VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has given two new radio interviews, in which he says it is time for Europe to recover its Christian faith, discusses his popularity in the context of Jesus’ warning that his followers would be hated by the world and warns against religious fundamentalism.
In a lengthy interview with Portugal’s Radio Renascença, the Holy Father said Europe ”made a mistake” in not recognizing its Christian roots in recent years. “I’m not criticizing, just remembering,” he said. “Well, we all make mistakes in life. It’s time to recover its faith.” The continent, he said, has an “outstanding culture” and should once again “retake a leadership role in the concert of nations.”
He joked that Europe is a little “grandmotherly,” but that it can “return to being a mother.” He said he had “confidence in the young politicians” who, he said, “sing a different tune” and observed that corruption is at all levels.
Francis went on to deplore that the birth rate in Italy, Portugal and Spain is close to 0%, saying he believes having no children is partly “due to a culture of comfort.” He remembered hearing his Italian cousins saying a few years ago that they preferred “to travel on our vacations, or buy a villa, or this and that.” Meanwhile, he noted, “the elderly are more and more alone.” He also again highlighted the problem of unemployment, especially among young people, and a large wealth gap in the world.
Turning to the refugee crisis, he said people fleeing war and hunger are just the “tip of the iceberg,” because the underlying cause is a “bad and unjust socioeconomic system.” In everything, he said, the “person has to be in the center,” rather than the idol, of money.
But he acknowledged the danger of Islamist terrorists using the refugee situation to enter Europe. “There is a danger of infiltration; this is true,” he said. Obliquely referring to the Islamic State (ISIS), he pointed out that just 300 miles from the coast of Sicily is “an incredibly cruel terrorist group.”
For this reason, he recently appealed to parishes and religious institutions to take in one refugee family.
“A family gives more guarantees of security and containment, so as to avoid infiltrations of another kind,” he said. The Vatican will also take two families, who will stay “as long as the Lord wants.” He said he is grateful that Europe had “opened its eyes” to the problem.
Offering signs of what he might say when he visits the United States next week, the Pope said he didn’t want to point his finger at anyone in particular when asked about migration along the Mexico-U.S. border. “When there is an empty space, people try to fill it,” he said. “If a country has no children, immigrants come in and take their place.”
The Pope reiterated that he believes the world is warring against itself, “in installments, bit by bit,” and that it is also at war against the land “because it is destroying the land, our common house, the environment.”
Francis also spoke in the interview of a new “catechetical methodology,” which binds “the language of the mind, the language of the heart and the language of the hands.” If it’s missing one of these languages, he said, “it stagnates.”
He also said that “life without problems is dull” and that man has “the need to face and solve conflicts and problems.”
“Run risks and always set goals!” he said. “You need to use your feet to educate.” He also criticized the tendency to demand rights but not fulfill obligations to society. Such a tendency is “narcissism, and today we are living in a narcissistic civilization,” he said.
The Pope again repeated the need for the Church to open her doors to the world because a Church that does not go out into the world “keeps Jesus imprisoned.” Asked if he thought the Church had become more bruised since his election, he replied: “I don’t know. I know that, from what I’m told, God has been greatly blessing his Church.” He warned that, like Europe, it can become “too much of a grandmother instead of a mother, incapable of generating life.”
Year of Mercy
Reflecting on the upcoming Year of Mercy, he said it will welcome all.
“Come all,” he said. “Come and feel the love and forgiveness of God.” He added that his annulment reform is “all related” to the jubilee year and that it was meant to “simplify, ease people’s faith, and that the Church might be like a mother.” The reform also is intended to “expedite the processes in the hands of the bishop.”
Regarding the upcoming synod on the family, he asked that people “pray a lot” and said there are “high expectations” because the family is in crisis. “Young people no longer get married,” he observed. “Or then, with this short-term culture, they say, ‘I’ll either move in with her or I’ll get married, but only for as long as love lasts, then bye-bye …’”
He said the synod will be speaking about those families who are living in situations that are contrary to Church teaching and reiterated that those living in second unions are not excommunicated and should be integrated into Church life. “This was made crystal clear. I also said this quite clearly: Draw closer to the Mass, to catechesis, their children’s education, charity. … There are so many different options.”
Possible Fatima Visit
Elsewhere in the interview, he said he hoped to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in 2017, the centenary of the apparitions there, but said there were no plans to do so yet.
At the end of the interview, the Pope said he goes to confession “every 15 or 20 days” with a Franciscan priest who comes to him at the Vatican. “I never had to call an ambulance to take him back, in shock over my sins!” he joked. He also said he believes eternity will be a “mystery of encounter … almost unimaginable, but it must be very beautiful and wonderful to meet with God.”
Asked about his popularity and that Jesus warned his followers they would be “hated because of my Name,” the Pope replied: “Jesus also, for a certain time, was very popular, and look at how that turned out. So nobody has their happiness guaranteed in this world. The only thing I ask is that this peace in my heart be maintained and that he keep me in his grace, because, until the last moment, we are sinners, and we can renounce his grace.”
He said he consoles himself that St. Peter committed a serious sin of denying Jesus and yet was made pope.
“If they made him pope despite that sin, with all the sins I have, it is a great consolation, because the Lord will look after me as he looked after Peter. But Peter died on a cross, whereas I don’t know how I’ll die. Let him decide; so long as he gives me peace, may his will be done.”
In another interview released today with Argentinian radio station FM Milenium 106.7, the Pope emphasized the holiness of true friendship and recalled how false friends have exploited him in the past. He also warned against the dangers of religious fundamentalism. Such religious fundamentalists, he said, work to “destroy in the interests of an idea, not of a reality.”
"God, whether in Judaism, in Christianity or in Islam, in the faith of those three peoples, accompanies God’s people with his presence," he said. "In the Bible we see it; Muslims in the Quran. Our God is a God of nearness, which accompanies. Fundamentalists push God away from the companionship of his people; they dis-incarnate him; they transform him into an ideology. Therefore, in the name of this ideological God, they kill, attack, destroy and calumniate. Practically, they transform this God into a Baal, into an idol."
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.