VATICAN CITY — In an interview granted with Spanish-language magazine La Vanguardia on June 9, Pope Francis lauded Pius XII for his efforts in saving Jews and discussed Orthodox-Catholic relations, as well as the motivations behind his prayer meeting at the Vatican June 8.
Below is the full text of his interview in English:
Interview with Pope Francis: “One has to take the secession of a nation with grain of salt.”
“Our world economic system can’t take it anymore,” says the Bishop of Rome in an interview with La Vanguardia. “I’m no illumined one. I didn’t bring any personal projects under my arm.”
“We are throwing away an entire generation to maintain a system that isn’t good,” he opines with respect to unemployed youth.
“The persecuted Christians are a concern that touches me very deeply as a pastor. I know a lot about persecutions, but it doesn’t seem prudent to talk about them here, so I don’t offend anyone. But in some places, it is prohibited to have a Bible or teach the catechism or wear a cross. … What I would like to be clear on is one thing, I am convinced that the persecution against Christians today is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church. Today there are more Christian martyrs than in that period. And it’s not because of fantasy, it’s because of the numbers.”
Pope Francis received us last Monday in the Vatican — a day after the prayer for peace with the presidents of Israel and Palestine — for this exclusive interview with La Vanguardia. The Pope was happy to have done everything possible for understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.
Violence in the name of God dominates the Middle East.
It’s a contradiction. Violence in the name of God does not correspond with our time. It’s something ancient. With historical perspective, one has to say that Christians, at times, have practiced it. When I think of the Thirty Years War, there was violence in the name of God. Today it is unimaginable, right? We arrive, sometimes, by way of religion, to very serious, very grave contradictions. Fundamentalism, for example. The three religions: We have our fundamentalist groups, small in relation to all the rest.
And what do you think about fundamentalism?
A fundamentalist group, although it may not kill anyone, although it may not strike anyone, is violent. The mental structure of fundamentalists is violence in the name of God.
Some say that you are a revolutionary.
We should call the great Mina Mazzini, the Italian singer, and tell her, “Take this hand, gypsy” and have her read into my past, to see what [she finds]. (He laughs) For me, the great revolution is going to the roots, recognizing them and seeing what those roots have to say to us today. There is no contradiction between [being a] revolutionary and going to the roots. More so even, I think that the way to make true changes is identity. You can never take a step in life if it’s not from behind, without knowing where I come from, what last name I have, what cultural or religious last name I have.
You have broken many security protocols to bring yourself closer to the people.
I know that something could happen to me, but it’s in the hands of God. I remember that, in Brazil, they had prepared a closed popemobile for me, with glass, but I couldn’t greet the people and tell them that I love them from within a sardine tin. Even if it’s made of glass, for me, that is a wall. It’s true that something could happen to me, but let’s be realistic: At my age, I don’t have much to lose.
Why is it important that the Church be poor and humble?
Poverty and humility are at the center of the Gospel, and I say it in a theological sense, not in a sociological one. You can’t understand the Gospel without poverty, but we have to distinguish it from pauperism. I think that Jesus wants us bishops not to be princes, but servants.
What can the Church do to reduce the growing inequality between the rich and the poor?
It’s proven that with the food that is left over we could feed the people who are hungry. When you see photographs of undernourished kids in different parts of the world, you take your head in your hand; it is incomprehensible. I believe that we are in a world economic system that isn’t good. At the center of all economic systems must be man, man and woman, and everything else must be in service of this man. But we have put money at the center, the god of money. We have fallen into a sin of idolatry, the idolatry of money.
The economy is moved by the ambition of having more, and, paradoxically, it feeds a throwaway culture. Young people are thrown away when their natality is limited. The elderly are also discarded because they don’t serve any use anymore: They don’t produce, this passive class. … In throwing away the kids and elderly, the future of a people is thrown away, because the young people are going to push forcefully forward and because the elderly give us wisdom. They have the memory of that people, and they have to pass it on to the young people. And now, also, it is in style to throw the young people away with unemployment. The rate of unemployment is very worrisome to me, which in some countries is over 50%. Someone told me that 75 million young Europeans under 25 years of age are unemployed. That is an atrocity. But we are discarding an entire generation to maintain an economic system that can’t hold up anymore, a system that, to survive, must make war, as the great empires have always done. But as a Third World War can’t be done, they make zonal wars. What does this mean? That they produce and sell weapons, and with this, the balance sheets of the idolatrous economies, the great world economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money, obviously, they are sorted. This unique thought takes away the wealth of diversity of thought and, therefore, the wealth of a dialogue between peoples. Well understood globalization is a wealth. Poorly understood globalization is that which nullifies differences. It is like a sphere in which all points are equidistant from the center. A globalization that enriches is like a polyhedron, all united but each preserving its particularity, its wealth, its identity, and this isn’t given. And this does not happen.
Does the conflict between Catalonia and Spain worry you?
All division worries me. There is independence by emancipation and independence by secession. The independences by emancipation, for example, are American, that they were emancipated from the European states. The independences of nations by secession is a dismemberment; sometimes, it’s very obvious. Let’s think of the former Yugoslavia. Obviously, there are nations with cultures so different that [they] couldn’t even be stuck together with glue. The Yugoslavian case is very clear, but I ask myself if it is so clear in other cases: Scotland, Padania, Catalonia. There will be cases that will be just and cases that will not be just, but the secession of a nation without an antecedent of mandatory unity: One has to take it with a lot of grains of salt and analyze it case by case.
The prayer for peace from Sunday wasn’t easy to organize, nor did it have precedents in the Middle East nor in the world. How did you feel?
You know that it wasn’t easy, because you were there, and much of that achievement is due to you. I felt that it was something that can accidentally happen to all of us. Here, in the Vatican, 99% said it would not happen, and then the 1% started to grow [in favor of it]. I felt that we were feeling pushed towards something that had not occurred to us and that, little by little, started to take shape. It was not at all a political act — I felt that from the beginning — but it was, rather, a religious act: opening a window to the world.
Why did you choose to place yourself in the eye of the hurricane, the Middle East?
The true eye of the hurricane, due to the enthusiasm that there was, was the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro last year. I decided to go to the Holy Land because President Peres invited me. I knew that his mandate would finish this spring, so I felt obliged, in some way, to go beforehand. His invitation accelerated the trip. I did not think of doing it.
Why is it important for every Christian to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land?
Because of Revelation. For us, it all started there. It is like “heaven on earth.” A foretaste of what awaits us hereafter, in the heavenly Jerusalem.
You and your friend, Rabbi Skorka, hugged each other in front of the Western Wall. What importance has that gesture had for the reconciliation between Christians and Jews?
Well, my good friend professor Omar Abboud, president of the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue of Buenos Aires, was also at the [Western] Wall. I wanted to invite him. He is a very religious man and a father of two. He is also friends with Rabbi Skorka, and I love them both a lot, and I wanted that friendship between the three [of us to] be seen as a witness.
You told me a year ago that “within every Christian there is a Jew.”
Perhaps it would be more correct to say, “You cannot live your Christianity, you cannot be a real Christian, if you do not recognize your Jewish roots.” I don’t speak of Jewish in the sense of the Semitic race, but, rather, in the religious sense. I think that interreligious dialogue needs to deepen in this, in Christianity’s Jewish root and in the Christian flowering of Judaism. I understand it is a challenge, a hot potato, but it can be done as brothers. I pray the Divine Office every day with the Psalms of David. We do the 150 Psalms in one week. My prayer is Jewish, and I have the Eucharist, which is Christian.
How do you see anti-Semitism?
I cannot explain why it happens, but I think it is very linked, in general, and without it being a fixed rule, to the right wing. Anti-Semitism usually nests better in right-wing political tendencies than in the left, right? And it still continues [like this]. We even have those who deny the Holocaust, which is crazy.
One of your projects is to open the Vatican Archives on the Holocaust.
They will bring a lot of light.
Does it worry you something could be discovered?
What worries me regarding this subject is the figure of Pius XII, the pope who led the Church during World War II. They have said all sorts of things about poor Pius XII. But we need to remember that, before, he was seen as the great defender of the Jews. He hid many in convents in Rome and in other Italian cities and also in the residence of Castel Gandolfo. Forty-two babies, children of Jews and other persecuted who sought refuge there, were born there, in the pope’s room, in his own bed. I don’t want to say that Pius XII did not make any mistakes — I myself make many — but one needs to see his role in the context of the time. For example, was it better for him not to speak so that more Jews would not be killed or for him to speak? I also want to say that sometimes I get “existential hives” when I see that everyone takes it out against the Church and Pius XII, and they forget the great powers. Did you know that they knew the rail network of the Nazis perfectly well to take the Jews to concentration camps? They had the pictures. But they did not bomb those railroad tracks. Why? It would be best if we spoke a bit about everything.
Do you still feel like a parish priest? Or do you assume your role as head of the Church?
The dimension of parish priest is that which most shows my vocation. Serving the people comes from within me. Turn off the lights to not spend a lot of money, for example. They are things that a parish priest does. But I also feel like the pope. It helps me to do things seriously. My collaborators are very serious and professional. I have help to carry out my duty. One doesn’t need to play the parish-priest pope. It would be immature. When a head of state comes, I have to receive him with the dignity and the protocol that are deserved. It is true that with the protocol I have my problems, but one has to respect it.
You are changing a lot of things. Towards what future are these changes going?
I am no illumined one. I don’t have any personal project that I’ve brought with me under an arm, simply because I never thought that they were going to leave me here, in the Vatican. Everyone knows this. I came with a little piece of luggage to go straight back to Buenos Aires. What I am doing is carrying out what we cardinals reflected upon during the general congregations, that is to say, in the meetings that, during the conclave, we all maintained every day to discuss the problems of the Church. From there come reflections and recommendations. One very concrete one was that the next pope had to count on an external council, that is, a team of assessors who didn’t live in the Vatican.
And you created the so-called Council of Eight.
They are eight cardinals from all the continents and a coordinator. They gather every two or three months here. Now, the first of July, we have four days of meetings, and we are going to be making the changes that the very cardinals ask of us. It is not obligatory that we do it, but it would be imprudent not to listen to those who know.
You have also made a great effort to become closer to the Orthodox Church.
The invitation to Jerusalem from my brother Bartholomew was to commemorate the encounter between Paul VI and Athenagoras I 50 years ago. It was an encounter after more than 1,000 years of separation. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has made efforts to become closer, and the Orthodox Church has done the same. Some Orthodox Churches are closer than others. I wanted Bartholomew to be with me in Jerusalem, and there emerged the plan to also come to the Vatican to pray. For him, it was a risky step, because they can throw it in his face, but this gesture of humility needed to be extended; and, for us, it’s necessary, because it’s not conceivable that we Christians are divided. It’s a historical sin that we have to repair.
In the face of the advance of atheism, what is your opinion of people who believe that science and religion are mutually exclusive?
There was a rise in atheism in the most existential age, perhaps Sartrian. But after came a step toward spiritual pursuits, of encounter with God, in a thousand ways, not necessarily the traditional religions. The clash between science and faith peaked in the Enlightenment, but that is not so fashionable today, thank God, because we have all realized the closeness between one thing and the other. Pope Benedict XVI has a good teaching about the relation between science and faith. In general lines, the most recent is that the scientists are very respectful with the faith, and the agnostic or atheist scientist says, “I don’t dare to enter that field.”
You have met many heads of state.
Many have come, and it’s an interesting variety. Each one has his or her personality. What has called my attention is the cross made between young politicians, whether they are from the center, the left or the right. Maybe they talk about the same problems, but with a new "music," and this I like: This gives me hope, because politics is one of the more elevated forms of love, of charity. Why? Because it leads to the common good, and a person who, [despite] being able to do it, does not get involved in politics for the common good, is selfish; or that uses politics for his own good, is corrupt. Some 15 years ago, the French bishops wrote a pastoral letter reflecting on the theme “Restoring Politics.” This is a precious text that makes you realize all of these things.
What do you think of the renunciation of Benedict XVI?
Pope Benedict has made a very significant act. He has opened the door, has created an institution, that of the eventual popes emeritus. Seventy years ago, there were no emeritus bishops. Today, how many are there? Well, as we live longer, we arrive to an age where we cannot go on with things. I will do the same as him, asking the Lord to enlighten me, when the time comes, and that he tell me what I have to do; and he will tell me, for sure.
You have a room reserved in a retirement home in Buenos Aires.
Yes, it’s a retirement house for elderly priests. I was leaving the archdiocese at the end of last year and had already submitted my resignation to Benedict XVI when I turned 75. I chose a room and said, “I want to come to live here.” I will work as a priest, helping the parishes. This is what was going to be my future before being pope.
I am not going to ask you whom you support in the World Cup.
Brazilians asked me to remain neutral [he laughs], and I keep my word, because Brazil and Argentina are always antagonistic.
How would you like to be remembered in history?
I have not thought about it, but I like it when someone remembers someone and says: “He was a good guy; he did what he could. He wasn’t so bad.” I’m okay with that.