Whereas the first 365 days of Pope Francis’ pontificate were commented on in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, with the authoritative signature of Ferruccio De Bortoli, this time the Holy Father decided to observe his second anniversary in the See of Peter with a long and passionate interview with La Cracova News. Some might think that the latter is an important daily or a noted agency of Latin America or, perhaps, a history TV channel. It is difficult to think, instead, that the publication in question is a magazine with the same name as that of a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, in Argentina. An extravagant, unusual choice, but certainly consistent with his attention to the peripheries, which he always preaches. And it is, in fact, speaking about the “peripheries,” that this eighth conversation of the Holy Father with the press begins, recorded in January in Saint Martha’s House by his friend Father Jose Maria Di Paola.
A Look at the Peripheries
“Of what and of whom do you think when you speak of the peripheries? Of us people of the shantytowns?” Fr. ‘Pepe’ Di Paola asks in his first question. “When I speak of the periphery I speak of the margins,” explains the Pontiff, hence of all those areas that are far from the ‘center’ in which we move and which we control. The fact is that ‘the reality is seen better from the periphery than from the center,’ asserts Bergoglio. ‘The reality of a person is included, the existential periphery, or the reality of his thought. You can have a very structured thought, but when you are confronted with someone who doesn’t think like you, in some way you must find reasons to support your thought. The debate begins, and the periphery of the other’s thought enriches you.”
Young People and Countries that are Enslaved by Drugs
However, the periphery is not only a question of the mind, it is also the framework of hardships faced by youth in distress, running aground in traps such as drugs, the first real attack on young people of the slums. “How can we defend ourselves?” asks Di Paola. “It’s true, drugs advance and don’t stop,” observes Francis. There are countries that are now slaves to drugs. But what worries me most is the triumphalism of the traffickers. These people sing victory, they feel they have won, that they have triumphed. And this is a reality. There are countries, or areas, in which everything is subjected to drugs.” Including Argentina, which in the last 25 years has passed from a country of passage, to a country “of consumption” and perhaps also of production.
What should young people be given? “Affection and freedom, but above all …
Always with an eye on the world of youth, the priest asks the Pope what is the most important thing to give one’s children. “Belonging to a hearth,” answers point-blank the Pontiff. It happens “with love, with affection, with time, taking them by the hand, accompanying them, playing with them, giving them what they are in need of at every moment for their growth.” It happens above all by giving them “spaces in which they can express themselves”: “If you don’t play with your children, you are depriving them of the dimension of gratuitousness” admonishes Francis. If you don’t allow them to say what they feel so that they can also argue with you and feel free, you’re not letting them grow.”
… give them the faith”
However, more than anything else, it is necessary to give young people the faith. “It pains me greatly to meet a child who doesn’t know how to make the sign of the cross,” the Pope said. It means that the little one has not been given the most important thing that a father or a mother can give him.” There are so many children in this situation, tried by life, protagonists of difficult histories and great sufferings. Yet the Argentine Pope always sees a possibility of change: “All persons can change. Also persons who are very tried, all. I know some that just let themselves go, who were throwing their life away and today they are married and have a family.”
We are of all colors, but God never tires of forgiving.
This is not only “optimism,” but rather certainty in the person that “is image of God.” And God “does not scorn his image, in some way He rescues it, he always finds the way of recovering it when it is obfuscated.” “I like to repeat” – adds the Pope –“that we children of God are of all colors, we make a mistake at every step, we sin, but when we ask for forgiveness He always forgives us.” Hence the leitmotiv phrase: “God doesn’t tire of forgiving; it is we who, think we know a thing or two, who get tired of asking for forgiveness.”
A relation with Jesus, between highs and lows
However, one needs faith to always have this certainty. And in the faith and in the relation with God, we know, “there are highs and lows.” “In some moments” – admits the Pontiff himself – “we are aware of the presence of God, at other times we forget Him.” As the Bible says “the life of man on earth is a battle.” Therefore, it’s necessary to be on guard, without, however, being defeatist or pessimistic.” Also because “faith is not a feeling”: “Sometimes the Lord gives one the grace to feel it, but faith is something more.”
“Faith” – stresses the Holy Father – “is my relation with Jesus Christ, I believe that He has saved me.” Therefore, “start looking for those moments of your life where you were bad, where you were lost, where, and observe how Christ saved you. Holding fast to this, this is the root of your faith.”
And take this Gospel!
And when sadness or problems also obfuscate these memories, Pope Francis suggests the remedy: “Always carry a small Bible in your pocket. Have it in your home. That is the Word of God. It is from there that faith gets its nourishment. After all, faith is a gift; it’s not a psychological attitude. If you are given a present, you must receive it, no? So, receive the gift of the Gospel, and read it. Read it and listen to the Word of God.
“I’m a sinner like any other”
Always of a “spiritual” tone, Father Di Paola asks another question. “How can one not live uselessly?” he asks the Pope. Who answers with his usual disarming sincerity: “Well, I lived a long time uselessly, no? In those moments life was not as intense and as rich. I’m a sinner like any other. Except that the Lord makes me do things that can be seen. But how many times there are people that do good, so much good, and are not seen.”
In any case – specifies the Holy Father – “the intensity is not directly proportional to what the people see. The intensity is lived within. And it’s lived by nourishing faith itself.” How? “Doing fruitful works, works of love for the good of the people. Perhaps the worst sin against love is that of not knowing a person. There is a someone who loves you, and you reject her, you treat her as if you didn’t know her. She is loving you and you are rejecting her.”
And considering that “He who loves us more than all is God,” it follows that “to reject God is one of the worst sins there is.” However, Bergoglio tranquilizes souls pointing out that this was precisely Saint Peter’s sin: to deny that Jesus Christ who, however, then made him Pope. “So, what can I say?! Nothing! Therefore, forward!”
Listen to others, also those not in agreement with you
Father Pepe now teases Francis: “Do you have around you persons who are not in agreement with what you do and what you say?” “Yes, certainly,” the Pope glosses over without problems. “How do you behave with them?” The answer is as simple as it is opportune: “To listen to persons has never done me any harm. Every time I have listened to them, it was always good for me. The times I didn’t listen to them, things didn’t go well. Because even if I’m not in agreement with them, they always – always! – give you something or put you in a situation that pushes you to rethink your positions. And this enriches you.”
Virtual relations create “museum of young people”
Dialoguing, listening,” hence, “we are enriched.” Of course, dialogue and listening are real life, but contrary to the fashions of the moment that push young people to live virtual relations that abstract them from the real world. The danger is of creating “museum of young people,” well informed on everything, observes the Bishop of Rome. However, fruitfulness in life “does not pass through the accumulation of information,” but rather “through changing the concreteness of one’s existence.” “You” – says the Pope – “can love a person, but if you don’t shake his hand, or don’t embrace him, it is not love. If you love someone to the point of wanting to marry him, that is to say, if you want to give yourself completely, and you don’t embrace him, you don’t give him a kiss, it is not true love.”
Therefore, boys and girls don’t be deluded. “Virtual love doesn’t exist”; “there is” –asserts the Pope – “the virtual declaration of love, but true love needs physical, concrete contact.” Therefore, don’t be “museum of young people” only informed virtually of things; instead, be young people who feel and speak harmoniously the three languages of the head, the heart and the hands.
Elections in Argentina: “May everything be clean, honest and transparent”
At the end of the interview, Pope Francis gives three recommendations to the Argentine rulers in view of the October Presidential elections. First, “that they propose a clear electoral platform,” concrete and well thought out. Second, “honesty in the presentation of their position.” Thirds, “an electoral campaign of a gratuitous type,” which is not the fruit of funding and the play of interests that then ”ask for the bill.”
Trip to Argentina: “In the beginning of 2016”
Then he confirmed the news, given in past days by his collaborator Monsignor Kartcher, about a possible visit to Argentina. “In the beginning of 2016,” he said, “but there is nothing certain yet. A slot must be found between other trips to other countries.”
Attacks against me? I hope I won’t suffer, I’m such a coward …”
The conclusion of the conversation was brilliant. “We hear news on television that worry and grieve us; that there are fanatics who want to kill you. Aren’t you afraid?” asks Di Paola. “Look, my life is in God’s hands,” explains Francis. “I’ve said to the Lord: You take care of me. However, if it’s Your will that I die and that they do something to me, I ask you for a favor: that it won’t hurt me. Because I am very much of a coward when it comes to physical pain.”