Full Transcript of Pope’s Interview In-Flight to Manila

Pope Francis discussed his trip, his recent canonizations, the upcoming encyclical on ecology and reasonable limits to freedom of expression.

Pope Francis speaks with journalists aboard the plane to Manila on Jan. 15.
Pope Francis speaks with journalists aboard the plane to Manila on Jan. 15. (photo: Alan Holdren/CNA)

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Speaking to journalists aboard the Jan. 15 flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, Pope Francis discussed his trip, his recent canonizations, the upcoming encyclical on ecology and reasonable limits to freedom of expression.

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

Father Lombardi: Holy Father, welcome, and thanks for being here with us in this intermediate voyage. As you see, we are all ready to listen to your words. Compliments for the first part of the trip, which was accomplished so brilliantly. Now, we will ask you a number of questions, as usual. When you are tired and want to stop, you will tell us, and go. Are you already tired? (laughs). To start with, I know that there is something very close to your heart that you wish to say to us regarding the significance of this canonization of St. Joseph Vaz. Please tell us right away, so that we can receive this important message. Then we will go to the questions. We have various people already on the list.

Pope Francis: First of all, good morning. ... It’s true, I did receive the image of the Madonna of Lujan. Many thanks.

These canonizations were carried with a methodology called — it is previewed by Church law — equipollent in Church law. It is called equipollent canonization. That is, it is used when, over many years, a man or a woman is blessed and is venerated by the people of God; and, in practice, this person is venerated as a saint. Thus, the miracle process is not carried out. These are people who, for centuries, perhaps, are in this way [witnesses of holiness]. For this reason, I carried out a process that I inherited: (first) Angela of Foligno … and then I chose to do this with people who were great evangelizers (men and women). That is, first Peter Faber, who was an evangelizer of Europe. You can say he died in the street. He traveled while evangelizing, at 40 years of age.

And then evangelizers of Canada: Francisco della Valle, Maria of the Incarnation. These two were practically the founders of the Church in Canada, he as a bishop and she as a nun, with all the apostolates they performed there.

The other [was] Joseph Anchieta in Brazil, the founder of Sao Paolo, who had been blessed for a very long time. A saint, Joseph Vaz, here, as the evangelizer of Sri Lanka. Now, in September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States. He was the evangelizer of the West in the United States. These are people who did a lot of evangelization and who are in line with the spirituality and theology of Evangelii Gaudium; that is the reason why I chose them.


Gerry O’Connell (America): First of all, Holy Father, I agree with Father Lombardi: compliments for the success of the visit to Sri Lanka. My question is on behalf of the English group. We agreed on a “bridge question,” which links the visit to Sri Lanka with the visit to Philippines. We have seen in Sri Lanka the beauty of nature, but even in the end, the vulnerability of that island to climate change, etc. We are going to the Philippines; you are going to visit the (hurricane)-stricken area. It is more than one year that you are studying the issue of ecology, of the cure of creation, etc. My question has three aspects: First: Is climate change an outcome of the work of man, of man’s lack of care of nature? Second: When will your encyclical be released? Third: You insist — as we have seen in Sri Lanka — very much on cooperation among religions. Are you going to invite other religions to gather together to discuss this issue? Thank you.

Pope Francis: The first question: You had said a word that requires a clarification: mostly. I don’t know if it’s all, but mostly, for a large part. Man “slaps” nature, continually, but we have taken hold of nature, of Mother Earth. I remember — you already heard this — what an old peasant once told me: God always forgives; we men sometimes forgive; nature never forgives. If you slap it, it will always slap you back. Then, we exploited nature too much, with deforestations, for example. I remember (the 2007 meeting of Latin American bishops at) Aparecida; at that time, I did not understand this issue so much; when I listened to Brazilian bishops speaking about the deforestation of the Amazon, I never understood it in depth. The Amazon is the lung of the world. Five years ago, with a human-rights commission, I appealed to the Supreme Court of Argentina to stop, at least temporarily, a terrible deforestation in Northern Argentina, in the Norte de Salta area. This is one issue.

Then — I will say another one — the one-crop system — I will give two or three (examples): Farmers know that if you make a cultivation of corn for three years, you have to stop and then cultivate a different crop for one or two years, in order — I don’t know how to say it, nitrogenizar is the Spanish word for it — to regenerate the soil. Nowadays, for instance, there is the exclusive cultivation of soy; you take everything; you make soy until the soil is exhausted. Not everyone does it. It is an example; many others don’t.

I think that man has gone overboard. Thank God, today there are voices and many people speaking out about this. But I would like in this moment to remember my beloved brother (Patriarch) Bartholomew, who has been speaking out about this for years. I read many things of his to prepare this encyclical. I can speak again about that, but I don’t want to be too long. Because (Romano) Guardini — I add just this — has one word that already says enough ... “The second way of culture is the bad one, the first is the culture we receive with creation, but when you seize of too much and you go beyond, that culture goes against you. … Just think about Hiroshima — and so an in-culture is established; that is the second one.”

The encyclical: The first draft was sketched by Cardinal Turkson with his staff; then I took over the draft with the help of some people and worked on it. Then I made a third draft with some theologians, and I sent this draft to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to the second section of the Secretariat of State and to the theologian of the pontifical household, so that they could study it and find if I had said some foolishness. Three weeks ago, I received the responses, some of them this big, but all of them constructive. Now, I will take a whole week in March to complete it, so, at the end of March, it should be completed and will then be translated. I think that, if the work of translation goes well — Msgr. Becciu is listening to me; he has to help in this — if it goes well, in June or July, it will be released. It is just important that there is some time between the release of the encyclical and the meeting in Paris (on climate change), so that it may be brought there; because the meeting in Peru was not that much: It disappointed me, the lack of courage; they stopped at one point; let’s hope that, in Paris, representatives will be more courageous.

The third (question): I believe that dialogue among religions is important; this issue is felt by other religions as well. On this issue, there is a common feeling. I have spoken with some representatives of other religions on the issue, and I know that Cardinal Turkson has as well, and two theologians also; this was the path: It will not be a common declaration; meetings will come after.


Pia, Filipino journalist: Holy Father, the Philippines will be very, very happy to welcome you in a few hours. My question is: What is your message to those thousands of people who did not and will not be able to meet you in person, even if they wanted to? I am sorry I cannot speak Italian.

Pope Francis: My response to this question risks being overly simple. I will say a word: The central message of this trip will be the poor, the poor who want to carry on; the poor who suffered from Typhoon Yolanda and who are still suffering the consequences; the poor who have faith and hope; the people of God; the poor, even the exploited poor; those who suffer many injustices, material, spiritual and existential. I’ll think of them when I’m in the Philippines. The other day, in our house, in Santa Marta, there was a celebration of the Nativity by Eastern Churches. There were some Ethiopians and also Filipinos there. And they had a party; the Ethiopians invited all the employees (there were about 50 of them) for lunch. I stayed with them, and I looked at the Filipino employees, how they left their country to look for a better life, leaving behind mother, father and children. The poor will be the focus [of my trip].


Juan Vicente Boo (ABC): Holy Father, first of all, I must say that, for someone who is tired, you look well. I want to ask you, on behalf of the Spanish group, about the history of Sri Lanka and contemporary history. During the years of the war in Sri Lanka, there were more than 300 suicide attacks, by men, women and young boys and girls. Now, we are seeing suicide attacks on the part of young men and women and even children. What do you think of this method of waging war?

Pope Francis: Maybe I am being disrespectful, but I feel that, behind every suicide attack, there is something unbalanced, a lack of human equilibrium. I am not sure if it is mental, but it is human. Something that is wrong with that person, who does not have true equilibrium regarding the meaning of his own life and that of others. He fights, he gives his life, but he does not give it well. Many people who work — for example, missionaries — give their lives, but to build. Here, life is given to self-destruct and to destroy. There is something not right, no? I advised on a thesis on Japanese kamikaze pilots written by an Alitalia pilot. I checked the part about methodology, but it is not understandable. This is not something that happens only in the East. There are investigations going on right now on a proposal that arrived during the Second World War in Italy, a proposal to the fascists in Italy. There is no proof, but there is an investigation; there is something there that is very connected to totalitarian systems. It is very linked. The totalitarian system kills, if not life, then possibilities, kills the future, many things. This problem is not over, and it is not only a problem in the East. It is important. I cannot really say anything else. The use of children: Children are exploited for many things. They are exploited for work, as slaves, also sexually abused. Some years ago, with some members of the Argentine senate, we wanted to run a campaign in the most important hotels to publicly say that children must not be exploited to serve tourists, but we could not do it. There are hidden resistances. I don’t know whether these things are faced or not; it was a preventive measure. Then, other things: When I was in Germany and saw newspapers, I read about tourism in Southeast Asia, and there was sex tourism, and there were children ... children are exploited. The slave work of children is terrible; they are exploited for this, too. I can’t say more.


Ignazio Ingrao (Panorama): Your Holiness, there is much worry in the world for your safety. According to Israeli and American security services, the Vatican may be even a target of Islamic terrorists. On fundamentalist websites, the Muslim flag has been depicted flying from St. Peter’s. There are worries for your security when you go abroad. We know that you don’t want to lose contact with the people. At this point, is it necessary to change something in your behavior, in your plans? Is there also fear for the security of the faithful who take part in your celebrations? Are you worried about this? And more in general, what is the best way to respond to this threat of fundamentalist Muslims?

Pope Francis: The best way to respond is always meekness — being meek, humble. Like bread, no? Without being aggressive; I feel this way. There are some who do not understand this. And I am concerned for the faithful, truly. I have spoken with Vatican security about this: Here, on the flight, there is (the chief of Vatican police) Mr. Giani, who is charged with solving this; he is updated about this problem. This concerns me, no? It concerns me enough. I have fear, but I you know I have a defect, a good dose of unawareness. I am unaware of these things [in terms of specifics].

Sometimes I ask myself: What if it happened to me? I have said to the Lord, “I only want to ask you one grace: Don’t let me come to harm, because I am not courageous in the face of pain. I am very, very fearful.” … But they can take security measures that are prudent, but secure. Then, we will see.


Christoph (Germany): Holy Father, good morning. Could you tell us about your time at the Buddhist temple yesterday, which was a big surprise? What was your motivation for such a spontaneous visit? And, then, are you inspired by this religion? We know that Christian missionaries had the conviction until the 20th century that Buddhism was fake and a religion of the devil. The third (question): What could be the relevance of Buddhism for the future of Asia?

Pope Francis: How was the visit, and why did I go? The head of this Buddhist temple was able to get himself invited by the government to go to the airport, and there — he is a very good friend of Cardinal Ranjith — he greeted me and asked me to visit the temple; also, he told Ranjith to take me there. And then, speaking with the cardinal — there was a bit of time, because when I arrived I had to cancel the meeting with the bishops because I wasn’t feeling well, I was tired from the 29 kilometers of greeting people. I was worn out. And there wasn’t time; and yesterday, returning from Madhu, there was the possibility, and we called and went. In that temple, there are the relics of some disciples of Buddha, of two of them. They are very important to them, and these relics were in England, and they were able to have them given back. This is how: He came to visit me at the airport, and I went to visit him at his home.

Yesterday, I saw something that I would have never imagined in Madhu. They weren’t all Catholics, not even the majority. There were Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and all of them go there to pray, and they say that they receive graces. There is in the people, who never err, something that unites them; and if they are so naturally united so as to go together and pray in a church, which is Christian, but it is more than Christian, because everyone wants it, how could I not go to the temple of the Buddhists to greet them? And this testimony yesterday in Madhu was very important. It makes us understand the sense of interreligiosity that is lived in Sri Lanka, respect among them. There are fundamentalist groups, but they are not with the people. They are ideological elites, but they are not with the people.

Then, (the question) that they will go to hell: But people said the same of Protestants when I was a child. At that time, 70 years ago, all of the Protestants were going to hell, all of them — that’s what we were told. But then, I remember the first experience I had of ecumenism. And I told this the other day to the heads of the Salvation Army. I was 4 or 5 years old, but I remember, and I can still see it: I remember I was walking down the street with my grandma, hand-in-hand, and on the other sidewalk, two women from the Salvation Army were coming down the street with those big hats on that they used to wear with the ribbon. It was a special thing, but, now, they don’t wear them anymore. I asked my grandma if they were sisters. And she told me this: “No, they are Protestants, but they are good people." That was the first time that I heard someone speak well of someone from another religion, of Protestants. At that time, in catechesis, they told us that everyone [who was not Catholic] was going to hell. But I think that the Church has grown so much in its awareness, in respect — as I told them in the religious meeting there in Colombo — in values. When we read what the Second Vatican Council says to us about the values in the other religions, the respect of the Church has grown a lot in this respect, no? And, yes, there are dark times in the history of the Church. We need to say so without embarrassment, because we are on a path of continuous conversion, always from sin to grace. And this interreligiosity as brothers, always respecting each other, is a grace.


Sebastien Maynard (La Croix): Holy Father, yesterday during Mass, you spoke about religious liberty as a fundamental human right. With respect to other religions, how far can the freedom of expression extend, since this latter is a fundamental human right, too?

Pope Francis: Thanks for the question. That is smart; it is good. I think that both are fundamental human rights: religious liberty and liberty of expression. You can’t … Let’s think. Are you French? Let’s go to Paris. Let’s speak clearly. You cannot hide a truth. Everyone has the right to practice his religion, his own religion without offending, freely. And that’s what we do, what we all want to do.

Secondly, you cannot offend or make war, kill in the name of your religion, in the name of God. What has happened now astonishes us. But always, let’s think to our history: how many religious wars we have had. Think of St. Bartholomew’s night (editor’s note: when Catholics massacred Huguenots during the French wars of religion in 1572). How can we understand this? Also, we were sinners in this. But you cannot kill in the name of God. This is an aberration. Killing in the name of God is an aberration against God. I think this is the main thing, with freedom of religion. You can practice with freedom without offending, but without imposing or killing.

The freedom of expression: Every one of us has not just the freedom, the right, but also the obligation, to say what he thinks to help build the common good; the obligation. If we think of a congressman, a senator, if he doesn’t say what he thinks is the true path, he doesn’t collaborate in the common good. We have the obligation to freely have this liberty, but without offending. It’s true that you cannot react violently. But, if Dr. Gasbarri, my great friend, says something against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke; you cannot insult the faith of others; you cannot make fun of the faith.

Pope Benedict, in a speech, I don’t remember which, he spoke of this post-positivist mentality, of the post-positivist metaphysics that brought people to believe that religions or religious expressions are a type of lower culture: that they are tolerated, but that there’s not much to them, that they are not part of an enlightened culture. And this is a lecacy of the Enlightenment. So many people speak against others’ religions. They make fun of them. Let’s say they “giocatalizzano” (make a playing out of) the religion of others. But they are provoking, and what can happen is what I said about Dr. Gasbarri if he says something about my mother. There is a limit. Every religion has dignity; I cannot mock a religion that respects human life and the human person. And this is a limit. I’ve used this example of the limit to say that, in the freedom of expression, there are limits, like the example I gave of my mother. I don’t know if I was able to respond to the question. Thanks.


Josh McElwee: Holy Father, thanks again for the time. You have spoken many times against religious extremism. Do you have some concrete idea for how to involve other religious leaders to combat this problem, maybe a meeting in Assisi, like Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had?

Pope Francis: Thanks. This proposal has already been made. I know that some are working on this. And I have spoken with Cardinal Tauran, who is in the interreligious dialogue, and he is aware of it. I know that the attitude [of interreligious dialogue is there] — but it does not only come from us; it comes from the others more; it comes from the other religions of the area. I don’t know how, if something is being organized, yet.


Ludmila Avaros, Filipino journalist: Your Holiness, you have made a call for truth and reconlication in Sri Lanka. Would you support a commission for truth in Sri Lanka and in other nations with internal conflicts?

Pope Francis: I don’t really know what these commissions are like in Sri Lanka. I know the one in Argentina, in its time, after the military dictatorship. I supported that one; it was on the right path. I can’t speak concretely (about other commissions), because I really don’t know them in concrete terms, but, yes, I support efforts to find the truth, balance efforts; not those in search of vindication, but balanced efforts to help to reach an agreement.

I heard something from the president of Sri Lanka — I don’t want this to be interpreted as a political comment; it is only phenomenological: I repeat what I heard and I agree with. He said he wants to move ahead with the work of peace, reconciliation. Then he used another word: He said we must create harmony in the people. That’s something more than peace, more than reconciliation, and it’s beautiful; it’s musical, too. Then he used another word: He said harmony brings happiness and joy. I was amazed. I said: "I like hearing this, but it’s not easy." He said, "Yes, we must touch people’s hearts." That’s what I thought of in answering your question: Only by touching the hearts of people who know what suffering is, what injustice is; who had suffered many things from war, so many things, [can peace come]. Only by touching hearts can people forgive, can we find the right path, without incorrect compromises to go forward. The commissions, investigations for the truth, are one element that can help, but we have to get to peace, reconciliation, harmony, happiness and joy. That’s what I wanted to say, but using the words of the president.


The Pope is given a portrait of St. Therese of Lisieux


Father Lombardi: Today, Ansa press agency, the main Italian press agency, celebrates its 70th anniversary. We have a journalist from Ansa always with us; today, Giovanna Chirri is here. May you greet Ansa for its 70th birthday?

Pope Francis: I came to know of Ansa for the first time when I first met Francesca Ambrogetti in Buenos Aires. Francesca was the president of the group of foreign journalists in Buenos Aires, and I got to know Ansa through her. Ansa in Buenos Aires was well represented. I wish you the best: 70 years is no joke — to persevere in service is a huge merit. I wish you always the best.

I have the habit, when I don’t know how things will go, of asking St. Therese Lisieux to help me and to show up in the shape of a rose. I asked for it for this trip, too: This time, she came to me in person. St. Therese of Lisieux came to visit me in person, thanks to Carolina.