Here below is a translation of Vatican Radio’s interview with Fr. Lombardi this week to discuss Pope Francis: ‘A Year in Review’
The year 2014 was another very intense year for Pope Francis: so many important events, but what remains most imprinted in hearts are, perhaps, the daily images of the Pope in the midst of the people, his embraces of persons, in particular children and the sick. For an evaluation of this year of Pontificate, beginning with five international trips: to the Holy Land, Korea, Albania, Strasbourg and Turkey, we hear the director of the Vatican Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., speaking through a microphone to Sergio Centofanti:
–Father Lombardi: There are many things that could be said. I would like to remember first of all that it is good that Pope Francis was also able to make a trip to the Holy Land, as his predecessors, because it is always as though returning to the roots of our faith, to the roots of Christianity, to the places of the History of Salvation, and this has formidable symbolic and spiritual power. I remember the moments in which the Pope, very moved, was on the banks of the Jordan, in the place of the Baptism, and of course in the Holy Sepulcher and so on. Hence, they are fundamental things for our faith and it is right that the Pope is also able to go, in the name of us all, to those places, to remind us where we come from, the mystery of Christ’s encounter with humanity. However, there are so many other aspects that these trips have touched upon. I would like to recall the aspect of ecumenism: be it the meeting at Jerusalem, be it the meeting later at Constantinople with Patriarch Bartholomew, which reflects how intense this friendship is, this personal relation that Pope Francis has established with the first Patriarch of Orthodoxy, and how this is a sign of hope for our future ecumenical journey.
Very important is the frontier of Asia: this year the Pope travelled to Korea and in a few weeks he will be travelling to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. His predecessor was unable to go to Asia. These great trips of Pope Francis reflect the Church’s renewed attention to this predominant portion of humanity of today and of tomorrow, also from a demographic point of view, of impressive human presence from the point of view of its dimensions and of its dynamic and, for the Church, a boundless terrain of evangelization, of proclamation of the Gospel in very varied cultural, social and political situations, often very difficult. Therefore, it is one of the great frontiers of the Church of our time, and Pope Francis indicates this with his exciting trips.
Not to be neglected also is the European dimension: there was the very brief but significant trip to Albania, reflecting the Pope’s desire, perhaps, to begin from the peripheries to arrive at the heart of the Continent. But then, the Pope also went to Strasbourg: a very brief but fundamental trip because it gave the Pope – I would like to say finally, perhaps, — the occasion to address Europe, the European countries and the Continent, with an ample, articulated address, full of many prospects that in some way – for the Pope who comes from outside of Europe – was greatly awaited. And now it remains a point of reference for many other interventions that he will be able to make in individual nations or in many situations that have to do with our Continent. A little particular that I would like to recall of this trip is the dimension of martyrdom: be it in Korea, where the history of the Church is characterized by martyrdom; be it in Albania, where in recent times, under Communism, martyrdom was very strong; be it in the Middle East, where martyrdom is also a present-day reality given the many problems that arise. The Pope meets this reality and reminds us of the present importance of this dimension in the life of the Church of all times and also of our own.
–Q: In regard to Turkey, there was also the inter-religious aspect – very important …
–Father Lombardi: Yes. Among the dimensions of this year’s Pontificate, that of inter-religious dialogue was very important, and in Turley he found progress that was also continued, for instance, in his trip to Albania and on other occasions. I think the Pope is also very aware of the situation of Islam in the modern world, and he seeks to find ways for a constructive relation, including through dialogue, in so far as this is possible, avoiding excesses, of course, and condemning all excesses in the use of violence in matters of religious faith.
Canonization of Popes
–Q: We cannot forget the great events of the canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII, and the Beatification of Paul VI …
–Father Lombardi: Yes. I believe that the common denominator of these great events is the present importance of Vatican Council II, which was at the center of the life and ministry of these three Popes, because John XXIII convoked it, and John Paul II dedicated his limitless Pontificate in fact to implementing Vatican Council II. Therefore, these three figures of Popes, apart from the extraordinary value of their Christian and human testimony, are connected to this event of the renewal of the Church in our time, of her dialogue with our time and with contemporary culture, with the evangelization of our time made by a renewed Church according to the spirit of Vatican Council II. Hence, I think that these two events – the canonizations and beatification – also mark Francis’ Pontificate in the wake of his predecessors, in the great framework of Vatican Council II and of its implementation in our time.
–Q: And this year was the Synod on the Family, which sparked lively debates also in the Catholic world itself …
–Father Lombardi: Yes. I think that the enterprise – because I think it can be described as a great pastoral enterprise – of the Synod dedicated to the family, with a journey articulated in different stages, from the Consistory of the Cardinals to the Extraordinary Assembly, to the Ordinary Assembly we await, to the involvement of the Church’s community, is one of the main pastoral and ecclesial enterprises undertaken b Pope Francis. Perhaps the main one, in the sense that it truly touches everyone’s life: the life of the faithful but also the life of all human beings of our time, because a discourse on the family, on the evangelization of the family reality, is something that concerns the good, the center of everyone’s life, of the men and women of our time. It is a very courageous enterprise, because the Pope has also put on the table difficult, delicate subjects, yet it is something of which we were truly in need. It was rightly recalled that other Popes also, at the beginning of their Pontificates, chose the subject of the family as the subject of work of Synods and important topic for their pastoral ministry. Therefore, we see, in fact, that to go to the heart, to the world of life to seek to proclaim the Gospel and to give a sound way for the spiritual and human life of our contemporaries, is something of extreme urgency. And we hope wholeheartedly that Pope Francis will be able to succeed in leading the Church towards reflection on truly fundamental subjects concerning the family, without being distracted, of course, by topics that, although important, are of marginal character or can lend themselves to controversies without, however, appreciating the most important points for all, on the subject of the family and how to live this fundamental dimension of life as Christians.
Justice, Peace, the Persecuted
–Q: We also think of other topics that are dear to the Pope: peace, justice, the poor, exploited persons, slavery, persecuted Christians …
–Father Lombardi: Since the beginning of his Pontificate, the Pope has told us that he wants to remember the poor and the peripheries, all persons that suffer because they have a right to our care, to our solidarity, to our sharing of their problems. And we see him turn to this topic in fact constantly. This year we have this absolutely tragic situation in the Middle East, with so many persons – Christians, and not only Christians, who have had to flee, to abandon their homes and who live with extreme suffering the condition of refugees: or they live, in fact, with persecutions; they are victims of direct violence. This topic has returned constantly in the appeals, in the Pope’s attention, also in the Letter that he sent, in fact, two days before Christmas to Christians in the Middle East. However, there are other topics that have recurred frequently and on which a greater attention of the Church has been concentrated: for instance, the Pope’s Message for this year’s Day of Peace, against the new slaveries, and the initiatives that multiplied at the Academy of Sciences on the part of women religious, against the traffic of human beings, against the many other forms of violence and slavery of our time … In fact, I would say that the Pope has mobilized the Church and persons of good will on these frontiers.
–Q: What is the direction of the reform that the Pope wants? We think also of the important address that he gave recently to the Curia …
–Father Lombardi: From the beginning of his Pontificate, the Pope set in motion a plan for the reform of the Roman Curia, which, in fact, is well understood, because it is simply a part of the plan for the renewal of the Church which is much broader than what he formulated in the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”: the issue of the outgoing Church, of the missionary Church, of the Church committed to evangelization of which the Roman Curia is also a servant, an instrument to help the Church in her mission. The work of reflection in view of this reform, also of an organizational character, of the Curia, continues with its regularity, with its times that are naturally quite long times of reflection and consultation. However, what seems to me to be very important to note is that for the Pope the heart of all reform is interior: reforms comes from the heart. We also recall Jesus’s words, who said: “Good things and evil things come from the heart”: it is from there that one must begin to renew and heal when there are difficulties. So also the addresses he gave before Christmas — be it to the Curia, be it to the Vatican’s dependents, the address he gave at the end of the Synod –tell us very clearly how he governs the Church including with spiritual discernment to heal our attitude in depth, and to render us more radically faithful to the Gospel; and then with this, we will be able to exercise better all our service, all our activity of evangelization or of ecclesial service.
Look, reform is a perennial topic of Christian life – the subject of the Christian’s conversion – and it must be something that isn’t superficial, or purely organizational. The Pope has said many times that the problems are not, first of all, of a logistic or organizational character – even if these could help – but they are interior and more profound. Therefore, in my opinion these addresses have highlighted very well in their gendre, in their approach the Pope’s priority concern to heal the heart in depth: all the problems or difficulties that we can experience sometimes do not have just one dimension of an organizational character but also the dimension of attitudes — of appropriate attitudes, of the capacity to listen, of the capacity to dialogue, of willingness to service, of interior purification … see, these are the dimensions that the Pope has profoundly at heart, and they are dimensions on which we hear him speak also every morning in the homilies at Saint Martha’s, in which he manifests his character of spiritual master, of guide of the Spirit according to the tradition of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. Hence, I believe that it’s very important to understand this: that every true reform, which is a perennial problem in the life of the Church, must find its true point of departure, which is the depth of the heart, renewed in the light of the Gospel. The Pope says this to us and reminds us of it constantly.
Culture of Encounter
–Q: Finally, is there a word that best characterizes this 2014 of Pope Francis?
–Father Lombardi: The words Pope Francis uses, which strike one, are very many, so, many could be chosen. One that with time I believe I understand ever better is the crucial importance of the culture of encounter. Pope Francis in fact has an attitude, a way of relating to others as a person who meets persons and who stakes his life and being profoundly in seeking the other, his interlocutor, bringing himself into play. And therefore, one can meet at a profound level and new initiatives and dialogues can also get underway that perhaps had remained blocked, because of a relation that was at a more superficial and formal level. This also comes to mind in regard to the method of the Pope’s relations with great personalities. We already recalled his meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew: his is a personal encounter, a true friendship, and this makes one think that in ecumenism steps forward can also perhaps be taken in which the encounter of persons pushes and helps to progress in a necessary, but not altogether exhaustive dimension of the theological dialogue, of the encounter of ideas, of historical studies … We also need the encounter of persons in the faith and in the willingness to proceed according to the will of Christ on the path of the unity of the Church. And, in a certain sense, also this recent sign of hope — given the new relations between the United States and Cuba, in which the two political leaders thanked Pope Francis for the letter he sent them — reflects that even in this dimension of international relations with the great personalities of the world – also with those who are not religious but of the people – the Pope, who in his approach is very personal and involved, manifests in his charism his ability to go to the heart of the other and to invite him to take steps, to get started for the good of humanity. See, this seems to me something very precious, very important and also rather characteristic of Pope Francis. Behind the words “culture of encounter,” which in the beginning I rather undervalued, I find instead this approach of going to the other — in so many dimensions: the religious, the spiritual and so on – but also in those of an ecumenical or political character, which reflects a characteristic of this Pontificate.[Original Text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]