Full Transcript of Pope’s In-Flight Interview From Korea

The Holy Father discussed a range of topics, including an ecological encyclical, intervention in Iraq, his relationship with Benedict XVI and his hopes of visiting the U.S. next year.

Pope Francis speaks with journalists on the papal plane on the return flight to Rome Aug. 18.
Pope Francis speaks with journalists on the papal plane on the return flight to Rome Aug. 18. (photo: Alan Holdren/CNA)

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Speaking to journalists aboard the Aug. 18 flight to Italy from South Korea, Pope Francis said he supports international intervention in Iraq and is willing to go to there personally if it will help end the violence against Christians and other religious minorities.

He also addressed topics ranging from peace efforts between Israel and Palestine and future papal visits to his personal schedule, relationship with Benedict XVI and life at the Vatican.

Below is a full transcript of the discussion between Pope Francis and journalists during Tuesday’s flight.


Korean journalist Sun Yin Park, Yonhap press agency: In the name of the Korean journalists and our people, I wish to thank you for your visit. You have brought happiness to many people in Korea, and thank you for your encouragement for the education of our country. Holy Father, during your visit to Korea, you have reached out to the family of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster and consoled them. Two questions. One, what did you feel when you met them? Two, were you not concerned your actions could be misinterpreted politically?

Pope Francis: When you find yourself in front of human sorrow, you do what your heart brings you to do. Today, they will say, ‘Oh, he’s done this because he has political intention’ or that other thing. But you can say anything. But you think about these men and women, mothers and fathers, who lost their children; brothers and sisters who have lost brothers and sisters … to the great sorrow of such a catastrophe. My heart … I’m a priest, you know, and being able to come close like that is the first thing. I know that the consolation I can give with a word of mine isn’t a remedy, it doesn’t give new life to their dead, but in these moments, human proximity gives us strength. There is solidarity. I remember that, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, I lived two of these catastrophes.

One was a dance hall where you could hear pop music; 193 died (he refers to Cromagnon disco). And then, another time, a catastrophe with a train. I think 120 died. In that time, I felt the same, to come close to make them strong. And if we in these sad moments come close to each other, we help each other so much. And then on the other question, and then I’d like to say something more. I put this on (the yellow lace from the victims’ relatives). After half a day of wearing it, I took it on for solidarity with them, eh. Someone came up and said, it’s better to take it off, eh. You must be neutral (there is a controversy about the responsibility of the tragedy: relatives of victims have touched on government corruption, which led to building a ship with sub-par material). But listen, with human sorrow, you can’t be neutral. It’s what I feel. Thanks for this question. Thanks.


American journalist Alan Holdren, Catholic News Agency/ACI PRENSA/EWTN: As you know, not long ago, the U.S. military forces started bombing terrorists in Iraq to prevent a genocide. To protect the future of the minorities, I think also of the Catholics under your guidance; do you approve of this American bombing (campaign)?

Pope Francis: Thanks for such a clear question. In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb “stop.” I don’t say "to bomb" or "make war," (but) "stop it." The means with which it can be stopped should be evaluated. To stop the unjust aggressor is licit. But we also have to have memory, as well, eh. How many times under this excuse of stopping the unjust aggressor the powers have taken control of nations. And they have made a true war of conquest. One single nation cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War, there was the idea of the United Nations. It must be discussed there, and [the U.N.] said, "There’s an unjust aggressor; it seems so. How do we stop it?” Only that; nothing more. Secondly, the minorities: Thanks for the word, because they speak to me of the Christians, poor Christians — it is true; they suffer — and the martyrs — and, yes, there are so many martyrs — but here there are men and women, religious minorities, and not all Christian; and all are equal before God, no? Stopping the unjust aggressor is a right that humanity has, but it is also a right of the aggressor to be stopped, so he doesn’t do evil.


French journalist Jean Louis de la Vaiessiere, Agence France Press: As Cardinal Filoni and the Dominican superior Bruno Cadoré [discussed]: Would you be ready to support a military intervention against the jihadists in Iraqi territory? Another question: Do you think of someday being able to go to Iraq; maybe to Kurdistan to sustain the Christian refugees and pray with them in the land where they’ve lived for 2,000 years?

Thank you. I have been not long ago with the governor of Kurdistan. He had a very clear thought on the situation and how to find a solution, but it was before these last aggressions. And the first question I have responded to: I am only in agreement in the fact that when there is an unjust aggressor that he is stopped. Sorry, I forgot about that. Yes, I am available, but I think I can say this: When we heard with my collaborators [of] this situation of the religious minorities and also the problems in that moment of Kurdistan, which couldn’t receive so many people. It’s a problem. It’s understood. They couldn’t, right? It can’t be done, and we’ve thought of so many things. We wrote, first of all, a communiqué that Father [Federico] Lombardi wrote in my name. Then this statement was sent out to all of the nunciatures, so that it might be communicated to the governments. Then we sent a letter to the secretary general of the United Nations. And so many things [were discussed]; and in the end, we said, 'Eh, sending a personal envoy [should be done],' (who was) Cardinal Filoni. And, in the end, we have said, 'And if it were necessary when we return from Korea, we can go there.' It was one of the possibilities. This was the response. And in this moment, I am ready; and, right now, it isn’t the most, the best thing to do, but I am disposed for this.


Italian journalist Fabio Zavattaro, Rai Television: You were the first pope to fly over China. The telegram that you sent to the Chinese president was received without negative comments. Are we passing on to a possible dialogue, and would you like to go to China?

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi: I can announce that we are now in Chinese airspace, so the question is pertinent.

Pope Francis: When we were about to enter into Chinese airspace, I was in the cockpit with the pilot. One of them showed me the registry. Anyway, he said, there were 10 minutes left before entering Chinese airspace. We have to ask for authorization. You always ask, "Is it normal to ask for permission in every nation? Yes."  I heard how they asked authorization and how they responded. I was a witness to this. Then the pilot said, "Now, we send the telegram. But I don’t know how they will have done it by like that. So, then I said good-bye to them and went back to my seat, and I prayed a lot for that beautiful and noble Chinese people; a wise people. I think of the great Chinese sages, a history of science and knowledge. Also, we Jesuits have a history there; also [with] Father (Matteo) Ricci. And all these things came up to my mind: Do I have a wish to go? Certainly, tomorrow. Yes. We respect the Chinese people. It’s just that the Church [should] ask for freedom for its role and for its work. This is another condition. But, do not forget that fundamental letter for the Chinese problem, which was the letter sent to the Chinese by Pope Benedict XVI. That letter today is current. Rereading it is good for you. The Holy See is always open to being in contact; always, because it has a real esteem for the Chinese people.


Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Ovejero, Radio Cope: The next trip will be Albania, then maybe Iraq and the Philippines and Sri Lanka. But where will you go in 2015? I’ll tell you also, just in case: You know that in Avila and Alba de Tormes there are so many expectations; can they still hope?

Pope Francis: Yes, yeah. The madam president of Korea in perfect Spanish told me, “Hope is the last thing to go.” That’s what she said. Hoping for the unification of Korea, no? That’s what she told me. We can hope, no? But it has not been decided ...


Journalist: And after Mexico?

Pope Francis: Now, I’ll explain. This year, Albania is planned. Some say that the Pope has a style of starting things from the peripheries. But I’m going to Albania for two important reasons. First, because they were able to make a government — and let’s think of the Balkans, eh — a government of national unity among Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics, with an interreligious council that has helped a lot and is balanced. And this is good [that] it is harmonized. The presence of the Pope to all peoples [is important] … but you can work well, eh. I’ve [heard] that it could be a true aid to that noble people. I’ve also thought of the history of Albania, which, of all the nations in the former Yugoslavia, was the only one that in its constitution had the practical atheism. If you went to Mass, it was unconstitutional. And then, one of their ministers told me that — and I want to be precise in the number — 1,820 churches were destroyed, Orthodox and Catholic, in that time. And then other churches were made into cinemas and others dance halls. I felt like I needed to go. It’s close [to travel there], done in a day.

Next year, I would like to go to Philadelphia for the encounter of families. I was also invited by the president of the United States to the American Congress and by the secretary general of the United Nations in New York. Maybe the three cities together, no? Mexico: The Mexicans would like me to go to Our Lady of Guadalupe. And we could take advantage of that, but it’s not certain.

And then Spain. The monarchs have invited me. And the episcopate has invited me. But it’s raining invitations to go to Spain, also Santiago di Compostela. But maybe, and I won’t say more, because it isn’t decided, to go in the morning to Avila and Alba de Tormes and return in the afternoon. It would be possible, yes, but it’s not decided. And this is the response. Thank you.


German journalist from KNA: What type of relationship is there between you and Benedict XVI? Is there an habitual exchange of opinions and ideas? Is there a common project after this encyclical?

Pope Francis: We see each other. Before leaving, I went to see him. He, two weeks prior, had sent me an interesting text, and he asked me an opinion. We have a normal relationship, because I go back to this idea and maybe a theologian doesn’t like it. But I think that the pope emeritus is not an exception. After so many centuries, he’s the first emeritus; and let’s think that, if I am aged and don’t have the strength, [what I would do]. But it was a beautiful gesture of nobility and also humility and courage. But I think that 70 years ago also, the bishops emeritus were an exception. They didn’t exist. Today, the bishops emeritus are an institution. I think that the pope emeritus is already an institution. Why? Our lives are getting longer, and at a certain age there is not the capacity to govern well, because the body tires; and (the) health perhaps is good, but there is (not) the capacity to carry forward all of the problems like those in the governance of the Church. I think that Pope Benedict made this gesture of [becoming] popes emeritus. I repeat that maybe some theologian would say this isn’t just, but I think like this. The centuries will tell if it’s like this or not; we’ll see, but if you can to say to me, "But do you think that one day if you don’t feel like it, will you go on?" I would do the same. I would do the same. I will pray, but I would do the same. He opened a door that is institutional, not exceptional. And our relationship is one of brothers, truly, but I’ve said that it’s like having a grandfather at home for the wisdom. He has a wisdom with his nuances, and it does me well to hear. He encourages me a lot. This is the relationship we have.


Japanese journalist Yoshinori Fukushima: Your Holiness, Pope Francis, first of all, many thanks for this first visit to Asia. During this visit, you met people who have suffered. What did you feel when you greeted the seven "comfort women" at Mass this morning? And regarding the suffering of people, as in Korea, there were hidden Christians in Japan; and next year will be the 150th anniversary of their coming out. … Would it be possible to pray for them together with you in Nagasaki? Thanks.

Pope Francis:

It would be wonderful. I was invited, eh, both by the government and the episcopate, I was invited. But suffering: You go back to one of the first questions. The Korean nation is a people that has not lost its dignity. It was a people invaded and humiliated; it has gone through wars and been divided with so much suffering. Yesterday, when I went to the encounter with young people, I visited the museum of the martyrs there. It’s terrible the suffering of these people; simply to not step on the cross. It’s a pain, an historical suffering. It has the capacity to suffer, this nation, and also this is a part of its dignity. Also today, when there were these elderly ladies in front at Mass. (To) think that during that invasion they were girls taken away to the police stations to be taken advantage of. And they haven’t lost their dignity. They were there today showing their faces, these elderly women, the last of them who remain. It’s a people strong in their dignity. But going back to martyrdom and suffering, also these women are the fruits of war. Today, we are in a world of war, everywhere. Someone told me, "You know, Father, that we’re in the third world war, but in pieces." He understood this, no? It is a world in war where they commit these cruelties.

I would like to speak about two words. First, cruelty. Today, children don’t count. Once they spoke of "conventional warfare." Today, this doesn’t count. I’m not saying that the conventional war is a good thing, but, today, the bomb goes and kills the innocent with the culpable, with the child and the women and mothers. They kill everyone. But we need to stop and think a bit about what level of cruelty we have reached. This should scare us. And this is not to create fear. We could make an empirical study. The level of cruelty today of humanity is a bit scary. Another word on which I would like to say something in relation with this is torture. Today, torture is one of the almost ordinary means of acts of intelligence services, of judicial processes. And torture is a sin against humanity. It is a crime against humanity. And, to Catholics, I say that torturing a person is a mortal sin. It is a grave sin. But it’s more: It’s a sin against humanity. Cruelty and torture: I would really like it if you in your media were to make a reflection of how you see these things today, [asking] how is the level of cruelty of humanity and what you think of torture. I think it would do us all well to think about this.


American journalist Deborah Ball, Wall Street Journal: Our question is: You have a very, very difficult routine, with very little rest and little vacation, and you make these hard trips. And then, in the last few months, we’ve also seen that you’ve had to cancel some appointments. … Should we be concerned about the rhythm you carry?

Pope Francis: Yes, some have told me this. I took my holidays at home, as usual. Once I read a book, and it’s interesting. The title was Be Happy to Be Neurotic. I’ve also got some neuroses. But you have to treat neuroses well, eh. Give them “mate” (an Argentine tea) every day, no? (Laughs.) One of my neuroses is that I’m too attached to life [and my habits]. The last time I took a vacation outside of Buenos Aires with the Jesuit community was in 1975. But then, I always take holidays. Truly, eh. But at home. I sleep more. I read books that I like. I listen to music. I pray more. In July and a part of August, I did this, and it was good (for me). The other part of the question: It’s true that I’ve had to cancel. That is true. The day I had to go to Gemelli Hospital; 10 minutes before. That there, I just couldn’t do it. They were certainly very busy days. But I need to be more prudent, you’re right.


French journalist Anais Martin, French Radio: In Rio, when the crowd yelled “Francesco, Francesco!” you responded “Cristo, Cristo!” Today, how do you manage this immense popularity? How do you live it?

Pope Francis: I don’t know how to tell you. I live it thanking the Lord that his people are happy. I really do that, hoping the best for the people of God. I live it as generosity towards the people. On the inside, I try to think of my sins and my errors, not to flatter myself because I know it won’t last long. Two or three years and then (makes a sound and gesture) up to the house of the Father. It’s not wise to believe this. I live it as the presence of the Lord in his people, who use his bishop, the shepherd of the people to do so many things. I live it more naturally than before. Before I was a bit scared. Also, it comes to mind not to make errors, because you can’t do wrong for the people and all these things.


Italian journalist Francesca Paltracca, RAI Radio: For the Pope who came from the ends of the world and found himself in the Vatican, beyond the St. Martha residence, where you have your life and your choice (to live there), how does the Pope live within the Vatican? They always ask us this, but how does he move around? Does he take walks? You go to the cafeteria. … This is surprising. So what type of life do you have beyond that of St. Martha?

Pope Francis: I try to be free. There are appointments of the office, of work. But my life, for me, is the most normal that I could have. Truly. I would love to be able to leave, but you can’t … You can’t because if you go out the people come, so you can’t; and that’s a reality. But there, inside St. Martha, I have a normal life of work and rest and chatting. I have a normal life.


Journalist: Don’t you feel imprisoned, then?

Pope Francis: No, no; at the beginning, yes. Now, some of the walls on the inside have come down.


Journalist: Which are the walls that have come down?

Pope Francis: I don’t know, the Pope can’t … for example, to have a laugh. One goes to the elevator; someone comes because the Pope can’t go down in the elevator alone. But [I say]: "Go back to your post because I’m going down alone!" That’s how it is. It’s normality. It’s a normality.


Argentine journalist: Holy Father, sorry for this, but I have to ask you as part of the Spanish group from Argentina. I’m going to have to ask you a question that will exhibit your knowledge. Your team for the first time is the champion of America. I would like to know how you’re living it, how you found out. They tell me that one of the delegation is coming Wednesday, and you’re going to receive him during the general audience.

Pope Francis: It’s true that this is the greatest piece of news after the second place (of the Argentine national team) in Brazil. I found out here. In Seoul, they told me. Listen, on Wednesday, they’re coming, eh. They’re coming. And it’s a public audience. For me, San Lorenzo is the team for which all of my family were fans. My father played basketball for San Lorenzo. He was a player on the basketball team. And when we were kids, we went, and my mom came with us to the Gasometro (San Lorenzo stadium). I remember today the season of 1946, a magnificent team that San Lorenzo had. They came out champions. I live it with joy.


Journalist: Is it a miracle?

Pope Francis: Miracle? No. (Laughs.) Miracle, no.


German journalist Juergen Erbacher, German TV: Holy Father, they have long spoken of an encyclical on ecology. Can you tell us when it will be released? And what are the central points?


Pope Francis: This encyclical: I’ve spoken a lot with Cardinal Turkson and also with others, and I have asked Cardinal Turkson to bring together all of the contributions. They arrived. And the week before the trip, no, four days before, he delivered the first draft to me. The first draft is this big (gestures). I’d say it’s a third bigger than Evangelii Gaudium. And that’s the first draft. Now, it’s not an easy issue, because on the protection of creation and the study of human ecology, you can speak with sure certainty up to a certain point; then come the scientific hypotheses, some of which are rather sure; others aren’t. In an encyclical like this, that must be magisterial, it must only go forward on certainties, things that are sure. If the Pope says that the center of the universe is the Earth and not the sun, he errs, because he says something scientific that isn’t right. That’s also true here: We need to make the study, number by number, and I think it will become smaller. But going to the essence is what we can affirm with certainty. But you could say in the notes, in the footnotes, that this is a hypotheses, and this and this. To say it as informational, but not in the body of the encyclical, which is doctrinal and needs to be certain.


Korean journalist Young Hae Ko, Korean daily newspaper: Thank you so much for your visit to South Korea. I’m going to ask you two questions. First one is: Just before the final Mass at the Myeong-dong Cathedral, you consoled the comfort women there. What thought came to you? That’s my first question. And my second question is: Pyongyang sees Christianity as a direct threat to its regime and its leadership, and we know that something terrible happened to North Korean Christianity; but we don’t know exactly what happened. Is there special effort in your mind to change North Korea’s approach to Christianity?

Pope Francis: The first question. I repeat this: Today, these women were there because, despite all they have suffered, they have dignity, and they showed their faces. I have thought also about what I’ve said a little bit ago about the sufferings of war, the cruelty brought by a war. These women were taken advantage of, enslaved, but they are all cruelties. I thought of all of this: the dignity they have and also how much they’ve suffered. Suffering is an inheritance. We say, … the first Fathers of the Church say, that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians. The Korean have planted a lot, a lot. For coherence, no? You now see the fruit of that planting, of the martyrs.

On North Korea, I know what is a sufferance. One, I know for sure, that there are some family members, many family members, who cannot reunite, and this is true. This is a suffering of that division of the nation. Today, in the cathedral, where I dressed in the adornments of the Mass, there was a gift they’ve given me, which was a crown of thorns of Christ made with the iron wire that divides the single Korea. We’ve got this on the airplane. It’s a gift I’m carrying. The suffering of the division, of a divided family [is terrible]. As I said yesterday ... we have a hope. The two Koreas are siblings, and they speak the same language. When you speak the same language, it’s because you have the same mother, and this gives us hope. The suffering of division is great, and I understand this, and I pray that it ends.


American journalist Phil Pulella, Reuters: I won’t stand up because if I do my colleagues from the televisions will kill me. An observation and a question: As an Italian-American, I wanted to compliment you on your English. You shouldn’t be afraid [to speak it]. And if, before you go to America, my homeland, you want to practice, I’m available.

(Pope inaudible, making faces about the difficulty of English pronunciation).

Whichever accent you want to use: New Yorker … I’m from New York, so I’m available.

So the question is this: You spoke about martyrdom. At what point are we in the process for the Bishop [Oscar] Romero? And what would you like to see come out of this process?


Pope Francis: The process was in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “blocked for prudence,” as they said. Now, it is unblocked and has passed to the Congregation for Saints; and it is following the normal path of a process. It depends on how the postulators move. That’s very important, to do it quickly. What I would like is that it’s clarified when there is a martyr in odium fidei (for the hatred of the faith), both for confessing the Creed and for doing works that Jesus commands with our neighbor. This is a work of the theologians, who are studying it. Because behind him is a long list, and there are others. There are others who were killed, but weren’t of the same height of Romero. We have to distinguish this theologically, no? For me, Romero is a man of God. He was a man of God. But we have to run the process, and the Lord has to give his sign there. But now the postulators have to move, because there are no impediments.


French journalist Celine Noyaux, La Croix: Seeing the war in Gaza, do you think the prayer for peace organized in the Vatican last June 8 was a failure?

Pope Francis: Thanks for the question. That prayer for peace, absolutely, was not a failure! First, the initiative didn’t come from me. The initiative to pray together came from the two presidents: the president of the state of Israel and the president of the state of Palestine. They made the restlessness present to me. Then we wanted to do it there, but we couldn’t find the right place, because of the political post of each one; it was very strong if we did it in one or another part. The nunciature was a neutral site, yes, but to get to the nunciature, the president of Palestine had to enter into Israel. The thing wasn’t easy. They said, "Well, let’s do it in the Vatican. We’ll go." These two men are men of peace. They are men who believe in God. They have lived so many nasty things, so many nasty things. They are convinced that the only path to resolve that situation is negotiation, dialogue, peace.

Your question now. Was it a failure? No, I think that the door is open. All four. With the representative, which is Bartholomew: I wanted him to be there as the head of the Orthodox, but the ecumenical patriarch of the Orthodox. I don’t want to use terms that aren’t appreciated by all of the Orthodox. As ecumenical patriarch, it was good that he was with us. But the door to prayer was opened. We said we needed to pray. It’s a gift; peace is a gift. It’s a gift that is merited through our work, but it’s a gift. And to say to humanity that, also, [along] the path of dialogue, which is important ... there is prayer. It’s true; after this, what happened has happened. But this is given by circumstances.  That encounter wasn’t given by circumstances. It’s a fundamental step of the human being: prayer. Now, the smoke of the bombs of the wars don’t allow us to see the door, but the door is still open from that moment. As I believe in God, I believe that God is watching that door and all who pray and ask that he help us. I like that question. Thanks for having posed it. Thanks.


Father Federico Lombardi: Holy Father, thanks a lot. I think you’ve done more than an hour of conversation, also with us; and now it’s just (time) that you go relax a bit with the end of the voyage. Anyway, we know that, on this trip, you’ll probably go on to (visit) Our Lady.

Pope Francis: From the airport, I’m going to Our Lady [at St. Mary Major]. It’s a nice thing. I asked Dr. Giani (the head of the Vatican’s police) to bring roses from Korea with the colors of Korea; but then, outside the nunciature, a little girl came with a bouquet of flowers. And we said, "Why don’t we take these flowers from a girl from Korea?" (to Mary). That’s what we’ll do. From the airport, we’ll go to pray a bit there, and then onwards to home.