? That they lift up their children and say this is my victory, this is my future, this is my pride. This in the demographic winter  hat we are living in Europe  — in Italy, ugh? . . . under zero! It should make us think. What is my pride? Is it tourism, a villa, a puppy? Or do I lift up a child? Thank you! Pray for me, I need it. Thank you!

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester

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