Among the new cardinals created by Pope Francis in Saturday morning’s consistory was the Pope’s successor in Buenos Aires, Archbishop Mario Poli.
Saturday afternoon, at the end of the courtesy visits, the new cardinal was going to his Roman lodgings, some kilometers from the Vatican. First an individual and then three Sisters offered to accompany him in a car, but Poli preferred to use public transport. And precisely when he was going to the bus stop, he met with ZENIT and spoke about Pope Francis and the Church today.
ZENIT: Those who lived side by side with Bergoglio say he has changed a lot. Why? How was he before?
Cardinal Poli: It seems to me an exaggerated affirmation. It’s true that from 1992, the year in which he was appointed archbishop of Buenos Aires, and even before when he was auxiliary, vicar general with Cardinal Quarracino, then bishop, cardinal, president of the Argentine Episcopal Conference, etc. he had so many responsibilities and he was always very tired. However, he always kept his good humor, the spirituality that characterizes him, and has always been very creative with the Gospel, as he is still, because the Pope is a great reader of Scripture. And he manifests all this now in his universal teaching. And he does it well! This is the novelty: a great pastoral vein that does not lose the moral and doctrinal stature. I believe this is the key to understand the Pontiff.
ZENIT: In your opinion, who have known him up close for many years, what are in greater detail the Pope’s characteristics?
Cardinal Poli: He has great balance, and then his capacity to listen, always. We saw this on Thursday and Friday (the days of the Cardinals’ meetings for the Consistory n.d.r.), the Pope stayed to listen the whole time. This has been done by all the Pontiffs of recent times. Here, at Rome, there are the Synods, the Bishops, the experts and so on, and therefore through them the Pope listens to the voice of the Church. Today the Magisterium of the Church has the possibility first to receive and then to preserve and then to elaborate. In fine, the Pope’s word gives form to the Magisterium and to authority. Pope Francis’ principal characteristic is his ability to listen a lot. And we saw this very well when we were his auxiliaries at Buenos Aires.
ZENIT: How has the grace of being Pontiff influenced Bergoglio?
Cardinal Poli: Francis always says that it is the Holy Spirit that gives him the strength and joy. He continues to wake up very early. He feels very well physically. We must acknowledge that here, at Rome, everyone immediately took great care of him. We, in Argentina, as I said, often saw him very tired. He had difficulty in standing for a long time because of a problem in his legs. Today he has astonishing vitality. It really seems to me that God attends to his apostle.
ZENIT: Are fruits of conversion seen in Argentina thanks to Francis?
Cardinal Poli: In Argentina, Bergoglio’s election is the best thing that has happened, and it’s seen at every level: from the people who keep his photo to all the persons that, thanks to him, have approached the Church. All of us confirm this: priests, rectors of shrines, hospital chaplains, prison chaplains. There has been a great rapprochement to the Church, fruit of the Pope’s closeness to the people. He has aroused great attraction, the same that he already enjoyed at Buenos Aires, thanks to the very beautiful charism that attracts people. And this doesn’t happen only in Argentina, but also at the universal level, in the different languages, in the Philippines as in Burundi, as the cardinals themselves confirmed during the Consistory.
ZENIT: And is the “Francis effect” felt among the poor people in Argentina?
Cardinal Poli: When I go to the shantytowns together with other priests with whom I maintain relations with these people, I see that the Pope has a million friends: each of these persons has a memory of the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires. I don’t know how, or when, but each one has a picture of him, a photo of him, and they tell me this when I enter their homes, and so on. They have a very clear memory of those moments, and I think that today to feel a Pope so close is a great joy for the people. There is a saying in Argentina that we always heard as children: “One must love the Pope.” Francis is doing this: people love him, as they also loved Benedict XVI, especially after his exemplary renunciation.
ZENIT: Can you tell us anything else about Pope Benedict?
Cardinal Poli: For me he is a wise, holy man, a venerable old man who has arrived at his years of maturity taking important steps. He has left us a prolific teaching and an extraordinary theology, especially in his trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth, which after reading it I now advise all seminarians, priests and anyone who has not yet been able to read it to do so. Culmination of the truth and authenticity of Benedict XVI was his virtuous and exemplary renunciation. I believe it will be an obligatory point of reference to demonstrate what it means not to be attached to any power, especially papal power, which isn’t a power but a service. Despite the criticisms he has received and the example of a Pope like JP II, who did not come down from the cross until the last moment, he
ZENIT: The Church, therefore, is living a particular moment, thanks to the last Pontiffs that one can say are none better than the other?
Cardinal Poli: As a professor of Church History, I can say that in the 20thcentury we had good, holy Popes, and that each one has left a fantastic teaching, a missionary Church, alive, serious despite her sins due to our weaknesses. However, it is a Church that has a face in which the face of God is reflected.[Translation by ZENIT]