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Full Text of Pope Francis’ In-flight Interview from Africa to Rome (561)

The Pope touched on a range of issues, including inter-religious relations, the role of the media, and his favorite memories from Africa.

11/30/2015 Comment
Alan Holdren/CNA

Pope Francis speaks with journalists on the papal plane on the return flight to Rome on Aug. 18, 2014.

– Alan Holdren/CNA

ON BOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — In a Q&A with journalists on his way from Africa back to Rome, Pope Francis answered questions posed by journalists. He touched on inter-religious relations, the role of the media, and his favorite memories from Africa.

Please read below for the full English transcription of the Q&A:

Father Lombardi: Holy Father, welcome to this encounter, which by now is a tradition we all wait for. We are grateful that after such an intense trip you still want to find the time for us. We understand well how available you are to help us.

Before beginning with the questions, I would like, in the name of some colleagues, thank the EBU (European Broadcasting Union), who organized the live feed from the Central African Republic. The feed was televised throughout the world from Central Africa, and was possible thanks to the EBU. So I thank them on behalf of everyone.

Now, as usual, we thought to begin with our guests from countries where we went. We have four Kenyans, and two questions from them now.


Bernard Namuname, Kenya Daily Nation: Your Holiness, I greet you. While in Kenya you met with poor families from Kangemi, you listened to their stories of exclusion from basic human rights, such as a lack of access to clean water. The same day you went to the Kasarani stadium where you met the youth, and they also told you their stories of exclusion because of selfish human greed and corruption. What were you feeling as you listened to their stories? And what should be done to end the injustices? Thank you.

Pope Francis: On this problem, I have spoke strongly at least three times. The first time was at the meeting of the popular movements in the Vatican, the second at the meeting of the popular movements in Santa Cruz della Sierra (Bolivia). Then two other times: in the (document) Evangelii Gaudium and then very strongly in the encyclical Laudato Si. I don’t remember the statistics, so I ask you not to publish them, because I don’t know if they are true or not, but I believe that 80% of the world’s riches are in the hands of 17% of the population. I don’t know if it’s true, but if it isn’t true... (He asks if someone knows the statistics to say so, in order to be precise.)

There’s an economic system where money is at the center, the god of money. I remember that once a great French ambassador told me this expression — and he was not Catholic — “Nous sommes tombés de l'idolâtrie de l'argent” (speaks in French, “We have fallen into the idolatry of money”). If things continue like this, then the world will continue like this.

You asked me what I felt hearing the testimonies of the youth and at Kangemi. I spoke clearly about rights. I felt pain. I thought, how is it that people do not notice? I felt great pain. Yesterday, for example, I went to a pediatric hospital, the only one in Bangui and maybe in the country, and in the intensive care unit they do not have instruments of oxygen. There were many malnourished children there, many of them, and doctor told me that the majority of them will die soon because they have a very bad malaria and are seriously malnourished.

I don’t want to give a homily, but the Lord always rebuked the people of Israel...that we accept and adore, because the word is god, idolatry. Idolatry is when a man or woman loses their identity card for being a child of God, and prefers to look for a god according to their own measure. That’s the beginning. If mankind does not change we will continue to have more miseries, tragedies, wars, children who die of hunger, of injustice. What does one think of those who have 80 percent of the world’s wealth in their hands? And this is not communism. This is the truth. But the truth is not easy to see. Thank you for this question.


Michael Mumo Makau, 98.4 Capital FM Radio (Kenya): What is your most memorable moment of this your first trip to Africa? Are you coming back to the continent anytime soon? And where is your immediate next trip to?

Pope Francis: Let’s start with the last question. If things go well, I believe the next trip will be in Mexico. The details are not yet defined. Second: Will I return to Africa? I don’t know. I am old and the trips are difficult.

And the first question, what was it?  The moment I remember? The crowds. That joy. That capacity to celebrate on an empty stomach. But for me, Africa was a surprise. I thought, God surprises us, but even Africa surprises us. There were many moments. But the crowds, they felt visited. They have a very great sense of welcome. I saw in the three nations that  they had this sense of welcome because they were happy to feel visited. Moreover, each nation has its own identity. Kenya is a little more modern, developed. Uganda has the identity of martyrs. The Ugandan people, both Catholic and Anglicans, venerate the martyrs. I was at both shrines. The Anglican one, and then the Catholic. The memory of the martyrs is their “identity card,” the courage to give their lives for a cause. The Central African Republic: the desire for peace, for reconciliation, for pardon. Until four years ago they had lived together — Catholics, Protestants, Muslims — like brothers! Yesterday, I went to the Evangelicals, who work hard. And then they came to Mass in the evening. Today I went to the mosque. I prayed in the mosque. Even the Imam got into the popemobile to take a ride around the small stadium. These are small gestures, is that which they want. Because, there is a small group. I think that is Christian, or they say they are Christian, which is very violent. I don’t really understand this. But, it’s not ISIS, it’s another thing. It’s Christian. (The people) want peace. Now, they are having elections. They have chosen a state of transition. They have chosen that woman, who was mayor to be President of the Transition, and she now organizes the elections. But, they are seeking peace, reconciliation, not hate. Not hate.


Phil Pulella, Reuters: In Uganda you spoke off the cuff and you said corruption exists everywhere, and also in the Vatican. My question is this: what is the importance of the press, the free, secular press in rooting out corruption wherever it is found?

Pope Francis: The free press, secular and also religious, but professional; because the press, secular or religious, must be professional. It’s important that they are truly professional, that the news isn’t manipulated. For me it’s important, because the denunciation of corruption, of injustice, is good work, because there is corruption. And then the one in charge must do something, make a judgment, a tribunal. The professional press must tell everything, without falling into the three most common sins: misinformation, to tell one half but not the other; calumny, which is not professional – when there is no professionality, you dirty the other person, with or without truth; and defamation, to take away the good name of the person who right now hasn’t done anything wrong to anyone, maybe it’s something from the past. These are the three defects that are an attack against the professionality of the press. We need professionality, what’s right: things are like this and this. And on corruption? To see the data well and say it: this, this and this. If there is corruption, they should say it. And if a  journalist, if they are truly professional, gets it wrong, he should excuse himself. Things go very well like this.


Philippine De Saint-Pierre, KTO (France): Holiness, good afternoon, you paid homage to the platform created by the archbishop, the imam and the pastor of Bangui. Today more than ever, we know that fundamentalism threatens the entire planet. We also saw this in Paris. Before this danger, do you think that religious leaders should intervene more in the political field? (Pope Francis asks for clarification) ... the religious “dignitaries,” bishops and imams?

Pope Francis: “To intervene in the political field.” If that means to make politics, no. Whoever is a priest, pastor, imam, rabbi, this is his vocation, but they make a “live politics” by preaching values. True values. And one of the greatest values is the fraternity among us. We are all children of God. We have the same father. In this sense, we have to make politics of unity, reconciliation. A word that I don’t like, but I have to use it is “tolerance.” But, not only tolerance, co-existence, friendship. That’s how it is. Fundamentalism is a sickness that exists in all religions. We Catholics have some, not just some, so many, who believe they have the absolute truth and they move forward with calumnies, with defamation and they hurt (people), they hurt. And, I say this because it’s my Church, also us, all of us. It must be combatted. Religious fundamentalism isn’t religious. Why? Because God is lacking. It’s idolatrous, as money is idolatrous. Making politics in the sense of convincing these people who have this tendency is a politics that we religious leaders must make, but fundamentalism that ends up always in tragedy or in crime, in a bad thing comes about in all religions a little bit.


Cristiana Caricato, TV2000 (Italy): Holy Father, while we were in Bangui this morning, in Rome there was a new audience of the trial of Msgr. Vallejo Balda, Chaouqui, (Maio) and two journalists. I’d like to ask you, and this is a question that many people have also asked us: why these two appointments? How was it possible that in the process of reform that you began, two people like this were able to enter into a commission like the COSEA? Do you think you made an error?

Pope Francis: I think an error was made. Msgr Vallejo Balda entered for the role he had and he had it up until now. He was secretary of the Prefecture of Economic Affairs. (That’s how) he entered. How she entered, I am not sure, but I think I’m right — but I think, and I am not sure, I think that it was he who introduced her as a woman who knew the world of commerce and such, no? They worked. When the work was done, the members of that commission that was called COSEA remained in some of their posts in the Vatican. Vallejo Balda was one. But, the woman, Chaouqui did not remain in the Vatican because she entered with the commission and she didn’t remain. Some say she was upset about this, but the judges will tell us the truth about the intentions, how they did it. For me, it was not a surprise. I didn’t lose any sleep because it showed the work that had begun with the commission of cardinals, the C9, of seeking out corruption and things that don’t work. And here, I want to say something, not about Vallejo Balda and Chaouqui, but everything. And then I’ll come back to this if you want.

The word “corruption,” one of the two Kenyans mentioned it. 13 days before John Paul II died, in that Via Crucis the then-Cardinal Ratzinger who was leading the Via Crucis spoke of the filth in the Church. He denounced it first. Then, in the Easter Octave after this Good Friday, Pope John Paul II died and he became pope. But, in the pro-eligendo pontefice Mass, he was Dean — or he was Camerlengo, no Dean — he spoke about the same thing, and we elected him for that freedom in saying things. So since then, it’s been in the air that in the Vatican, there is corruption. There is corruption there.

On this trial: I gave the judges the concrete charges, because what is important to the defense is the formulation of the accusations. I didn’t read the actual, technical charges, no? I would have liked to finish it before De.c 8 for the Year of Mercy, but I don’t think they’ll be able to do it, because I would like all of the lawyers who are defending to have the (necessary) amount of time to defend, that they have the freedom of defense. All of them. As they’re chosen, then (inaudible). But corruption has been around for a long time.


Caricato: What do you plan to do? How do you plan to proceed so these things don’t happen again?

Pope Francis: I just thank God that Lucrezia Borgia isn’t around. (laughs) But, I don’t know, continue with the cardinals, with the commissions to clean.

Nestor Ponguta Puerto, Radio Colombia: Holiness, first of all thanks for all you have done for peace in our country, in Colombia and all you’ve done in the world. On this occasion, I’d like to ask you a timely question: There’s a specific theme that has to do with that “change of political chess” in Latin America that has brought even in your country Mr. Macri after more than 12 years of Kirchnerism, now things are changing a bit, what do you think of these new changes of how a new direction is taking over on the Latin American continent from which you come?

Pope Francis: I have heard some opinions, but honestly on this geopolitical question in this moment, I really don’t know what to say, I don’t know because there are problems in many countries on this line. But, really I don’t why or where it started. I truly don’t know. That there are many Latin American countries in this situation of a few changes in their routes is true, but I don’t know how to explain it.


Juergen Baetz, DPA (Germany): Your Holiness, HIV is ravaging Africa. Medication means more people now live longer, but the epidemic continues. In Uganda alone there were 135,000 new infections of HIV, in Kenya it’s worse. It’s the greatest cause of death in Africa. Your Holiness, you have met with HIV positive children, you heard a moving testimony in Uganda. Yet you have said very little on the issue. We know that prevention is key. We know that condoms are not the only method of solving the epidemic, but it’s an important part of the answer. Is it not time for the Church to change it’s position on the matter? To allow the use of condoms to prevent more infections?

Pope Francis: The question seems too small to me, it also seems like a partial question. Yes, it’s one of the methods. The moral of the Church on this point is found here faced with a perplexity: the fifth or sixth commandment on life, or that sexual relations are open to life, but this isn’t the problem. The problem is bigger ... this question makes me think of one they once asked Jesus: “Tell me, teacher, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Is it obligatory to heal?” This question, “is doing this lawful,” … but malnutrition, the development of the person, slave labor, the lack of drinking water, these are the problems. Let’s not talk about if one can use this type of patch or that for a small wound, the serious wound is social injustice, environmental injustice, injustice that ... I don’t like to go down to reflections on such case studies when people die due to a lack of water, hunger, environment ... when all are cured, when there aren’t these illnesses, tragedies, that man makes, whether for social injustice or to earn more money, I think of the trafficking of arms, when these problems are no longer there, I think we can ask the question “is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Because, if the trafficking of arms continues, wars are the biggest cause of mortality ... I would say not to think about whether it’s lawful or not to heal on the Sabbath, I would say to humanity: “make justice,” and when all are cured, when there is no more injustice, we can talk about the Sabbath.


Marco Ansaldo, La Repubblica: Holiness, I’d like to ask you a question like this because in the last week there were two big events on which the media were focused: one was your trip to Africa, for which all of us are obviously happy that it has concluded with a big success from every point of view, the other was a crisis on an international level between Russia and Turkey, with Turkey that shot down a Russian airplane for crossing into a Turkish airspace for 17 seconds with accusations, not pardons from one side and the other which blew up into a crisis… which frankly we didn’t need during this Third World War that you speak about fought “piecemeal” in our world. So, my question is, what is the position of the Vatican in this? And I’d like to go beyond (and ask) if you have thought about going for the 101st anniversary of the events in Armenia that will take place next year, just as you did last year in Turkey.

Pope Francis: Last year, I promised the three patriarchs that I would go. The promise is there. I don’t know if it can happen, but the promise is there.

Then, the wars. Wars happen for ambitions. Wars, I speak of wars not for defending oneself against an unjust aggressor but wars are an industry. In history, we’ve seen so many times that in a nation, the balance sheets aren’t going well, “Ah, let’s fight a war” and the offset is over. War is a business, a business of weapons. Terrorists, do they make weapons? Yeah, maybe just little ones. Who gives them to them to make war? There an entire network of interests where there is money or power behind, either imperial or joint power. But we have been at war for years and more all the time. The pieces are fewer and bigger. What do I think? I don’t know what the Vatican thinks, but what do I think? (laughs) That wars are a sin. They are against humanity. They destroy humanity. They are a cause of exploitation, of human trafficking, of so many things. They must be stopped. At the United Nations, twice I said this word, both in Kenya and in New York, that your work not be a “declarationist” nominalism, that it be effective, that they make peace. They do so many things. Here in Africa, I saw how the “Blue helmets” work. But this isn’t sufficient. Wars don’t come from God. God is a God of peace. God made the world. God made everything beautiful and then, according to the Biblical account, one brother kills another. It’s the first war, the first world war, between brothers. That’s what comes to me and it pains me greatly.


Francois Beaudonnet, France Television: Holy Father, even though I’m French, I’d like to ask you a question in Spanish. Today, in Paris the conference on climate change is going on. You have made a great effort to make everything turn out well. Do we expect too much from this conference? Are we sure that the COP21 will be the beginning of the solution?

Pope Francis: I am not sure. I am not sure. But, I can tell you: (it’s) now or never. But, from the first that was in Tokyo, no. They did few things. Every year, the problems are more serious. Speaking to a meeting of university students about what world we want to leave our children, one said, “But are you sure there will be children in this generation? We’ve reached the limit. We’re on the verge of suicide, to use a strong word. And, I’m sure that nearly the entirety of all of those in Paris for the COP21 have this awareness and want to do something. The other day, I read that in Greenland, the glaciers have lost thousands of tons. In the Pacific, there’s a nation buying land from another nation to move the country because within 20 years it won’t be there any more. I am confident, I’m confident that these people will do something because I’m sure that they have the good will to do it. And I hope it happens and I pray it happens.


Delia Gallagher, CNN: You’ve made many gestures of respect toward Muslims. I was wondering, what does Islam and the teaching of the prophet Mohammed have to say to the world today?

Pope Francis: They have virtues, many virtues and these virtues are constructive. I also have the experience of friendship — it’s a strong word, friendship — with a Muslim, a world leader, we can talk, and he had his beliefs and I had mine, he prayed and I prayed. (There are) many values, prayer for example, fasting, religious values. Also other virtues ... We can’t cancel out a religious because there are some, or even many fundamentalist groups at a certain point in history. It’s true, wars between religions have always been there throughout history, always. We also need to ask for forgiveness, Catherine de’Medici was no saint, and that 30 years war, that night of St. Bartholomew, we must also ask for forgiveness from the fundamentalist extremists in the religious wars.

But they have virtues, one can dialogue with them. Today I was at a mosque, an Imam prayed with me, he wanted to go around the small stadium with me in the popemobile, where there were many who couldn’t enter, and in the popemobile there was the Pope and an Imam. It was possible to speak. As everywhere, there are people with religious values, there are people who don’t ... how many wars, not only religious, wars we Christians have made. It wasn’t the Muslims who did the Sack of Rome. They have virtues.


Martha Calderon, Catholic News Agency: Holiness, we know you’re going to Mexico, we’d like to know a little bit more about that trip and also in that line are you going to visit nations that are experiencing problems? Do you think perhaps about visiting Colombia or possibly in the future other nations of Latin America like Peru for example that you once mentioned?

Pope Francis: Yeah, trips at my age aren’t healthy. One can survive them but they are leaving their mark. I’m going to Mexico. First, I’d like to visit Our Lady, because she’s the Mother of America, for this I’m going to Mexico City. If the Virgin of Guadalupe wasn’t there, I wouldn’t go to Mexico City for the criteria of the trip: to visit three or four cities that have never been visited by the Popes, but I will go to Mexico City for the Virgin.

Then, I’ll go to Chiapas, in the south, at the Guatemala border, then I’ll go to Morelia and almost certainly, on the way back to Rome, I’ll take perhaps a day, perhaps less in Ciudad Juarez. About the visit to other Latin American countries: In 2017, I have been invited to go to Aparecida, the other patroness of America of the Portuguese language, because there are two, no? From there I would be able to visit another country, as there I’ll celebrate Mass but I don’t know. There aren’t plans.


Mark Masai, National Media of Kenya: First of all, thanks for visiting Kenya and Africa. You’re welcome back to Kenya for a rest, not to work. Now this was your first visit and everyone was worried about security. What would you tell the world that thinks that Africa is only war-torn and full of destruction?

Pope Francis: Africa is a victim. Africa has always been exploited by other powers. From Africa, they came to America, sold as slaves. There are powers that only seek to take the great wealth of Africa, possibly the richest continent. But, they don’t think about helping to grow the nation, that they may work, that all may have work. Exploitation. Africa is a martyr, a martyr of exploitation. Those who say that from Africa come all calamities and all wars perhaps don’t understand well the damage they certain forms of development do to humanity. It’s for this that I love Africa, because Africa has been a victim of other powers.

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