The following are excerpts of an interview Pope Francis granted to the Catholic Belgian weekly, “Tertio”; the interview was published on 28 February. The Pope answered questions on numerous themes, including: the Second Vatican Council, the current synodal process, the war in Ukraine and the world’s forgotten conflicts. The Pope called especially for a new model of economic development that leaves no one behind.
“Tertio” first had the privilege of conducting an extensive interview with Pope Francis on 17 November 2016. The reasons for that interview had to do with the centenary of the First World War and the terrorist attacks on Paris in November 2015 and Brussels on 22 March 2016. Six years later, “Tertio” felt the time was right to request another interview, this time on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Pope Francis’ Pontificate on 13 March 2023. The new interview took place on Monday, 19 December 2022, two days after his 86th birthday and the day after Argentina’s football victory in the World Cup. The Holy Father was offered best wishes for both celebrations.
A common thread for understanding your pontificate is the Second Vatican Council. Why is the ongoing implementation of the Council so close to your heart? What is at stake?
Historians say it takes a century for the decisions of a Council to have full effect and be implemented. We still have 40 years to go.... The Council was one of those experiences that God accomplishes in history through holy people. Perhaps when John xxiii called the Council, no one realized what would happen. They say that he himself thought it would have been over in a month, but a cardinal told him instead, “Start buying furniture and everything else, because it will take years”. John xxiii took that into account. He was a man open to the Lord’s appeals. That is how God speaks to His people. And there he actually spoke to us. The Council did not only mark a renewal of the Church. It was not just a matter of renewal, but also a call to make the Church more and more alive. The Council does not renew, it rejuvenates the Church. The Church is a mother always going forward. The Council opened the door to greater maturity, more in tune with the signs of the times. Lumen Gentium, for example, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, is one of the most traditional and at the same time most modern documents, because in the structure of the Church, the traditional — when properly understood — is always modern. This is because tradition continues to develop and grow ...
The continued implementation and fulfillment of the Council includes encouraging synodality. What does this really mean?
There is one point we must not overlook. At the end of the Council, Paul vi was very impressed to note that the western church had almost lost its synodal dimension, while the eastern Catholic churches knew how to preserve it. He then announced the creation of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in order to promote synodality in the Church again. Over the past sixty years, this has developed more and more. Gradually some matters have been clarified. For example, whether only bishops had the right to vote. Sometimes it was not clear if women could vote ... In the most recent synod on the Amazon in October 2019, there was a maturation in that sense ... now we are here and we must go forward. That’s what we do through the current synodal process, and the two synods on synodality will help us clarify the meaning and method of the process of decision-making in the Church.
In our last interview in 2016, you recalled the third world war being fought piecemeal. Today the situation has not improved, indeed it has worsened with even more wars like the one in Ukraine. What role can the Vatican diplomacy play?
The Vatican has taken this conflict to heart from the first day. The day after the beginning of the invasion, I personally went to the Russian embassy. Something that had never been done by a Pope… I even expressed my willingness to go to Moscow and do something so that the conflict would not continue. From its start to today, the Vatican has always been at the centre of the action. Various cardinals have already been to Ukraine… At the same time, we do not stop talking to the Russian people to do something. This war is terrible, an immense atrocity. There are many mercenaries fighting there. Some of them are very cruel, very cruel. There is torture, children are tortured. Many children who are in Italy with their mothers, who are refugees, came to see me. I have never seen a Ukrainian child laugh. Why do these children not laugh? What have they seen? It is terrifying, truly terrifying.
These people are suffering, suffering due to the aggression. I am also in contact with various Ukrainians. President Volodymyr Zelensky has sent various delegations to speak with me. From here, we do what we can to help the people. But the suffering is enormous. I remember what my parents used to say to me: “War is madness”. We feel very involved in this war because it is happening close to us. But for years there have been wars in the world to which we do not pay attention: in Myanmar. In Syria — already 13 years of war — in Yemen where children have neither education nor bread, where they suffer from hunger… In other words: the world is de facto always at war. Regarding this, there is something that should be decried: it is the great arms industry. When a rich country begins to weaken, it is said that it needs a war to carry on and become stronger once again. And weapons prepare for this.
In our countries, with a decreasing clergy and fewer faithful, the leadership of the Church tends to focus on the liturgy and the proclamation. Should the Church not instead show her social and prophetic face if she wants to be relevant today?
They are not contradictory. Prayer, adoration and worship does not mean retreating into the sacristy. A Church that does not celebrate is not a Church. Neither is a Church that hides in the sacristy. Settling inside the sacristy is not a correct way to worship. The celebration of the Eucharist has consequences. There is the breaking of bread. This implies a social obligation, the obligation to take care of others. Prayer and commitment go hand in hand. The adoration of God and service to our brothers and sisters go hand in hand because we see Jesus Christ in each brother and sister.
The neo-liberal market model has reached its limitations. In what way does the “Economy of Francis” offer an alternative?
We have to have the courage to dream of economies that are not purely liberal… We need to be prudent with the economy: if it is too focused on finance alone, on simple numbers that have no true entities behind them, then the economy is reduced to dust and can lead to a serious betrayal. The economy has to be a social economy. To the expression “market economy” John Paul ii added “social”, a social market economy. We have to always bear in mind social issues. At this time, the economic crisis is undoubtedly serious, the crisis is terrible. The majority of people in the world — the majority — does not have enough to eat, it does not have enough to live on. Wealth is in the hands of a few people who lead large businesses, which are sometimes inclined to exploitation. The economy has to always be social, at the service of society.