VATICAN CITY — In a major new interview with an Italian newspaper, Pope Francis shared that he had a mystical experience before accepting the role as bishop of Rome. He also gave his thoughts on several issues surrounding Church reform and the need for the Church to follow the Second Vatican Council’s call to engage fully in dialogue with the modern world.

Pope Francis recounted the experience in a wide-ranging interview with Eugenio Scalfari, atheist founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, which published the interview on Oct.1. Scalfari’s interview took place at the Pope’s request on Sept. 24 at the Domus Sanctae Marthae residence, where Pope Francis lives.

When asked if he considered himself a mystic, the Pope replied, “What do you think?”

Scalfari replied that, no, he did not believe Pope Francis was the type. When Scalfari asked the Holy Father if he had ever had a mystical experience, Pope Francis replied that he “rarely” has. However, he shared that one such experience did take place during the conclave, shortly before he accepted his election as pope.

“Before the acceptance, I asked to be able to retire for some minutes in the room next to that with the balcony on the square,” he said. “My head was completely empty, and a great anxiety invaded me.”

“To make it pass and to relax, I close my eye,s and every thought disappeared, also that of refusing to accept the charge, as, after all, the liturgical procedure consents,” he said.

Pope Francis shared that, once he closed his eyes, he did not feel any more “anxiety or emotion,” but that, at “a certain point, a great light invaded me; it lasted for a second, but it seemed really long.”

“Then the light dissipated, and I stood straight up and headed to the room where the cardinals were waiting for me and the table on which rested the act of acceptance,” he said. “I signed it ... and then on the balcony came the ‘Habemus Papam!’”

Curing Church ‘Narcissism’

Also brought up in the interview was the topic of Church leaders, who, according to the Holy Father, “have often been narcissistic.” Although the Curia’s main job is to manage “the services that serve the Holy See,” said the Pope, “it has a defect: It is Vatican-centric.”

“This Vatican-centric vision neglects the world that surrounds it. I do not share this vision, and I will do everything (I can) to change it,” he said. Pope Francis said the Vatican needed a more communal dynamic in which the leaders of the Church “are at the service of the people of God.”

Referencing St. Francis of Assisi’s vision of the Church, Pope Francis urged that “the ideal of a missionary and poor Church remains more than valid. ... This is still the Church that Jesus and his disciples preached.”

When pressed regarding comments stating that a love for power strongly exists in the Vatican and that the institution predominates over the poor, missionary Church he envisions, the Pope stated that, “Things are in fact like this.”

“On this subject, no miracles are made,” he said.

Pope Francis said that during St. Francis’ life, the saint also had to “negotiate at length with the Roman hierarchy” for the recognition of the rules of his order, which he eventually obtained, “but with profound changes and compromises.”

When asked if he would follow the same path as his patron, the Pope said that, although he does not have the “strength and holiness” of St. Francis, he has appointed the council of eight cardinals to assist him in building a Church that is “not only vertical, but horizontal.”

Although the road will be “long and difficult,” he said, such a Church is possible with “prudence, but firmness and tenacity.”

Dialogue with Nonbelievers

When asked about the fact that Christians are a minority in the world, the Successor of Peter stated that “we always have been,” but that he personally thinks that “being a minority is actually a strength.”

The Pope explained further that “we have to be a yeast of life and love, and the yeast is a quantity infinitely less than the mass of fruits.”

He also spoke of the need to return to the Second Vatican Council’s call to engage with modern culture through dialogue with nonbelievers, saying that although little has been done in this direction, “I have the humility and ambition to want to do it.”

In speaking to the Church’s role in politics, Pope Francis said that “the Church won’t occupy herself with politics.” He explained that when he urges Catholics to commit themselves politically, he is referring not just to them, but also to “all men of goodwill.”

“Politics is the first of the civil activities, and it has its own field of action that is not that of religion,” he said. The Pope pointed out that political institutions are lay institutions by definition and that they operate independently.

“I believe that Catholics working in politics have within them the values of religion,” he said, “but a mature conscience and competency to act on them.”

He said, “The Church will never go beyond the task of expressing and spreading her values, at least as long as I’m here.”

For further Register coverage, read: "Pope Francis Gives New Interview."