Full Text: Pope Francis’ In-Flight Press Conference From Malta

Read the transcript of the April 3 conversation.

Pope Francis speaks during an in-flight press conference from Malta on April 3.
Pope Francis speaks during an in-flight press conference from Malta on April 3. (photo: National Catholic Register / Vatican Media)

Pope Francis returned to Rome on Sunday after a two-day trip to Malta. During the April 2-3 visit, he addressed civil authorities, visited a Marian shrine and the site where tradition holds that St. Paul stayed in 60 A.D., celebrated an outdoor Mass, and met with migrants and refugees.

Please read below for CNA’s full transcript of Pope Francis’ press conference on the flight from Malta.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office: Thank you, Holiness, for these two days with you. As you saw, on this trip with you during these days, there are around 70 journalists, among which three are from Malta. And we can begin with a question from the Maltese journalist Andrea Rossitto, from the Maltese television. But first, I will note that the time is pretty short, because the plane will start to land shortly, so we have time to speak with the Holy Father until around 8 o’clock. He needs time to take photos with the crew and then time to land. So maybe you want to say something? 

Pope Francis: I'm sorry that it will be so short, since we are expected to land at 8:15, and we should take pictures with the crew; for this reason, we will finish at 8:05. Thank you for your collaboration.

Bruni: And to you for the availability.

Andrea Rossitto, Television Malta: Thank you, Holiness, for your presence in Malta. My question is about the surprise of this morning, in the chapel where St. George Preca is buried: What motivated you to make this surprise for the Maltese? What will you remember about this visit to Malta? Then, your health: How is it going? We saw that this very intense trip went well. Thank you so much.

Pope Francis: My health is a bit fickle. I have this knee problem that brings out problems with walking. It is a bit annoying, but it is getting better; at least I can walk. Until a week ago I couldn’t do it. It’s a slow thing this winter. ... At this age, you don’t know how the match will end. Let’s hope it goes well.

About Malta, I am happy with the visit. I saw the reality of Malta, the great enthusiasm of the people, both in Gozo and Malta: a great enthusiasm on the streets. I was amazed. [The trip] was a bit short. I saw the problem, one of the problems for you: The problem of migrants is very serious, because Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Spain, Italy are the countries closest to Africa and to the Middle East, and migrants arrive here and are always welcomed. The problem, that every government should say how many migrants they can ordinarily receive to live worthily, this requires an understanding with the countries of Europe, and that not a few are willing to accept migrants. Let’s not forget that Europe was made by migrants; but at least do not leave all the burden on these neighboring countries. The important thing is not to leave these countries alone.

Today I was at the migrant reception center. The things I heard there, they are terrible, the suffering of those who arrived there, and then the lager [camps]; there are lagers on the coast of Libya. The “Way of the Cross” of these people seems criminal. I heard the testimonies of suffering. This is a problem which touches all of us. The way Europe is making room, with much generosity, to Ukrainians, opening the door to Ukrainians, they are doing even to those who come from the Mediterranean. This is a point that finished my visit [and] touched me so much. I felt their suffering, which is more or less what I told you is in that little book that came out — Hermanito; in Spanish “The Little Brother” — the suffering of these people: One person who spoke today had to pay four times. I ask you to think about this.

Jordi Barcelò, Radio Nacional de España: Good evening, Holiness. I will read [the question] because my Italian is still not very good. On the flight which brought us to Malta, you said that a visit to Kyiv is on the table. And again in Malta you referenced many times your closeness to the Ukrainian people. On Friday in Rome, the Polish president left the door open for a visit to the Polish border. Today, we were hit a lot by the images arriving from Bucha, a town close to Kyiv, abandoned by the Russian army, where Ukrainians found tens of cadavers thrown on the ground, some holding hands, as if they were executed. It seems today that your presence in that area is always more needed. Do you think a trip like this is feasible, and what would be the conditions that would have to be in place for you to go there? Thank you.

Pope Francis: Thank you for telling me this news from today that I did not know. War is always a cruelty, an inhumane thing that goes against the human spirit — I don't say Christian; human. It is the spirit of Cain that is said to go there. I am willing to do everything that can be done, and the Holy See, especially the diplomatic part — Cardinal Parolin, Msgr. Gallagher — are doing everything, everything. You cannot publish everything they do, out of prudence, out of confidentiality, but we are at the limit of the work. A trip is among the possibilities. There are two possible visits: one which the president of Poland requested, to send Cardinal Krajewski to visit the Ukrainians who are received in Poland. He already went twice to bring two ambulances, and he remained there with them, but he will do it again; he is willing to do it. The other trip that someone asked me about — more than one person — I said with sincerity, if I was planning to go there, and I said that the availability is always there. there is no “No.” First, I am available. And what do [I] think about a trip ... the question went like this: “We have heard that you were thinking about a visit to Ukraine?” And I said: It’s on the table. It’s there as one of the proposals that has come in, but I don’t know if it can be done ... and if doing it will be for the best, or if it will be useful and I should do it. It’s all up in the air, right? Then, for a long time, there was thought of a meeting with Patriarch Kirill. This is being worked on; the Middle East is being considered [as the location]. These are the things as they are right now.

Gerry O’Connell, America magazine: Holy Father, various times throughout this trip, you spoke about the war [in Ukraine]. The question many have is if, since the start of the war, you have spoken with President Putin; and if not, what would you say to him today?

Pope Francis: The things I have said to the authorities of each side are public. None of the things I said are confidential for me. When I spoke with the patriarch [Kirill], he then gave a good declaration about what we said to each other. I spoke to the president of Russia at the end of the year, when he called to wish me a happy birthday. We spoke. I spoke to the president of Ukraine twice. Then, the first day of the war, I thought that I should go to the Russian embassy [to the Holy See] to speak with the ambassador, who is the representative of the people, and to ask questions and to share my feelings about the situation. These were official communications that I had. With Russia, I did it through the ambassador. I also spoke with the major archbishop of Kyiv, Msgr. Shevchuck. Every two or three days, with regularity, I spoke with one of you, Elisabetta Piqué [Vatican journalist for La Nación], who is now in Odessa but was in Lviv when we spoke. She tells me how things are. I have also spoken with regularity with the rector of the seminary. But as I said, I am also in contact with one of you. Speaking of this, I wanted to give you my condolences for your colleagues who have fallen. Whatever side they are on, it doesn’t matter. But your work is a work for the common good. And these [journalists] fell in service to the common good, to information. Let us not forget them. They were brave, and I pray for them that the Lord will reward them for their work. These have been the communications we have had so far.

O’Connell: But what would be your message for Putin if you had the possibility [to speak to him]?

Pope Francis: The messages that I have given to all the authorities are those that I gave publicly. I don’t do doublespeak. I always say the same thing. I think in your question there is also a doubt about just and unjust wars. Every war comes from injustice, always. Because it is the method of war, there is no tactic of peace; for example, to invest in buying weapons. They say: “But we need to defend ourselves.” This is the strategy of war. When the Second World War finished, everyone breathed, “never war” and peace. A wave of work for peace began, even with the goodwill to not give weapons, atomic weapons in that moment, for peace, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There was a large goodwill. Seventy years later, we have forgotten all of this. It is like that, the strategy that war imposes. There was so much hope in the work of the United Nations then. But the tactic of war has imposed itself again. We cannot think of another strategy; we are not accustomed to think of the strategy of peace. There were great men like Gandhi and others who I mention at the end of the encyclical Fratelli Tutti who fought for the strategy of peace. But we are stubborn as humanity: We are in love with wars, with the spirit of Cain. Not by chance, at the beginning of the Bible, there is this problem: the “Cainian” spirit to kill instead of the spirit of peace. “Father, I cannot.”

I will tell you something personal: In 2014, when I was [at the military cemetery] in Redipuglia and I saw the names of those boys [who died], I cried. Really, I cried out of bitterness. Then, one or two years later, for All Souls’ Day, I went to celebrate [Mass] in Anzio, and I saw the names of the young [soldiers] fallen there — all young men — and I cried there, too. Really. Crying on tombs is needed.

There is something that I respect, because it is a political problem. When there is a commemoration of the disembarkment in Normandy, the heads of government come together to commemorate it. But I don’t remember someone speaking about the 30,000 young men who remained on the beach. Youth does not matter. This makes me think. I am grieved. We do not learn. May the Lord have mercy on us, on all of us. We are all at fault.