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Progress in coexistence

· On the flight to Washington, the Pope encourages good relations between Cuba and the US ·

During the flight from Santiago to Washington, dc, at the end of his visit to Cuba, Pope Francis greeted the journalists on board and, after an introduction from Fr Federico Lombardi, sj, Director of the Holy See Press Office, he answered several questions. The following is a translation of the transcript of the interview which was given in Italian and Spanish.

Rosa Miriam Elizalde, from “Cubadebate”: I would like to know your opinion of the US embargo on Cuba and if you will speak about this before Congress.

The embargo is being negotiated. This has been made public: both Presidents have referred to it. Thus, it is public knowledge that the situation is moving toward the good relations that they are seeking to foster. My wish is that a good outcome be reached, that an agreement satisfactory to both parties be reached. An agreement. With respect to the position of the Holy See on embargoes, preceding popes have spoken about it, not just in this case, but also in other cases of embargo. The social doctrine of the Church covers this and I refer to it, because it is precise and correct. Regarding the Congress of the United States — I have written the address, but I can’t disclose it! — I am thinking of what I would like to say in that regard: but not about this specifically but in general on the subject of bilateral and multilateral accords, as a sign of progress in coexistence. However, this exact matter — I am going by memory, I wouldn’t want to speak nonsense — is not mentioned, almost certainly not.

Rosa Flores from cnn: We heard that more than 50 [political] protestors were looking to meet with you at the Nunciature but were stopped. Would you like to meet with these protestors? And were such an encounter to take place, what would you say to them?

First of all, I hadn’t heard about this: I did not know about it. One might say: yes, no, I don’t know.... I don’t know directly. Both of your questions are about future possibilities.... I would like that to happen. I like meeting all of the people, first, because I hold that all people are children of God, by right. Secondly, an encounter with any person is always enriching. Yes, I would like to meet with them. If you would like to speak more about protestors, I can say something much more practical. First of all, it’s clear that I would not have granted them an audience, because these protestors were not the only ones to request one. People from other groups did as well and so did various heads of state. No, I was visiting the Country and that’s all. An audience was not foreseen for protestors or anyone else. The Nunciature made calls to several people belonging to this group of protestors.... It was the Nuncio’s task to communicate to them that upon my arrival at the Cathedral to meet with consecrated, I would gladly greet anyone there. A greeting. This, yes, it’s true.... But no one came forward at the greeting, I don’t know if they were there or not. I greeted everyone who was there. I greeted the sick especially, those who were in wheelchairs.... But no one identified themselves as a protestor. The Nunciature, in fact, made several calls to invite them to the greeting....

Rosa Flores: But what would you say to them?

I don’t know what I would say to them.... I would say beautiful things to the world as a whole, but what one says depends on the moment.

Silvia Poggioli from National Public Radio: In the decades under Fidel Castro, the Catholic Church in Cuba suffered terribly. Did you, in your meeting with Fidel, sense that he might have repented a little?

Repentance is a very intimate thing, a matter of conscience. During the meeting with Fidel I spoke about stories of Jesuits he knew, because I gave him a book by Fr Llorente, a very good friend of his, a Jesuit, as well as a cd of Fr Llorente’s conferences; and I also gave him two books by Fr Pronzato which he will surely appreciate. We spoke about these things. We spoke a lot about the Encyclical Laudato Si’, as he is very interested in the subject of ecology. It was not a very formal meeting, but spontaneous; his family was present too, as was my entourage, my driver; though we were a little apart, he and his wife; and the others couldn’t hear though they were nearby. We spoke about these things. A lot about the encyclical, because he is very concerned about this. We did not speak about the past. Yes, the past: the college of Jesuits, about what the Jesuits were like, how they made him work, about all that, yes.

Gian Guido Vecchi from “Corriere della Sera”: On the eve of this trip several bizarre considerations emerged from groups in the us, who even questioned whether the Pope was Catholic.... There has already been talk about a “communist Pope”, but now: “is the Pope Catholic?”. What do you think about this?

A Cardinal friend of mine told me that a woman came to him, very worried: very Catholic, a little rigid, this lady, but a very, very good Catholic, and she asked him if it was true that in the Bible there is talk of an anti-christ. And he explained it to her. “It’s in Revelations, no?” And then, she asked if it were true that there is talk of an antipope.... “But why are you asking me this?”, the Cardinal asked. “Because I am sure that Pope Francis is the antipope”. “And why?,” he asked her, “where did you get this idea?”. “Eh, because he doesn’t wear red shoes!”. That’s how it is, in history... the causes for wondering whether one is a communist or not.... I am certain that I have not said anything beyond the Social Doctrine of the Church. On the other flight [the return flight from Latin America], one of your colleagues — I don’t know if he’s here, correct me — when I went to speak to Popular Movements, he said to me: “You have extended a hand to the Popular Movements — it was more or less this — but will the Church follow you?”. And I said: “It is I who am following the Church”, and in this I don’t believe I am mistaken, I don’t believe I have said anything that isn’t the Social Teaching of the Church. One can explain things. Maybe an explanation gave the impression of leaning a little to the “left”, but that would be an erroneous interpretation. No. My teaching on all of this, on Laudato Si’, on economic imperialism and all that, is from the Church’s Social Doctrine. And if it is necessary that I recite the “Creed”, I am ready to do it!

Jean-Louis de la Vaissiere from “France Presse”: During your last visit to Latin America you sternly criticized the liberal capitalist system. In Cuba it seems your criticisms of the communist system were not as severe: they seemed a little “soft”. Why the difference?

In the discourses I delivered in Cuba, I always referred to the Social Doctrine of the Church. The things that need to be corrected I stated clearly, that was not “sweet-smelling” or “soft”. But regarding the first part of your question: I didn’t say more than what I have already written in the Encyclical and in Evangelii Gaudium on unbridled or liberal capitalism: it is all written there. I don’t remember saying anything more than that. I don’t know, help me remember... I said what I wrote, that is enough! It’s enough, it’s enough. And then, it’s almost the same as what I said to your colleague: This is all in the Doctrine. But here in Cuba — this perhaps will shed some light on your question — the journey was a very pastoral visit to the Catholic community, to Christians, and to people of good will and that is why my speeches were homilies.... And to young people — both believers and nonbelievers or believers of other religions — it was an address of hope, of encouragement to dialogue with one another, to come together, to seek what unites us and not what divides us, to build bridges.... I used a more pastoral language. On the other hand, the Encyclical had to deal with more technical aspects, as well as these which you have mentioned. But if you remember something harsh that I said on the other visit tell me, because, honestly, I don’t remember.

Nelson Castro from Argentina’s “Radio Continental”: Why did you decide not to receive the protestors? Would the Catholic Church have a hand in the search for an opening to political freedom, considering the role that she played in the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States?

First of all: “them”; “not receiving them”. I didn’t receive anyone in a private audience. This went for everyone. There was even a head of state who had requested one.... I tell you: no, it had nothing to do with their being protestors. Interaction with the protestors went as I previously explained. The Church here, the Church in Cuba has worked out a list of prisoners for whom to seek a pardon.... Pardon has been granted to about 3,500.... That number was given to me by the President of the Bishops’ Conference: yes, more than three thousand. And there are still cases being studied. And the Church here in Cuba is working to secure pardons. For example, someone said to me: “It would be good to end life sentences, that is life in prison, all together”. Speaking candidly, a life-sentence is like a hidden death penalty. I said this publicly to European jurists. You are there, dying every day without the hope of liberation. It’s a hypothesis. Another would be that they grant a general pardon every year or two... But the Church is working, she has been working.... I am not saying that these three thousand were liberated from the Church’s lists, no. The Church made a list — I don’t know of how many persons — and she officially requested their pardon and she will continue to do so.

Rogelio Mora from “Telemundo”: A doctor visits the sick, not the healthy: in less than 20 years, three popes have visited Cuba. Is Cuba sick?

I don’t understand the question.

Rogelio Mora: If three popes have visited the island of Cuba in less than 20 years, can that be interpreted as if the island were suffering from some kind of disease...

Now I understand.... No, no. The first was John Paul ii: that first historic visit. But that was normal: he visited so many countries, including countries hostile to the Church. The second was Pope Benedict: good, it was part of that normality.... And mine was a little coincidental, because I had considered entering the United States through Mexico; initially, the first idea was Ciudad Juarez, on the Mexican border.... But to go to Mexico without visiting the “Guadalupana” [Our Lady of Guadalupe] would be a slap in the face! But that is a thing of the past.... Then, with the announcement made last 17 December, when it was still more or less confidential, the process took almost a year.... And so I said: I want to go to the United States through Cuba. And chose to do so for this reason. However, not because it has a special disease that other countries don’t have. I wouldn’t interpret the three visits that way. There are different countries that the previous two popes visited, I too have visited them: for example Brazil, John Paul ii went there three or four times and it didn’t have a “special” disease. I am glad to have met the Cuban people, the Christian community of Cuba. Today the meeting with families was very beautiful. It was very beautiful.

I thank you for the work that awaits you, which will be challenging, because three cities... There were 24 addresses, and in Cuba I have given 8.... Thank you so much for your work. And pray for me!

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