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Even the sun weeps

· ​On the return flight from Lesvos the Pope shows journalists some of the drawings by young refugees ·

During the return flight after the visit to the island of Lesvos, early Saturday afternoon, 16 April, the Pope’s traditional press conference was introduced by Fr Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office. Fr Lombardi first read a statement regarding the Pontiff’s gesture of welcoming three families of Syrian refugees, all of whom are Muslim, and then the colloquy between Francis and the journalists commenced. The following is a translation of the questions and the transcript of the responses given by the Pope, who opened the dialogue with the following words: “First of all, I would like to thank you for this day of work, which was very intense for me, too intense... for you too, certainly. Please, Ms...”.

Inés San Martín, of the ‘Crux’ Catholic information website, asked in Spanish whether the agreement between the European Union and Turkey on the question of refugees in Greece was merely a political gesture. She then requested a comment on the morning’s brief encounter at Santa Marta with U.S. presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders.

No, first of all, there is no political speculation because I was not very familiar with these agreements between Turkey and Greece. I saw in the newspapers..., but this is something purely human [referring to the initiative of welcoming the three refugee families]. It is a humanitarian matter. It was the inspiration which actually came to one of my collaborators several weeks ago, and I immediately accepted, straight away, because I saw that the Spirit was speaking. Everything was done according to the norms: they have come with documents, the three governments — Vatican City State, the Italian government and the Greek government — everything, they have inspected everything, they have seen everything and they have granted the visas. They are welcomed by the Vatican: it will be the Vatican, with the cooperation of the Community of St Egidio, to find them a place to work, if there is, or to support them.... They are guests of the Vatican, and they are joining the two Syrian families who have already been welcomed in the two Vatican parishes. Secondly: this morning, when I went out, Senator Sanders, who had come to the conference of the Centesimus Annus Foundation, was there. He knew that I was going out at that time and he had the courtesy to greet me. I greeted him, I shook hands with him, his wife, and another couple that was with him, who were staying at Santa Marta, because all the members, except for the two president participants who, I believe, stayed at their embassies, all of them stayed at Santa Marta. And when I went down, he introduced himself, I greeted him, a handshake and nothing more. This is good manners; it is called good manners and not getting involved in politics. If anyone thinks that giving a greeting is getting involved in politics. I would suggest they find a psychiatrist! (he smiled)

Franca Giansoldati of ‘Il Messaggero’ then pointed out that the Pontiff often speaks of “welcoming” and less of “integration”. She then referred to the ghetto neighbourhoods of European cities, where Muslim immigrants most struggle to integrate. He asked why Francis gave preference to three entirely Muslim families.

I did not choose between Christians and Muslims. These three families had their papers in order, the correct documents, and it was possible to do it. There were, for example, two Christian families on the first list who did not have their papers in order. It is not a privilege. All twelve of them are children of God. The “privilege” is being children of God: this is true. Regarding integration: what you are saying is very intelligent. Thank you for saying it. You said a word that in our current culture seems to be forgotten, after the war.... Today there are ghettos. Some of the terrorists who have committed acts of terrorism — some — are children and grandchildren of people born in that country, in Europe. What happened? There was no policy of integration and to me this is fundamental; at that point which you see in the Post-Synodal Exhortation on the Family — this is another issue — one of the three pastoral dimensions for families in difficulty is integration in the life of the Church. Today, Europe must resume this capacity that it has always had, of integrating. Because nomads, the Normans and many peoples have come to Europe and it has integrated them and enriched its culture. I think that we need to learn and to educate in integration. Thank you.

Elena Pinardi, of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), asked whether with the reinforcements at the borders of European countries, the checks and the actual deployment of battalions could mean the end of the Schengen Agreement and of the European dream.

I don’t know. I understand the governments, and also the people, who have a certain fear. I understand this and we must feel a great responsibility to welcome. One aspects of that responsibility is this: how we can integrate these people and ourselves. I have always said that building walls is not a solution: we saw one fall in the last century. It resolves nothing. We must build bridges. But bridges are built intelligently, they are built with dialogue, with integration. This is why I understand a certain apprehension. But closing borders resolves nothing, because that closure in the long run harms its own people. Europe must promptly create policies of welcoming and integration, of growth, of employment, of economic reform.... All these things are bridges that will lead us not to build walls. I completely understand this fear; but after what I have seen — I am changing the subject, but I want to say it today — and what you too have seen, in that refugee camp.... it led to tears! The children... I brought with me to show you: the children gave me many drawings. One: what do the children want? Peace, because they are suffering. There are educational courses there, in the camp.... What those children have seen! Look at this: they also saw a little boy drown. The children have this in their heart! Truly, today led to tears. It led to tears. This boy from Afghanistan addressed the same theme: the boat that came from Afghanistan arriving in Greece. These children have this in their memory! It will take time to process this. This one: the sun is watching and weeping. But if the sun is able to weep, we too: a tear would do us good.

Fanny Carrier, of the ‘France Presse’ agency, asked why the Pope does not differentiate between migrants fleeing from war and those fleeing from hunger, and whether Europe can accept all of the poverty of the world.

It’s true. I said today in my speech: “some flee from war, others flee from hunger”. Both of these are the effects of exploitation.... A government leader from Africa told me, a month ago more or less, that the first decision of his government was to reforest, because the land had become barren after the exploitation of deforestation. Good work needs to be done regarding both. But some flee hunger and others war. I would invite arms traffickers — because weapons, up to a certain point, there are agreements, they are produced, but the dealers, those who traffic in order to wage wars in various places, for example in Syria: those who give weapons to the various groups — I would invite these traffickers to spend a day in that camp. I think this would be healthy for them!

Néstor Pongutá, of ‘W Radio Colombia’, asked whether the Pope’s feelings had changed between the time of his departure for Lesvos, when he had spoken of the sad journey, and the time of his return, marked by the reception of 12 refugees.

I shall plagiarize! I shall answer with a phrase that is not mine. The same question was asked of Mother Teresa: “Such effort, such work, only to help people to die.... What you are doing serves no purpose! The sea is great!”. She answered: “It is a drop of water in the sea! But after this drop the sea will not be the same!”. I respond like this. It is a small gesture. But those small gestures that we must do, everyone, men and women, to take the hand of those in need.

Joshua McElwee, of the weekly National Catholic Reporter, questioned the Pope on the economic policy of austerity.

The word austerity has a different meaning depending on which point of view you take: in economic terms it means a chapter of a plan; in political terms it means something else; in spiritual and Christian terms yet another. When I speak of austerity, I am speaking of austerity in comparison with waste. I heard it said at the FAO — I think it was in a meeting of the FAO — that with the waste of meals all the hunger in the world could be sated. And we, at home, how much waste, how much we waste without wanting to! This is the throw-away culture, that of waste. I speak of austerity in that sense, in the Christian sense. Let us stop here and live a little austerely.

Francisco Romero, of the television agency, Rome Reports, shifted focus to the crisis of immigrants arriving in the United States, from Mexico and throughout Latin America.

It’s the same! It is the same, because they arrive there fleeing from hunger, instead. It is the same problem. In Ciudad Juárez I celebrated Mass 100 metres, maybe less, from the fence. On the other side there were about 50 bishops from the United States and a stadium with 50 thousand people following the Mass on the jumbo screen; from there, in Mexico there was a camp full of people.... It is the same. The arrive in Mexico from Central America. Remember, two months ago, a conflict with Nicaragua because Nicaragua did not want refugees to pass through: it was resolved. They took them by airplane to the other country without passing through Nicaragua. It is a worldwide problem! I spoke about it there, to Mexican Bishops; I asked them to take care of the refugees.

Francis Rocca, of The Wall Street Journal, referred to the recent Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, asking whether there may be new concrete opportunities on the discipline for access to the sacraments with regard to remarried divorcés.

I could say “yes”, period. But it would be too small a response. I recommend that all of you read the presentation that was made by Cardinal Schönborn, a great theologian. He is a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and he knows the Doctrine of the Church very well. Your question will find its answer in that presentation. Thank you.

Jean-Marie Guénois, of the French daily ‘Le Figaro’, continued on the same subject, noting that it was addressed only in one annotation , n. 351, of ‘Amoris Laetitia’.

Listen, one of the recent Popes, speaking of the Council, said that there were two Councils: Vatican II, which was held in St Peter’s Basilica, and the other being the “Council of the media”. When I convoked the first Synod, the great preoccupation of most of the media was: Will remarried divorced people be able to receive communion? Since I am not a saint, this was somewhat annoying to me, and even a bit sad. Because I think: that half who says this, this and this, don’t they realize that it is not the important issue? Don’t they realize that the family, all over the world, is in crisis? And the family is at the foundation of society! Don’t they realize that young people don’t want to get married? Don’t they realize that the declining birth rate in Europe leads to tears. Don’t they realize that the shortage of jobs and employment opportunities lead fathers and mothers to take two jobs and the children grow up by themselves and do not learn to grow in dialogue with their dad and mom? These are the big issues! I do not remember that annotation, but surely if something of that nature is in a note it is because it was said in the Evangelii Gaudium. I don’t recall the number, but it is certainly there.

Thank you for your company. Truly I feel at ease with you. Thank you very much. Thank you for the company.

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