MANILA, Philippines — In a press briefing with journalists in the Philippines, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi ventured to explain the reason why Pope Francis so frequently deviates from his prepared speeches.
“Every time that we are in a particularly intense situation, the Pope desires to speak from the heart,” the spokesman told journalists during the Jan. 17 briefing.
“Sometimes, maybe, he is tired or he feels [he is] not able to find the right word; and then he reads the speech. But if he feels that the emotion and the strength is there to express his heart more spontaneously, then he does this.”
The press briefing took place after Pope Francis’ half-day trip to the Philippine island of Leyte, which was scheduled to last all day but was cut short due to adverse weather caused by an inbound typhoon.
Father Lombardi said that, so far, this papal trip has been “a paradigmatic situation,” because the Holy Father made a great effort beforehand to prepare with English texts so that people would understand him, yet he has still gone off-script.
“Sometimes he feels that he can express still better what he has in the heart through spontaneous expression in Spanish, sometimes in Italian,” the spokesman explained, noting that today’s morning Mass in Tacloban was “wonderful” because there was a translator available.
“I think this mix is really very good. … This morning, it was not possible to have a longer time, [but] then the Pope did a synthesis from his heart, and that was sufficient for the people present,” he said.
One journalist asked what makes so many people begin to cry when they see the Pope, saying that he saw many burst into tears that didn’t seem like the “usual tears of joy.”
Father Lombardi responded by saying that there are times when “we are very profoundly moved, to the roots of our hearts, of our being, and it happens that we are a little confused, and it's not easy to explain what we are experiencing.”
When we feel something moving us that deeply, it’s normal to express it in tears, he said, noting that, in our faith, we are called to announce consolation to those who are experiencing intense suffering or conversion.
“In this sense, the Christian faith has to announce that ‘Christ is with you,’ and this is the message that the Pope has given: Even if you are profoundly moved and suffering, you are not alone.”
Manila archbishop Cardinal Antonio Luis Tagle was also present at the press briefing and responded to the question by explaining that, in the Christian tradition, there is something called “the gift of tears.”
“It’s a gift because it comes when there is a profound experience, especially a deep, human experience that also reveals to you something of the divine, and it is so profound, and you know you are before it, and your body responds to it in a very physical way, and one of those ways is tears,” he said.
Although some who cry in front of the Pope don’t seem to be crying out of happiness, the cardinal assured that, if they were asked, they would say they are crying tears of joy.
They are, he said, “tears of joy, and at the same time, tears of consolation or just being considered important, or just tears of realizing I matter; I was approached; I was seen, etc. You could see that.”
Once Pope Francis returned to Manila after his visit to Tacloban ended earlier than expected, he spent the day resting, rather than making other visits.
Cardinal Tagle and Father Lombardi also spoke about the Pope’s energy on the trip, noting that, although standing for long periods of time and meeting so many people does wear him out, he recovers quickly.
“Our experience is that he has an incredible energy and a good capacity to recuperate his energy with two hours of rest,” Father Lombardi observed, noting that, once in a while, the Pope cancels something in Rome when he feels too tired to “do a good service to the Church.”
After canceling, the Pope rests for a while and then starts again, the spokesman explained.
Pope Francis “can be well again soon: We are always surprised that a man of his age can do what he is doing, at home and abroad,” he said, noting how the Pope himself refers to this unusual energy as “the grace of office,” in which God gives whatever is needed for the mission he assigns.