ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis on April 16 gave a 25-minute press conference for reporters during his return flight to Rome from Lesbos.
The Pope spoke about the refugee crisis and the global immigration crisis. He spoke of the 12 Syrian refugees, including six children, he was bringing to Italy on the flight.
Pope Francis said he saw a global family crisis and voiced concern that this was missed by media coverage of the controversy over holy Communion for those who have divorced and remarried.
The Pope also discussed his brief greeting for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. He said the greeting in no way represented an intention of “getting mixed up in politics.”
Please find below the full transcription, translated into English:
Pope Francis: I thank you for your day of work, for me and also for you — it was a bit powerful.
Ines San Martin (Crux): Holy Father … the first question is about the trip. This trip is happening just after an accord between the European Union and Turkey has come about … do you think this is a political question, in order to save time? This morning, you met with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at Santa Martha. I wanted to ask you your feelings on the meeting and on your way of approaching North-American politics.
Pope Francis: First of all, there is no political speculation, because I didn’t know much about these accords between Turkey and Europe. I saw them in the newspapers. Bringing these refugees away is a humanitarian thing. It was an inspiration from a week ago that I immediately accepted, because I saw that it was the Holy Spirit who was speaking. Everything was done legally. They’ve come with us with their documents in order. The Vatican, Italy and Greece have given them a visa. They will be welcomed by the Vatican with the collaboration of Sant’Egidio [community] who will find work for them. But they are guests of the Vatican, and they are added to the two Syrian families that are already given hospitality by two Vatican parishes.
Second: This morning, when I walked out, there was Sen. Bernie Sanders who came to the congress on Centesimus Annus. He knew that I was leaving at that time, and he had the courteousness to greet me. I greeted him and his wife, and another couple with him who were staying at Santa Marta, because all of the members of the congress, except the heads of state, who, I believe, were staying at their embassies, were staying at the Santa Martha residence. I gave a greeting and nothing more. A greeting is a polite thing to do and does not mean to be mixed up with politics. If someone thinks that to give a greeting means to get mixed up in politics, I think he needs a psychiatrist.
Franca Giansoldati (Il Messaggero): You speak much about welcoming, but perhaps you speak too little about integration. Seeing what is happening in Europe, where there’s this massive influx of immigrants, we see that there are many cities that suffer from ghetto sectors. … In all of this, it emerges that Muslim immigrants are those who have the most difficult time integrating themselves with our values, Western values. … Wouldn’t it be more useful to favor the immigration of Christian immigrants? And why did you favor three entirely Muslim families?
Pope Francis: I didn’t make a religious choice between Christians and Muslims. These three families had their documents in order. There were, for example, two Christian families who didn’t. This is not a privilege. All 12 of them are children of God. It’s a privilege to be a child of God. For what regards integration … you said a word which in current culture seems to be forgotten, but after war still exists: the ghettos. And some of the terrorists are children and grandchildren of people born in European countries, and what has happened? There was no policy of integration. And this, for me, is fundamental. In the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, integration is spoken of. One of the three pastoral dimensions for families in difficulty is integration into society. Today, Europe must take up again this capacity that it has always had: to integrate. With integration, Europe’s culture is enriched. I think that we need an education — a lesson — on a culture of integration.
Elena Pinardi (EBU): Holy Father, they’re talking about reinforcing the borders of different European countries, of deploying battalions along the borders of Europe. Is it the end of Schengen? Is it the end of the European dream?
Pope Francis: I don’t know. I understand the governments and the people that have a certain fear. I understand. And we must take a real responsibility for welcoming. How do we integrate these people with us? I’ve said this, but making walls is not the solution. We saw it in the last century, the fall of one. It doesn’t resolve anything. We must make bridges, and bridges are made with intelligence, dialogue and integration. I understand the fear, but to close the borders doesn’t resolve anything, because in the long run that closure will hurt the people themselves. Europe must make a policy of welcoming, integration, growth, work and the reform of the economy. All of these are the bridges that lead us to not making walls. After what I’ve seen in that refugee camp, and what you saw, was to cry about. The kids: They’ve given me so many drawings. The children want peace because they’re suffering. It’s true that there they have educational courses in the camp. What have they seen? Look at this — what they’ve seen: a drowned child! The kids have got this in their hearts. Today was truly to cry about; it was to cry about. The same drawing was made by an Afghan child. These children have this in their memories. They’ll need time to remove this from their memories. There was a sun that cried in the drawing. A tear would also do us well.
Fanny Carrier (AFP): Why don’t you make a distinction between those who flee because of war and those who flee because of hunger? Can Europe give welcome to the misery of the world?
Pope Francis: It’s true, I said that some run because of war, others because of hunger. Together the two are both the effects of the exploitation of the earth. A head of government in Africa told me more or less a month ago that he is reforesting, because the land that was exploited was dead because of exploitation. Some run because of hunger, others because of war. I would invite the arms producers and traffickers, those who sell them, to make war in different places, in Syria for example. I would tell these traffickers to spend a day in that camp; I think it would be healthy for them.
Nestor Pongutà, W Radio (Colombia): Good afternoon, Your Holiness. I’ll ask you the question in Spanish, and then you respond in Italian. You said something very special this morning that really caught our attention: This is a sad trip. (And we understood from your words that you were really moved.) But something changed in your heart when we found out about these 12 people; with this little gesture you’ve give a lesson to those who have turned their gaze before so much pain, before this “piecemeal third world war.”
Pope Francis: I will respond with a phrase that is not mine. They asked the same thing to Mother Teresa. They would say to her: “You spend so much strength, so much work, to help people to die, but what you do is not worth it.” And she replied: “It’s a drop — it’s a drop of water in the sea, but after that drop, the sea will never be the same.” Like this, it’s possible. It’s a small act that we all must do in order to take the hand of those in need.
Josh McElwee (National Catholic Reporter): Thank you, Holy Father. We’ve gone to a nation of migrations, but also of an economic policy of austerity. I would like to ask you if you have an economic thought of austerity and also for another island, Puerto Rico. Do you have a thought on this policy of austerity?
Pope Francis: The word austerity means, from an economic point of view, a chapter of a program. Politically it means another, and spiritually it means another. When I speak, I do so in comparison with waste. The FAO, it seems to me, in a meeting, said that with one wasted meal, you could nourish the world. And we, in our homes, how much do we waste without intending to? This culture of waste. Austerity in the sense in which we speak and austerity in a Christian sense, let’s stop here and divide it a bit. I speak only in a Christian sense.
Francisco Romero (Rome Reports): Your Holiness, I simply would like to say: You have said that this refugee crisis is the worst after the Second World War. I would like to ask you what you think of the crises of migrants that arrive in America, in the United States, from Mexico, from Latin America.
Pope Francis: It’s the same thing. Migrants arrive there fleeing from hunger, etc. It’s the same problem. In Mexico, I celebrated Mass 100 meters from the border, where on the other side there were some 50 bishops from the U.S. and 50,000 faithful in one stadium. It’s the same. They arrive to Mexico from Central America. It’s a global problem. I spoke about it there to the Mexican bishops: I asked them to take care of the refugees.
Frank Rocca (The Wall Street Journal): Thanks, Holy Father. I see that the questions on immigration that I had thought to ask you have been asked and answered by you very well. If you permit me, I’d like to ask you another question about an event of recent days, which was your apostolic exhortation. … There has been much discussion after the publication. Some sustain that nothing has changed with respect to the discipline that regulates access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried, that the law, the pastoral praxis and, obviously, the doctrine remain the same. Others sustain that much has changed and that there are new openings and possibilities. For a Catholic who wants to know: Are there new, concrete possibilities that didn’t exist before the publication of the exhortation or not?
Pope Francis: I can say, yes, many. But it would be an answer that is too small. I recommend that you read the presentation of Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, who is a great theologian. He was the secretary for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and he knows the doctrine of the faith well. In that presentation, your question will find an answer.
Jean-Marie Guenois (Le Figaro): I had the same question, but it’s a complementary question, because you wrote [a note for] Amoris Laetitia on the problems of the divorced and remarried (Footnote 351). Why put something so important in a little note? Did you foresee the opposition, or did you mean to say that this point isn’t that important?
Pope Francis: One of the recent popes, speaking of the [Second Vatican] Council, said that there were two councils: the Second Vatican Council in the Basilica of St. Peter, and the other, the council of the media. When I convoked the first synod, the great concern of the majority of the media was Communion for the divorced and remarried, and, since I am not a saint, this bothered me, and then made me sad. Because, thinking of those media who said, this, this and that, do you not realize that that is not the important problem? Don’t you realize that, instead, the family throughout the world is in crisis? Don’t we realize that the falling birth rate in Europe is enough to make one cry? And the family is the basis of society. Do you not realize that the youth don’t want to marry? Don’t you realize that the fall of the birth rate in Europe is to cry about? Don’t you realize that the lack of work or the little work (available) means that a mother has to get two jobs and the children grow up alone? These are the big problems. I don’t remember the footnote, but, for sure, if it’s something general in a footnote it’s because I spoke about it, I think, in Evangelii Gaudium.
Thanks a lot; I feel calm with you. Now, they will give you something to eat!