· On the Holy Father’s latest interview ·
What is immediately striking about Pope Francis' conversation with Eugenio Scalfari published in La Repubblica is the open and friendly tone of their exchange, their mutual desire to understand one another and the increasingly clear fact that the Pontiff does not hesitate to involve himself personally. “Can I embrace you over the telephone?” the founder of the Roman daily burst out. “Certainly, I’ll embrace you back. Later we can do so in person, goodbye,” Pope Francis’ replied in all simplicity. Their encounter was the result of a letter the Pontiff had sent to Scalfari and it helps us to understand still more deeply the heart of Pope Francis: “You have to know one another, listen to one another,” and, he adds, “it often happens that after one meeting I want to have another because new ideas emerge and new needs are discovered”. His attentiveness to people and their uniqueness is the characteristic about him which one immediately finds striking and attractive.
A mix of playful jokes about their mutual intent of conversion allowed the Pontiff an opportunity to broach the issue of proselytism: it makes no sense, because — as he wanted to remind catechists with the words of Benedict XVI — “the Church does not grow by proselytising; she grows by attracting others”, she is a “leaven that serves the common good”. In short, it is matter of witness, which every Christian should give, and which should shine forth from the Church as a whole. The Church is a minority, without a doubt, but also a transforming force.
“The ideal of a poor and missionary Church” animates the words of Pope Francis like a hidden fire; he unflinchingly answers Scalfari's questions and looks at the path of Christians throughout history, by speaking significantly about the saints — Paul, Augustine, Francis, Ignatius — and he repeats that our objective is “to listen to needs, desires, disappointments, desperations, hopes. We must restore hope to the young, help the old, open up to the future and spread love. To be poor among the poor. We must include the excluded and preach peace.”
These words recall — and for a reason — those at the beginning of the conciliar document on the Church in the contemporary world: “The joys and the hopes ( gaudium et spes ), the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.” Pope Francis looked to Vatican ii, “inspired by John XXIII and Paul VI”, because in its turn, as the Pontiff clearly states — the Council “decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture”.
These are not empty statements. They are the words of a man who in the interview defined himself not only as the Bishop of Rome but as “Pope of the Catholic world”. In the conversation he speaks in a personal way about himself, revealing the quiet insight that came to him after his election in the conclave and led him to accept it. It is this kind of “getting involved” that enables him to speak about the deepest realities: grace, the soul, God and the future, the things on which he has fixed his gaze. For “our species too will end, but the light of God will never end.”
St. Peter’s Square
Aug. 20, 2019
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