· Vatican City ·

With the journalists

In search of Europe’s roots

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17 September 2021

On Wednesday afternoon, 15 September, on his return flight from Bratislava to Rome, Pope Francis met with the journalists onboard and conversed with them, answering some of their questions. The interview was introduced by Matteo Bruni, Director of the Holy See Press Office, who thanked the Pontiff for these days, which began with the Adoration of the Eucharist in Budapest and ended with a joint celebration and prayer on Wednesday morning in Šaštín. In between these two moments, he said, were many images, words and encounters and it is beautiful that we were able to return to meeting in person. Also beautiful, Bruni continued, was the participation and joy of the People of God throughout these days. The following is the English text of the in-flight interview.

(István Károly Kuzmányi of Magyar Kurír): Holy Father, thank you for your visit to Budapest where you quoted the venerable Cardinal József Mindszenty who said, “If there are one million Hungarians praying, I am not afraid of the future...” So, here is my question: Why did you decide, after 21 years, to participate as Pope in the International Eucharistic Congress, beginning with this event? How do you view Christianity in Europe, and what do you think we can do, we Hungarians, about this? Thank you.

Well, thank you, thank you very much. At the beginning, it was not clear: “But is he only coming for the ceremony, and is he not going to visit us Hungarians?”. And some people thought badly. No: I explained that a visit to Slovakia had already been planned — it was in mind — and the other began after. But I promised your President whom I met — this is the third time I have met him — I promised to see whether it will be possible to come back next year or the following one because the Hungarians have so many values. I was struck, for example, by the sense of ecumenism that you have, with a deep, deep, deep profundity. This is what hit me. In general, Europe — I always say this — must reassume the dreams of the founding fathers of the European Union. The European Union, let us say, is not a gathering to get things done, it is a highly spiritual fact... there is a spirit behind the EU that Schuman, Adenauer, De Gasperi, these great men, dreamed of: go back there. Because there is a danger: that the European Union becomes just a management office, and that is not good. It must move precisely toward mysticism, [towards the spirit] in search of Europe’s roots and bring them forward. And I think all countries must move forward. It is true that some interests, perhaps not European ones, attempt to use the European Union for ideological colonization, and this is not good. No: the European Union must be independent in and of itself, and all the countries on the same level, inspired by the dream of its Great Founders. This is my idea. And you Hungarians: I was with you last year [editor: 2 years ago] in Transylvania. That Mass in Hungarian was beautiful.

(Bohumil Petrik Dennik of Standard with RTVS): Vaccination has divided Christians, even in Slovakia. You say that it is an act of love to get vaccinated. So when someone does not vaccinated, what would you call that? Because some believers even felt they were being discriminated against. There are different approaches in different Dioceses on this issue. Even prior to your visit, only those who had been vaccinated could come to your papal events, then it changed and even those with a negative Covid test could attend. And so on. And therefore we all want to know? How can we meet? How do we reconcile on this issue?

This is important. It is a bit strange, because humanity has a friendly history with vaccines: we as children, even the measles, the other one for polio... all children were vaccinated and no one said “boo”. Here this happened. Perhaps it came about because of the virulence and the uncertainty, not only about the pandemic, but also about the diversity of vaccines, and also because of the reputation of some vaccines: that they are not suitable or are little more than distilled water. This has created fear in people. Then, there are others who say they are dangerous because the virus enters into you with the vaccine, and so many arguments that have created this division. Even in the College of Cardinals, there are some ‘deniers’ — and one of them, poor man, is hospitalized with the virus. The irony of life. Yes, I don’t know how to explain it well: some say it’s because of the difference of where the vaccines come from, that there has not been sufficient testing, and they are afraid. But we have to be clear, to clarify and to speak about this with serenity. In the Vatican, all are vaccinated, except for a small group that is under study to know how to help them.

(Daniel Verdú Palay of El Pais): Good afternoon, Your Holiness. How are you? On Sunday morning you met with Prime minister, Viktor Mihály Orbán; some of your differences on themes such as migrants, Europe, nationalism are well known or can be understood. We wanted to ask you and to know how the meeting went, whether you touched on the topic of migrants, which will now become very important again with the crisis in Afghanistan, and what you think about the laws that he has enacted concerning homosexuals. We are asking you also because we think that you asked him not to let Christian Hungary die. But listening to your discourses these past days, it would seem that there are at times these policies that kill Christian values.

Very well. I was visited, because the President came to me, he had this courtesy, this kindness, he came — it is the third time I’ve met him — he came with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Minister, there were the three of them. But the President spoke. The first topic was ecology. Truly, hats off to you Hungarians for the ecological conscience you have. Impressive. He explained how they purify the rivers …, many things that I didn’t know! This was the main thing. Then I asked about the average age, because I am concerned about the demographic winter. In Italy, if I’m not mistaken, the average age is 47, and I think in Spain it is even worse. Many villages are empty or with a dozen elderly people… It is a serious concern. How can it be resolved? And here, the president explained to me — always the president — he explained to me the law they have to help young couples marry and have children. It is interesting. It is a law… I don’t know… somewhat similar to that of France, but more developed. Because of this, the French do not have the tragedy that Spain has or that we have [in Italy]. They explained this to me, and they both added something technical at that point, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Minister, about what this law is about. And then… what other things did they speak about? About immigration, nothing, no, it didn’t come up. Then we returned to ecology, too, and yes, the family, in the sense of what I had asked, and you can see that there are many young people, many children. But also in Slovakia: I was surprised, so many children and so many young couples, and this is a promise. Now the challenge is to find jobs so that they don’t go abroad, because if there are no jobs, they will go abroad to look for work. These were the things. The president spoke the whole time, and both ministers added some precise data. It was a good atmosphere. The meeting lasted long enough, I think 35-40 minutes.

(Gerard O’Connell of “American Magazine”): First, we are all happy that the surgery had a wonderful effect, that you are rejuvenated!

I was told about someone who wanted to have the operation, I don’t know who it was, I heard about them... But it wasn’t cosmetic!

(Gerard O’Connell): Holy Father, you have often said we are all sinners, and that the Eucharist is not a reward for the perfect but a medicine and food for the weak. As you know, in the United States, especially after the last elections, but also from 2004 on, there has been a discussion among the bishops about giving communion to politicians who have supported laws in favour of abortion and the woman’s right to choose. And as you know, there are bishops who want to deny communion to the president and others who hold high office. There are other bishops who are opposed, there are some bishops who say, “the Eucharist must not be used as a weapon”. My question, Father: What do you think about all this, and what do you advise the bishops? Then, a second question: As bishop, in all these years, have you publicly refused the Eucharist to anyone like this?

Pope Francis: No, I have never refused the Eucharist to anyone, to anyone. I don’t know if anyone who was in that condition came, but I never, never refused the Eucharist. And this already as a priest. Never. But I have never been aware of having a person like the one you describe in front of me, this is true. Simply, the only time I ever had a little… a nice thing, was when I went to celebrate Mass in a rest home and we were in the living room, and I said: “Whoever wants to receive Communion, raise your hand.” Everyone, the old men, the old women, everyone wanted Communion, and when I gave Communion to one lady, she took my hand and said to me, “Thank you, Father, thank you. I’m Jewish…” I said: “No… even what I gave you is Jewish, … go ahead”. This is the only strange thing, but the woman had communed first, she told me afterwards. No. Communion is not a reward for the perfect. . Let’s think of Port Royal, of the issue with Angélique Arnaud, of Jansenism: those who are perfect can receive Communion. Communion is a gift, a present; the presence of Jesus in his Church and in the community. This is the theology. Then, those who are not in the community cannot receive Communion, like this Jewish lady; but the Lord wanted to reward her without my knowledge. Why? Because they are out of the community — ex-comunitate — excommunicated they are called. It is a harsh term, but it means that they are not in the community, either because they do not belong to it, they are not baptised or because they were estranged for some reason.

Second the problem of abortion. Abortion is more than a problem. Abortion is homicide. Abortion... let’s not mince words: anyone who aborts, kills someone. Take any book on embryology, the ones the students in the faculty of medicine study. The third week after conception, at the third week, often before the mother herself is aware of it, all the organs are already there, everything, even the dna . Isn’t that a person? It is a human life, period. And this human life must be respected. This principle is so clear, and to those who cannot understand, I would ask two questions: Is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem? Scientifically, it is a human life. The second question: Is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem? I said this publicly to Jordi Évole when he did [the interview]… I said it the other day to cope [a Spanish Catholic radio station], I wanted to repeat it... And full stop. Don’t go on with strange questions. Scientifically it is a human life. Books teach us this. I ask: Is it right to do away with someone to solve a problem? This is why the Church is so harsh on this issue, because if she accepts this, it would be like accepting daily murder. A head of state told me that the decline in population started with them, there is an age gap, because in those years there was such a strong law on abortion that they did six million abortions, it is calculated, and this left a sharp decline in the society of that country. Now let’s get to that person who is not in the community, who cannot receive communion because they are outside the community, and this is not a punishment. No, you are outside. Communion is uniting yourself to the community. The problem is not theological, which is this simple thing. The problem is pastoral: How do we bishops apply this principle pastorally. And if we look at the history of the Church, we will see that every time the bishops have dealt with a problem not as pastors, they took sides on political life, on a political problem. In order not to handle a problem well, they took sides on a political front. Let us think of the night of Saint Bartholomew’s: “Heretics! Yes, heresy is exceptionally grave, let’s cut all their throats”! No, it’s a political matter. Let us think of Joan of Arc, about this vision, let us think of the witch-hunt… always. Let us think of Campo de’ Fiori, of Savonarola, of all these people. When the Church, in order to defend a principle, does so in an unpastoral manner, it acts on a political level. And this has always been the case, just look at history. And what must the pastor do? Be a pastor. Be a pastor and not go around condemning, not condemning: Be a pastor. But is he a pastor of the excommunicated too? Yes, he is a pastor and must be a pastor with him, being a pastor with God’s style. And God’s style is closeness, compassion, and tenderness. The whole Bible says so. Closeness is already there in Deuteronomy, where He says to Israel: “Tell me, what people has the gods as close as you have me?” Closeness, compassion. The Lord who has compassion for us. Let us read Ezekiel, let us read Hosea. Tenderness is already there from the beginning. It is enough to look in the Gospels and the things of Jesus. A pastor who does not know how to act with God’s style slips and gets into many things that are not of a pastor. For me… I don’t want to get into particulars, since you spoke of the United States, because I don’t know the details well. I give the principle. You could say to me: “If you are close, you are tender, you are compassionate with a person, would you give the person Communion”? This is a hypothesis. Be a pastor, the pastor knows what he has to do at all times, but as a pastor. But if he goes beyond this pastoral dimension of the Church, he immediately becomes a politician. You will see this in all the denunciations, in all the non-pastoral condemnations the Church makes. With this principle, I think a pastor can operate well. The principles are taken from theology. Pastoral ministry is theology and the Holy Spirit who is leading you to act with the style of God. I would venture to speak up to this point. If you say to me: Can one give or can one not give it? It is casuistry, that is for the theologians to say. Do you remember the storm that was whipped up with Amoris Laetitia, when that chapter on the accompaniment of separated couples and the divorced came out? “Heresy, heresy!”. Thanks be to God that Cardinal Schönborn, who is a great theologian, was there and he clarified things. But always this condemnation, condemnation… Enough with the excommunication, please let’s not make any more excommunications. Poor people, they are children of God, they are temporarily outside, but they are children of God and they want and need our pastoral closeness. Then the pastor resolves things as the Spirit tells him.

(Stefano Maria Paci of Sky Tg 24): Good day, Holy Father. Knowing you, I think you will consider this message I am about to give you as a type of gift. Knowing that I would be travelling with you, she asked me to give this to you. Edith Bruck, the Jewish writer deported to Auschwitz when she was 13 years old, this year’s winner of the Strega Giovani Award, sent it to me yesterday evening. And you, quite unusually, went to her home in the centre of Rome to meet her. It is a long message signed, “Your Sister Edith,” in which she thanks you for your repeated appeals and acts against anti-Semitism on this trip. The first words are: “Beloved Pope Francis, your words about anti-Semitism, which was never eradicated, are today more relevant than ever, not only in the countries you are visiting, but in all of Europe.”

This is true. Anti-Semitism is fashionable nowadays, it is rising up again. It is an ugly, ugly, ugly thing.

(Stefano Maria Paci): And the question is about the family. You spoke about it with the Hungarian authorities, you repeated it yesterday in the meeting with young people. And just yesterday, news arrived from Strasbourg of a resolution from the European Parliament that invites Member States to recognize homosexual marriage and related parental relationships. Holy Father, what is your thought on this?

I have spoken clearly about this. Marriage is a sacrament. Marriage is a sacrament. The Church does not have the power to change the sacraments as the Lord instituted them. These are laws that are trying to assist the situations of many people who have a different sexual orientation. And this is important, that people be helped. But without imposing things that, by their nature, are not acceptable in the Church. But if they want to lead a life together, a homosexual couple, the States have the possibility, civilly, to support them, to give them security regarding inheritance, healthcare… The French have a law about this, not only for homosexuals, but for all people who want to associate themselves together. But marriage is marriage. This does not mean condemning people who are like that, no, please, they are our brothers and sisters. We have to accompany them. But marriage as a sacrament is clear, it’s clear. That there should be civil laws that… Three widows, for example, who want to join together in law in order to have health services, to have a bit of inheritance among themselves, these things are done. This is the French PACS [editor: civil solidarity pact] but it has nothing to do with homosexual couples; homosexual couples can use it, they can use it, but matrimony as a sacrament is man and woman. Sometimes, confusion arises regarding what I was saying. Yes, we must — everyone is equal — respect everyone: The Lord is good and will save everyone. Don’t say this out loud [laughs], but the Lord desires the salvation of all. But please do not make the Church deny her truth. Many, many people with a homosexual orientation draw near to the sacrament of penance, and approach to seek the counsel of priests; and the Church helps them move forward in their own lives, but the sacrament of marriage does not apply. Thank you.

(Matteo Bruni): Thank you Holy Father ....

And thanks to all of you! Do you want [to know] something beautiful about one of you. I leave this as a fioretto [a small gift] before taking my leave. It is said that this journalist is available 24 hours a day for work and that she always lets others go first, she goes afterwards, and that she always gives the floor to others and remains silent. It is beautiful, that they say this about a journalist, and this is what Manuel Beltran says about our Eva Fernandez. Thank you!