Full Text: Pope Francis’ In-Flight Press Conference from Armenia
On his return trip, the Holy Father fielded questions about a range of subjects, including the role of the Pope Emeritus, the Pan-Orthodox Council, the Reformation, women deaconesses and Brexit.
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — During his flight from Armenia to Rome on Sunday, Pope Francis gave a press conference to the assembled journalists aboard the papal plane. He reflected on his three-day trip to Armenia, his upcoming trips to Azerbaijan and Poland, the role of the Pope emeritus, Christian unity, and the Reformation.
He also addressed Brexit, the idea of deaconesses, and how the Church might apologize for unjust discrimination toward homosexual persons.
Below is the full text of the press conference, as translated by Catholic News Agency:
Father Lombardi: Holy Father, thanks so much for being here at the end of this quite brief, but very intense trip. We have been content to accompany you and now we wish to pose you some questions, taking advantage of your kindness. We have a list of people who are signed up to speak and we can begin, as is usual, with the colleagues from Armenia, as we give them the priority. The first is Artur Grygorian, of Armenian Public Television.
Pope Francis: I thank you so much for your help on this trip, all of your work that does good to people… communicating well the things. They are good news… and good news always does good. Thanks so much! Thanks.
Artur Grygorian (Armenian Public Television): Your Holiness, it is known you have Armenian friends, you had contacts with the Armenian community earlier in Argentina. During the last three days you touched the Armenian spirit. What are your feelings, impressions? And what will be your message for the future, your prayers for Armenia? Thanks.
Pope Francis: Well, let’s think to the future and then let’s go to the past. I hope for justice and peace for this people and I pray for this, because it is a courageous people. And I pray that they find justice and peace. I know that so many are working for this; and also I was very happy last week when I saw a photograph of President Putin with the two Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents… at least they’re speaking! And also with Turkey and the president of the republic in his welcoming speech spoke clearly, he had the courage to say: let’s come to an agreement, forgive each other, and look to the future. And this is a great courage for a people who has suffered so much, no? It’s the icon of the Armenian people. This came to me today while I was praying a bit. It’s a life of stone and a tenderness of a mother. It has carried crosses, but stone crosses - and you see them, eh! - but it has not lost its tenderness, art, music, those “suspended chords”, so difficult to understand and with great geniality. A people who has suffered so much in its history and only the faith has kept it on its feet, because the fact is that it was the first Christian nation, this isn’t sufficient! It was the frist Christian nation because the Lord blessed it, because it had the saints, it had bishop saints, martyrs, and for this in resisting Armenia has made itself a “stony skin”, let’s call it that, but it has not lost the tenderness of a maternal heart. Armenia is also a mother!
And this is the second question, let’s go to the first now. If I had so many contacts with the Armenians… I went often with them to Masses, I have many Armenian friends… One thing that I usually don’t like to do for rest, but I would go to dinner with them and you have heavy dinners, eh! But, very good friends, no? A very good friend is Archbishop Kissag Mouradian and Boghossian, a Catholic… but among you, more important than belonging to the Apostolic Church or the Catholic Church, is the “Armenism”, and I understood this in those times. Today, an Argentinian from an Armenian family that when I went to the Masses, the archbishop always made him sit next to me so he could explain some ceremonies or some words that I didn’t know greeted me. One, two and three, but I start with three.
Father Lombardi: Now we give the word to another Armenian representative, Jeannine Paloulian.
Jeannine Paloulian (Nouvelles d’Armenie): Yesterday evening at the ecumenical encounter of prayer you asked about carrying out reconciliation with Turkey and Azerbaijan. I would like to ask you simply, given that you are about to go to Azerbaijan in some weeks, what will you do, a concrete sign like you’ve given to Armenia, what is the sign you’d like to give to Azerbaijan tomorrow?
Pope Francis: I will speak to the Azerbaijanis of the truth of what I have seen, of what I have felt and I will also encourage them. I met the Azerbaijani president and I spoke with him… I’ll tell you also that not making peace for a little piece of land, because it’s not a big deal, means something dark, no? But I say this to all the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis… Possibly, they can’t agree on the ways of making peace, and on this they need to work. But I don’t know what else to say… I will say that at the moment it comes to my heart, but always positively trying to find solutions that are viable, that move ahead.
Father Lombardi: Thanks a lot. And now we give the floor to Jean Louis de La Vassiere of France Presse, for whom I believe it may be the last trip that he makes with us, so we are happy to give him a voice.
Jean Luis de La Vassiere (AFP): Holy Father, first I wanted to thank you on my behalf and for Sebastien Maillard of La Croix… we are leaving Rome and we wanted to thank you from our hearts for this spring breeze that you’re blowing on the Church… then I have a question: why did you decide to add openly the word genocide to your speech at the presidential palace? On a painful theme like this, do you think it’s useful for peace in this complicated region?
Pope Francis: In Argentina, when you spoke of the Armenian extermination, they always used the word “genocide.” I didn’t know another. At the cathedral in Buenos Aires, we put a stone cross in the third altar on the left, remembering the Armenian genocide. The archbishop came, two Armenian archbishops, the Catholic and the Apostolic, they inaugurated it… also the Apostolic Archbishop in the Catholic Church of St. Bartholomew made an altar in memory of St. Bartholomew… but always… I didn’t know another word. I come from this word. When I arrived in Rome, I heard another word: “The Great Evil” or the “terrible tragedy,” but in Armenian, I don’t know how to say it… and they tell me that no, that that is offensive, that of “genocide,” and that you must say this. I’ve always spoke of three genocides in the last century… always three! The first was the Armenian, then that of Hitler, and the last is that of Stalin… there are small ones, there is another in Africa, but as in the orbit of the two great wars there are these three… I’ve asked why… “but some feel like it’s not true, that there wasn’t a genocide”... another said to me… a lawyer told me this that really interested me: the word “genocide” is a technical word. It’s a word that has a technicity that it is not a synonym of “extermination.” You can say extermination, but declaring a “genocide” brings with it actions of reparation… this is what the lawyer said to me. Last year, when I was preparing the speech, I saw that St John Paul II had used the word, that he used both: Great Evil and genocide. And I cited that one in quotation marks… and it wasn’t received well. A statement was made by the Turkish government. Turkey, in a few days called its ambassador to Ankara, who is a great man, Turkey sent us a top ambassador, who returned three months ago... “an ambassadorial fast.” But, he has the right.. The right to protest, we all have it. In this speech at the start there wasn’t a word, that is true. I respond because I added it. But after having heard the tone of the speech of the president and also with my past with this word, and having said this word last year in St. Peter’s publicly, it would have sounded strange not to say at least the same thing. But there, I wanted to underscore something else, and I don’t think I err that I also said: in this genocide, as in the other two, the great international powers looked in the other direction. And this was the thing. In the Second World War some powers, which had photographed the train lines that led to Auschwitz had the possibility to bomb and didn’t do it. An example. In the context of the First War, where was the problem of the Armenians? And in the context of the Second War where was the problem of Hitler and Stalin and after Yalta of the area… and all that no one speak about. One has to underscore this. And make the historical question: why didn’t you do this, you powers?
I don’t accuse, I ask a question. It’s curious. They looked at the war, at so many things… but not the people… and I don’t know if it’s true, but I would like to know if it’s true that when Hitler persecuted the Jews, one of the words, of the thing that he may have said was “Well, who remembers today the Armenians, let’s do the same with the Jews.” I don’t know if it’s true, maybe it’s hearsay, but I’ve heard this said. Historians, search and see if it’s true. I think I answered. But I never said this word with an offensive intention, if not objectively.
Elisbetta Piqué, La Nacion: Congratulations for the trip, first of all. We wanted to ask you: we know that you are the Pope and Pope Benedict, the Pope Emeritus, is also there, but lately some statements from the prefect of the Pontifical Household, Msgr. Georg Gaenswein, have come down, who suggested that there is a shared Petrine ministry, if I’m not mistaken, with one active Pope and one contemplative Pope. Are there two Popes?
Pope Francis: There was a time in the Church when there were three! (laughs) I didn’t read those declarations because I didn’t have time to see those things. Benedict is a Pope Emeritus, he said it clearly that February 11th when he was giving his resignation as of February 28th when he would retire and help the Church with prayer.
And, Benedict is in the monastery praying. I went to see him so many times... or by telephone. The other day he wrote me a little little letter. He still signs with his signature, wishing me well for this trip, and once, not once but many times, I’ve said that it’s a grace to have a wise grandfather at home. I’ve also told him to his face and he laughs, but for me he is the Pope Emeritus. He is the wise grandfather. He is the man that protects my shoulders and back with his prayer.
I never forget that speech he made to us cardinals on February 28th, “among you I’m sure that there is my successor. I promise obedience.” And he’s done it. But, then I’ve heard, but I don’t know if it’s true, this, eh — I underscore, I heard this, maybe they’re just rumors but they fit with his character — that some have gone there (to him) to complain because of this new Pope … and he chased them away, eh, with the best Bavarian style, educated, but he chased them away. I don’t know if it’s true. It’s welcome because this man is like that. He’s a man of his word, an upstanding, upstanding, upstanding man.
He is the Pope Emeritus. Then, I don’t know if you remember that I thanked him publicly. I don’t know when but I think it was on a flight, Benedict, for having opened the door to Popes emeriti. But, 70 years ago bishops emeriti didn’t exist. Today, we have them… but with this lengthening of life, but can you run a Church at this age, with aches and pains or not? And he, courageously, and with prayer and with science, with theology decided to open this door and I believe that this is good for the Church.
But there is one single Pope, and the other… maybe they will be like the bishops emeriti, I’m not saying many but possibly there could be two or three. They will be emeriti... They are emeriti.
The day after tomorrow, the 65th anniversary of his episcopal (Father Lombardi says something to the Pope), sorry, priestly ordination will be celebrated. His brother Georg will be there because they were both ordained together. There will be a little event with the dicastery heads and few people because he prefers a … he accepted, but very modestly, and also I will be there and I will say something to this great man of prayer, of courage that is the Pope Emeritus, not the second Pope, who is faithful to his word and a great man of God, is very intelligent, and for me he is the wise grandfather at home.
Father Lombardi: Thank you, Holiness. And now we give the word to Alexej Bukalov, one of our deans, who as you know represents Italtass, and so the Russian culture is with us.
Pope Francis: Did you speak Russian in Armenia?
Bukalov (Italtass): Thank you Holiness, thanks for this trip which is your first trip on ex-Soviet territory and for me it was very important to follow it. My question goes a bit outside of this issue: I know that you have greatly encouraged this Pan-Orthodox Council, when even at the encounter with Patriarch Kirill in Cuba it was mentioned as a wish. Now what judgement do you make of this, let’s say, “forum.”
Pope Francis: A positive judgement. A step was made forward, not with 100%, but a step forward. The things that have “justified,” in quotation marks, and I’m sincere about them, are the things that with time can be resolved. Also themselves, these four who didn’t go, who wanted to do it a little bit later. But I think the first step is made as you can, as children, they make their first step but they do as they can. First they do like cats and then they take their first steps. I am happy. They’ve spoken of so many things. I think the result is positive. The single fact that these autocephalous Churches have gathered in the name of Orthodoxy to look upon each others’ faces, to pray together and speak and maybe tell some jokes… but that is extremely positive! I thank the Lord! At the next there will be more. Blessed be the Lord.
Father Lombardi: Thank you, Holiness. Now we pass the microphone to Edward Pentin who represents the English language this time.
Edward Pentin (National Catholic Register): As John Paul II, you seem to be a supporter of the European Union and you praised the European project when you recently won the Charlemagne prize. Are you worried that Brexit could bring about the disintegration of Europe and eventually war?
Pope Francis: There is already a war in Europe. Moreover, there is a climate of division, not only in Europe, but in its own countries. If you remember Catalonia, last year Scotland. These divisionsb… I don’t say that they are dangerous, but we must study them well, and before take a step forward for a division, to speak well amongst ourselves, and seek out viable solutions … I honestly don’t know. I have not studied the reasons why the United Kingdom wanted to make this decision, but there are divisions. I believe I said this once, I don’t know where, but I said it: That independence will make for emancipation. For instance, all our Latin American countries, even the countries of Africa, have emancipated from the crown, from Madrid. Even in Africa from Paris, London, Amsterdam … And this is an emancipation, and is more understandable because behind it there is a culture, there is a way of thinking … rather, the seccession of a country -- I’m still not speaking of Brexit; we think of Scotland, all these ... It is a thing that has been given a name, and this I say without offending, it is a word which politicians use: Balkanization, without speaking ill of the Balkans. It is somewhat of a seccession, it is not emancipation. And behind (it) there are histories, cultures, misunderstandings, even good will . . . this is clear. For me, unity is always better than conflict, but there are different ways of unity . . . and even fraternity, and here comes the European Union; fraternity is better than animosity and distance. Fraternity is better and bridges are better than walls. One must reflect on all of this. It is true: a country … I am in Europe, but … I want to have certain things that are mine from my culture and the step that … and here I come to the Charlemagne Prize, which is given by the European Union to discover the strength that it had from its roots. It is a step of creativity, and also of “healthy disunity,” to give more independence, more liberty to countries of the Union, to think of another form of Union, to be creative. And creative in places of work, in the economy. There is a liquid economy in Europe. For instance, in Italy 40% of young people aged 25 and younger do not have work. There is something that is not good in this massive Union, but we do not throw the baby in the bath water out the window, no? We look to redeem the things and recreate, because recreation of human things, also our personality, is a journey, which one must always take. A teenager is not like an adult, or an elderly person. It is the same and it is not the same. One recreates continuously. It is this that gives life, the desire to live, and gives fruitfulness. And this I underline: today, the word, the two key words for the European Union, are creativity and fruitfulness. This is the challenge. I don’t know, it’s what I think.
Father Lombardi: Thank you Holiness, and so now we give the word to Tilmann Kleinjung, who is from the ARD, from the national German radio and also I think this might be his last trip so we are happy to give him this possibility.
Kleinjung (ARD): Yes, also I am about to depart for Bavaria. Thanks for this question.
Pope Francis: Too much beer!
Kleinjung: Too much beer … Holy Father, I wanted to ask you a question. Today you spoke of the gifts of the shared Churches, of the gifts shared by the Churches together. Seeing that you will go in I believe four months to Lund for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides but also to recognize the gifts of the reformation. Perhaps also — this is a heretical question — perhaps to annul or withdraw the excommunication of Martin Luther or of some sort of rehabilitation. Thank you.
Pope Francis: I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct. But in that time, if we read the story of the Pastor, a German Lutheran who then converted when he saw reality — he became Catholic — in that time, the Church was not exactly a model to imitate. There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power...and this he protested. Then he was intelligent and took some steps forward justifying, and because he did this. And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err. He made a medicine for the Church, but then this medicine consolidated into a state of things, into a state of a discipline, into a way of believing, into a way of doing, into a liturgical way and he wasn’t alone; there was Zwingli, there was Calvin, each one of them different, and behind them were who? Principals! We must put ourselves in the story of that time. It’s a story that’s not easy to understand, not easy. Then things went forward, and today the dialogue is very good. That document of justification I think is one of the richest ecumenical documents in the world, one in most agreement. But there are divisions, and these also depend on the Churches. In Buenos Aires there were two Lutheran churches, and one thought in one way and the other...even in the same Lutheran church there was no unity; but they respected each other, they loved each other, and the difference is perhaps what hurt all of us so badly and today we seek to take up the path of encountering each other after 500 years. I think that we have to pray together, pray. Prayer is important for this. Second, to work together for the poor, for the persecuted, for many people, for refugees, for the many who suffer; to work together and pray together and the theologians who study together try...but this is a long path, very long. One time jokingly I said: I know when full unity will happen. — “When?” — “the day after the Son of Man comes,” because we don’t know ... the Holy Spirit will give the grace, but in the meantime, praying, loving each other and working together. Above all for the poor, for the people who suffer and for peace and many things ... against the exploitation of people and many things in which they are jointly working together.
Cecile Chambraud (Le Monde): Asks a question about deaconesses.
Pope Francis: There is a president in Argentina who advised presidents of other countries: “When you want something not to be resolved, make a commission.” But, the first to be surprised by this news was me … The dialogue with religious was recorded and published on L’Osservatore Romano and something else... And we had heard that in the first centuries there were deaconesses. One could study this and one could make a commission. Nothing more has been requested. They were educated, not just educated, beloved of the Church. And I recounted that I knew a Syrian, a Syrian theologian who had died, the one who wrote a critical edition of St. Ephrem, in Italian, and once speaking of deaconesses, when I came and was staying at Via della Scrofa, he lived there, at breakfast speaking … but he did not know well if they had ordination. Certainly there were these women who helped the bishop, and helped in three things: In the baptism of women, because there was the baptism of immersion; second, in the pre-baptismal unction for women, third — this makes me laugh — when there was a woman who went to complain to the bishop because her husband beat her, the bishop called one of these deaconesses, who looked at the woman’s body to find bruises ... this is why it was done for this.
But, one can study, if it is the doctrine of the Church and if one might create this commission. They said: “The Church opens the door to deaconesses.” Really? I was a bit annoyed because this is not telling the truth of things. I spoke with the prefect of the [Congregation for the] Doctrine of the Faith, and he told me, “Look, there is a study which the international theological commission had made in 1980.” And I asked the president to please make a list.
Give me a list of who I can take to create this commission. He sent me the list to create this commission, but I believe that the theme has been studied a lot, and I don’t think it will be difficult to shed light on this argument. But, there is another thing, a year and a half ago I made a commission of women theologians who had worked with Cardinal Rylko, who had written a lovely book, because woman’s thought is important. The women think differently from us, and one cannot make a good decision without listening to women. Sometimes in Buenos Aires, I consulted with my advisers, and then I asked women to come and they saw things in another light, which departed greatly . . . But, then, the solutions (were) very fruitful, very lovely.
I must meet these women who have done a good job, but because the dicastery of the laity is changing now, and I am waiting for what it does. But, to continue this second work which is another thing, the theological women … But this, I would like to emphasize, is more important: the way of understanding, of thinking, of seeing of women and the capabilities of women. The Church is a woman. It is “la Chiesa,” who is not a spinster; she is a woman married to the son of God, she is the spouse of Jesus Christ.
Cindy Wooden, CNS: Holiness, within the past few days Cardinal Marx, the German, speaking at a large conference in Dublin which is very important on the Church in the modern world, said that the Catholic Church must ask forgiveness to the gay community for having marginalized these people. In the days following the shooting in Orlando, many have said that the Christian community had something to do with this hate toward these people. What do you think?
Pope Francis: I will repeat what I said on my first trip. I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally. One can condemn, but not for theological reasons, but for reasons of political behavior ... Certain manifestations are a bit too offensive for others, no? ... But these are things that have nothing to do with the problem. The problem is a person that has a condition, that has good will and who seeks God, who are we to judge? And we must accompany them well ... this is what the catechism says, a clear catechism. Then there are traditions in some countries, in some cultures that have a different mentality on this problem. I think that the Church must not only ask forgiveness — like that “Marxist Cardinal” said (laughs) — must not only ask forgiveness to the gay person who is offended. But she must ask forgiveness to the poor too, to women who are exploited, to children who are exploited for labor. She must ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons. The Church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times — when I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy, we are sinners! — Christians must ask forgiveness for having not accompanied so many choices, so many families ... I remember from my childhood the culture in Buenos Aires, the closed Catholic culture. I go over there, eh! A divorced family couldn’t enter the house, and I’m speaking of 80 years ago. The culture has changed, thanks be to God. Christians must ask forgiveness for many things, not just these. Forgiveness, not just apologies. Forgive, Lord. It’s a word that many times we forget. Now I’m a pastor and I’m giving a sermon. No, this is true, many times. Many times … but the priest who is a master and not a father, the priest who beats and not the priest who embraces, forgives and consoles. But there are many. There are many hospital chaplains, prison chaplains, many saints. But these ones aren’t seen. Because holiness is modest, it’s hidden. Instead it’s a little bit of blatant shamelessness, it’s blatant and you see so many organizations of good people and people who aren’t as good and people who … because you give a purse that’s a little big and look at you from the other side like the international powers with three genocides. We Christians — priests, bishops — we have done this. But also we Christians have Teresa of Calcutta and many Teresa of Calcuttas. We have many servants in Africa, many laity, many holy marriages. The wheat and the weeds. And so Jesus says that the Kingdom … we must not be scandalized for being like this. We must pray so that the Lord makes these weeds end and there is more grain. But this is the life of the Church. We can’t put limits. All of us are saints, because all of us have the Holy Spirit. But we are all sinners, me first of all! Alright. I don’t know if I have replied.
Father Lombardi: Holy Father, I’m allowing myself to pose you a final question and then we’ll leave you in peace.
Pope Francis: Don’t put me in difficulty!
Fr. Lombardi: No, it’s about the coming trip to Poland which we are already starting to prepare for, and you will dedicate this month of July to preparing for. If you could tell us something of the feelings with which you’re going to this World Youth Day in this Jubilee of Mercy … and another more specific point is this: we visited the Memorial of Tzitzernakaberd with you during the visit to Armenia … and you will also visit Auschwitz and Birkenau during the trip to Poland … so, now I felt saying that you desire to live this moment with more silence than with words as you have done here, also at Birkenau [sic] and I wanted to ask if you preferred to make a moment of silent prayer with a specific motive.
Pope Francis: Two years ago at Redipuglia I did the same to commemorate the centenary of the Great War, at Redipuglia. I went in silence … then there was a Mass, at Mass I preached, but there was something else. The silence. Today, we saw this morning the silence… it was today, right?
Father Lombardi: Yesterday.
Pope Francis: Yesterday … the silence … I would like to go to that place of horror, without speeches, without people, just the little necessities … but there will certainly be journalists … but without greeting this and this … no, no … alone, entering, praying and may the Lord give me the grace of crying. It’s this.
Fr. Lombardi: Thank you, Holiness … now, we will accompany you also in the preparation of this next trip and we thank you so much for the time you’ve dedicated us … and now, rest a bit, eat also, and rest also in the month of July, then …
Pope Francis: Again, thanks, also for your work and your benevolence. Thank you!
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