Pope’s Press Conference on Return Flight From Lesbos

Themes Touched on During In-Flight Press Conference Include Refugees,
Arms Dealers, Sacraments; Stresses Meeting Bernie Sanders in Vatican Was Only ‘Polite,’ Not Political

Briefing at Papal flight. Nov. 2015


At the end of his Apostolic Journey to the Greek island of Lesbos Saturday, Pope Francis met with journalists for a press conference on board the plane, during his return flight from to Rome.

Below is a ZENIT translation of the transcript of the Pope’s responses to journalists’ questions:

* * *

(Father Lombardi) 

So we welcome among us the Holy Father, for a conversation after this brief but extremely intense trip. I will reread the press release you received, so that if someone didn’t hear it or receive it on his telephone, he has the complete text. The Pope wants the whole content to be clear.

“The Pope wished to make a gesture of hospitality, in his relations with the refugees, bringing to Rome on his plane three refugee families from Syria, 12 persons in all, six of whom are minors. They were persons who were already in the camps of Lesbos before the agreement between the European Union and Turkey. The Pope’s initiative was carried out through a negotiation of the State Secretariat with the competent Greek and Italian Authorities. The members of the families are all Muslims. Two families are from Damascus and one from Deir Azzor, which is in the area occupied by ISIS. Their homes were bombed. The hospitality and maintenance of the families will be taken care of by the Vatican. The initial hospitality will be offered by Sant’Egidio Community.”

Now we give the floor immediately to our colleagues, requesting that they ask questions first of all on the trip, even if, as we know, the Pope will then always be available to us. Ines San Martin of “Crux” is the first.

(Pope Francis)

First of all, I want to thank you for this day of work which was very intense for me, very intense … also for you, I’m sure. Please, Madam …

(Ines San Martin, “Crux” The original question was in Spanish. The translation is given)

Holy Father, I hope I don’t disturb you, but I will ask you two questions on two different subjects. The first is specific and concerns the trip. This trip comes after the agreement between the European Union and Turkey in the attempt to resolve the question of the refugees in Greece. Do you think this plan can work, or that it is a political question to try to gain time and see what happens? And, if

I may, the second question: this morning you met at Saint Martha’s with the Presidential candidate of the United States, Bernie Sanders. I would like to ask you for a comment on this meeting and if this is your way of inserting yourself in North American politics.

(Pope Francis)

No, first of all there is no political speculation, because I didn’t know well these agreements between Turkey and Greece. I saw in the newspapers, but this is something purely human [he was referring to the initiative to receive a group of refugees], it’s a humanitarian deed. It was an inspiration that came in fact a week ago to a collaborator of mine, and I accepted it immediately, immediately, because I saw that it was the Spirit speaking. Everything was done in order: they come with their documents, the three governments – Vatican City State, the Italian Government and the Greek Government – all inspected everything, saw everything and gave their consent. They are being received by the Vatican: it will be up to the Vatican, with the collaboration of Sant’Egidio Community, to find a place of work for them, if there is one, and their maintenance …. They are guests of the Vatican, and they are added to the two Syrian families that have already been received in the two Vatican parishes. Second. This morning, when I was leaving, Senator Sanders was there, who had come to the congress of the Centesimus Annus Foundation. He knew that I was leaving at that time, and he had the politeness to greet me. I greeted him, shook his hand, his wife’s, and that of a couple that was with him, who were lodging at Saint Martha’s, because all the members, except the two presidents taking part, who I believe were lodging in their embassies, all were staying at Saint Martha’s. And when I came down, he presented himself, he greeted me; we shook hands and nothing more. This is politeness; it is called politeness and not meddling in politics. And if someone thinks that to greet someone is to meddle in politics, I suggest he find a psychiatrist! (he laughs).

(Father Lombardi)

Well, the second question is asked by Franca Giansoldati, who knows the Pope well and the Pope knows her well.

(Pope Francis)

 But you must prepare yourself for Armenia … (he laughs)

(Franca Giansoldati, Il Messaggero)

Thank you, Holiness. You speak much of “hospitality,” but perhaps you speak less of “integration.” Seeing what is happening in Europe, especially under this massive flow of immigrants, we see that there are several cities suffering from ghetto-districts … Emerging clearly from all this is that the Muslim immigrants have a hard time integrating themselves with our values, with Western values. I want to ask you: wouldn’t it be more useful, perhaps, for integration to prefer the arrival of non-Muslim immigrants? And then, why did you today, with this very lovely, very noble gesture, privilege three entirely Muslim families?

(Pope Francis) 

I didn’t choose between Christians and Muslims. These three families had their papers in order, their documents in order and it could be done. There were, for instance, two Christian families in the first list that didn’t have their papers in order. It’s not a privilege. All 12 are children of God. The “privilege” is to be children of God: this is true. What you say on integration is very intelligent. I thank you for having spoken. You have said a word that seems to be forgotten in our present-day culture, after the War … Ghettos exist today. And some of the terrorists that had committed terrorist acts – some – are sons and grandsons of persons born in the country, in Europe. And what happened? There was no policy of integration, and for me, this is fundamental, to the point that you see that in the Post-Synodal Exhortation on the Family – even if this is another problem – one of the three pastoral dimensions for the families in difficulties is integration in the life of the Church. Europe must take up this capacity today, which it always had, of integration, because in Europe nomads, Normans and so many people arrived, and they were integrated and enriched its culture. I think we are in need of teaching and education on integration. Thank you.

(Elena Pinardi – European Broadcasting Union)

Holy Father, there is talk of reinforcing the borders of several European countries, of control, in fact of deployment of battalions along Europe’s borders. Is it the end of Schengen; is it the end of the European dream?

(Pope Francis)

I don’t know. I understand governments, also peoples, who have a certain fear. I understand this and we must exercise great responsibility in their reception. One of the aspects of such responsibility is this: how we can integrate these people with us. I have always said that to build walls is not a solution. We saw one fall last century. It doesn’t solve anything. We must build bridges. But bridges are built intelligently; they are made with dialogue, with integration. Hence, I understand a certain fear, but to close the border doesn’t solve anything because, in the long run, that closure harms the people themselves. Europe must urgently engage in policies of hospitality and integration, of growth, of work, of reform of the economy … All these things are the bridges that will lead us not to build walls. The fear has all my understanding, but after what I saw – and I’ll change the subject, but I want to say it today – and that you yourselves saw in that camp of refugees … it made one weep! The children … I brought with me, to have you see: the children gave me so many drawings [the Pope shows them several drawings, one after another, and he commented] One: what do the children want? Peace, because they are suffering. They have courses of education there, in the camp … But what those children have seen! Look at this: they also saw a child drown. The children have this in their heart! Truly, today was a day to weep, a day to weep. The same subject was drawn by this child from Afghanistan: we see that the boat that comes from Afghanistan turns to Greece. These children have this in their memory! And time will be needed to elaborate it. Look at this: the sun that sees and weeps. But if the sun is able to weep, so should we: a tear will do us good.

(Fanny Carrier, Agence France Presses)

 Good morning. Why don’t you make a distinction between those fleeing from war and those fleeing from hunger? Can Europe receive all the misery of the world.

(Pope Francis)

It’s true. Today, I said in my address: “some fleeing from wars, others fleeing from hunger.” Both are the effect of exploitation, also of the land. A month ago more or less, an African Head of Government said to me that the first decision of his Government was reforestation, because the land had died given the exploitation of <the forests>. Good works must be done with both. But some flee from hunger and others from war. I would invite the arms traffickers, because arms – there are agreements up to a certain point – are manufactured, but the traffickers, those who traffic to make war in several places, for instance in Syria: who give arms to the different groups – I would invite these traffickers to spend a day in that camp. I think it would be salutary for them!

(Nestor Ponguta , W Radio Colombia – Question in Spanish, the translation is given)

Good evening, Holiness. This morning you said something very special, which caught our attention very much: that this was a sad trip, and you demonstrated it through your words; you were very moved. However, something must also change in your heart, knowing that there are these 12 persons and that with this small gesture you have given a lesson to those that sometimes turn their heads away from so much pain, to this piecemeal third world war that you have denounced.

(Pope Francis)

I will plagiarize! I answer with a phrase that’s not mine. The same thing was asked of Mother Teresa: But you, so much effort, so much work, only to help people to die … What you do is useless! The sea is so great!” And she answered: “It’s a drop of water in the sea! But after this drop, the sea won’t be the same!” I answer thus. It’s a small gesture. However, those small gestures that we should all do, men and women, to give a hand to one in need.

(Joshua McElwee, National Catholic Reporter)

 Thank you, Holy Father. We have come to a country of migration, but also of an economic policy of austerity. I would like to ask if you have a thought on the economy of austerity? – also for another Island, Puerto Rico, if you have a thought on this policy of austerity.

(Pope Francis) 

The word austerity has a different meaning according to the point of view of the one speaking it: economically it means a chapter of a program; politically it means something else; spiritually and in a Christian way something else. When I speak of austerity, I speak of austerity in contrast with waste. I heard FAO say: I believe it was at a FAO meeting – that with the waste of food all the hunger in the world could be satiated. And we, in our home, how much waste, how much we waste without meaning to do so! It is this throw away culture, of waste. I speak of austerity in that sense, in the Christian sense. Let us pause here and live somewhat austerely.

(Francisco Romero, Rome Reports)

Holiness, I would simply like to say that you have said that this crisis of refugees is the worst crisis after World War II. I would like to ask you: What do you think of the crisis of immigrants that arrive in America, in the United States, from Mexico, from Latin America?

(Pope Francis)

 It’s the same thing! It’s the same thing, because they arrive there in fact fleeing from hunger. It’s the same problem. I celebrated Mass at Ciudad Juarez at 100 meters, perhaps less, from the fence. On the other side were some fifty Bishops of the United States and a stadium with 50,000 people who followed the Mass on a giant screen; there, in Mexico, there was the field full of people. But it’s the same thing! They arrive in Mexico from Central America. You remember, two months ago, a conflict with Nicaragua because it didn’t want the refugees to cross over: it was resolved. There, they carried them in a plane to the other country, without passing through Nicaragua. It’s a worldwide problem! I spoke about it there, with the Mexican Bishops; I asked that care be given to the refugees.

(Francis Rocca, Wall Street Journal)

Thank you, Holy Father! I see that the questions on immigration that I thought about have already been posed, and you have answered very well. Therefore, if you allow me, I would like to ask a question on another event of the last days, which was your Apostolic Exhortation. As you well know, there has been much discussion on one of the many points – I know that we concentrated much on it, after the publication: some hold that nothing has changed in regard to the discipline that governs access to the Sacraments for the divorced and remarried, and that the law and pastoral practice and obviously the Doctrine remain the same; others hold instead that much has changed and that there are many new openings and possibilities. The question is for a person, for a Catholic who wants to know: are there new concrete possibilities, that didn’t exist before the publication of the Exhortation or not?

(Pope Francis) 

I could say “yes,” and that’s it, but it would be too small an answer. I recommend to you all that you read the presentation made by Cardinal Shoenborn, who is a great theologian. He is a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and knows well the Doctrine of the Church. Your question will have an answer in that presentation. Thank you!

(Jean-Marie Guenois, Le Figaro)

 I have the same question, but it is a complementary question, because it’s not understood why you have written the famous note in Amoris Laetitia on the problems of the divorced and remarried – note 351. Why such an important thing in a little note? Did you foresee oppositions or did you wish to say that this point isn’t so important?

(Pope Francis)

Listen, one of the last Popes, speaking about the Council, said that there were two Councils: that of Vatican II, which was done inn Saint Peter’s Basilica, and the other, the “Council of the Media.” When I convoked the first Synod, the great preoccupation of the majority of the media was: Will they be able to give Communion to the divorced that have remarried? And, as I’m not a saint, this annoyed me a bit, and it also made me somewhat sad. Because I thought: But this means says this, and this and this, but doesn’t it realize that that isn’t the important problem? Doesn’t it realize that the family is in crisis throughout the world? And the family is the basis of society! Doesn’t it realize that young people don’t want to marry? Doesn’t it realize that the drop in the birth rate in Europe makes one weep? Doesn’t it realize that the lack of work and the possibility of work are so that it makes fathers and mothers hold two jobs and the children grow up alone and do not learn to grow in dialogue with their father and mother? These are the great problems! I don’t remember that note, but surely if a thing of that nature is in a note it’s because it was said in Evangelii Gaudium, surely! It must be a quotation from Evangelii Gaudium. I don’t remember the number, but I’m sure.

(Father Lombardi)

Thank you, Your Holiness, You have engaged in a wide conversation on subjects of this trip and you have now also enlarged on the Exhortation. We wish you a good trip and the good continuation of your work.

(Pope Francis)

Thank you for your company. I truly feel tranquil with you. Thank you so much! Thank you for the company.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]




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