Pope Francis: ‘Three world wars in one century: be pacifists!’

By Vatican News, 7 November 2022
Pope Francis speaks with journalists on the return flight from his Apostolic Journey to Bahrain. Image: Vatican Media/Vatican News

 

During the flight bringing him back from Bahrain, Pope Francis speaks about Ukraine and the world’s many conflicts. He talks about his friendship with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, of the importance of ensuring rights and equality for women, on migration issues and against child abuse. To German Catholics he says: “Germany already has one great Evangelical Church, I wouldn’t want to see another one.”

Please find below the working transcript of Pope Francis’ conversation with journalists on the flight back from Bahrain.

Fatima Al Najem Bahrain News Agency: I would like to tell you something before I address my question to you. You have a very special place in my heart, not only because you visited my country but because you were elected Pope on my birthday. I have a question: How do you evaluate the results of your historic visit to the Kingdom of Bahrain and how do you evaluate the efforts Bahrain is making in consolidating and promoting communal living, in all spheres of society, of all religions, sexes, and races?

Pope Francis: It was a visit of encounter because the purpose was really to be in interfaith dialogue with Islam and in ecumenical dialogue with Bartholomew. The ideas put forward by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar were in the direction of seeking unity, unity within Islam, respecting nuances, and differences, but with unity; unity with Christians and with other religions. In order to enter into interreligious dialogue or ecumenical dialogue you need your own identity. ‘I am Muslim,’ ‘I am Christian,’ I have this identity and so I can speak with identity. When your identity is not defined, when it’s a little ‘airy’ it’s difficult to engage in dialogue because there’s no back and forth and that’s why it’s important. And these two [leaders] who came, both the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and Patriarch Bartholomew, have a powerful identity. And that is good.

From the Islamic point of view, I listened carefully to the three speeches of the Grand Imam and I was struck by the way he was so insistent on intra-Islamic dialogue, not to erase the differences but to understand each other and to work together, not to be against each other. We Christians have a bit of a bad history of differences that led us to religious wars: Catholics against Orthodox or against Lutherans. Now, thank God, after the Council, there is a closeness and we can dialogue and work together and that is important, a testimony of doing good to others. Then the specialists, the theologians will and can discuss theological things, but we have to walk together as believers, as friends, as brothers and sisters, doing good.

I was also impressed with the things that were said in the Council of Elders, about creation and the preservation of creation, and this is a common concern of everybody, Muslims, Christians, everybody. Now, the Vatican Secretary of State and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar are travelling from Bahrain to Cairo in the same plane, together as brothers. This is something that is quite moving. This is something that has done some good.

The presence of Patriarch Bartholomew – he is an authority in the ecumenical field – also did good. We saw that in the ecumenical service that we had, and also in the words that he pronounced earlier. To sum it up: It was a journey of encounter. For me the novelty of getting to know a culture that is open to everyone: in your country, there is room for everyone. Also, I saw the King, who told me: ‘Here everyone does what they want, if a woman wants to work, let her work.’ Total openness. And also the religious part, the openness. I was struck by the sheer number of Christians – Filipinos, Indians from Kerala – who are here and they live and work in the country.

Fatima Al Najem: They wish you well…

That’s the idea, I discovered something new that helps me to understand and interact more with people. The key word is dialogue, and to dialogue, you have to start from your identity, have an identity.

Fatima Al Najem: Thank you, Your Holiness. I will pray to Allah the Omnipotent to bless you with good health, happiness, and a long life. 

Pope Francis: Yes, pray for me, not against me [laughter].

 

Imad Atrach: Holy Father, since the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity three years ago, to the visit to Baghdad, and then also recently to Kazakhstan: Is this a path that you think is bearing tangible fruit? Can we expect it to culminate in a meeting at the Vatican? Then I would like to thank you for mentioning Lebanon today, because as a Lebanese I can tell you that we really are in urgent need of your visit, especially because now we don’t even have a President, so you could go and embrace the people directly.

Pope Francis: Thank you. I have been thinking a lot these days – and we talked about it with the Grand Imam – about how the idea of the Abu Dhabi Document came about, that Document we did together, the first one. He had come to the Vatican for a courtesy visit; after our protocol meeting took place, it was almost lunchtime and he was leaving, and as I was accompanying him to bid him goodbye I asked him: ‘Where are you going for lunch?’ I don’t know what he said to me but we decided to have lunch together. It was something that came from within. Then, sitting at tableh – he, his secretary, two counselors, me, my secretary, my counselor – we took the bread, broke it, and gave it to each other. A gesture of friendship, offering the bread. It was a very nice lunch, very fraternal. And towards the end, I don’t know who came up with the idea, we said,  ‘Why don’t we make a paper about this meeting?’ So the Abu Dhabi Document was born. The two secretaries got to work, with a draft going back and forth, and finally, we took advantage of the Abu Dhabi meeting to publish it. It was something that came from God. You can’t understand it otherwise, because none of us had this in mind. It emerged during a friendly lunch, and that is a big thing.

Then I kept thinking, and the Abu Dhabi Document was the basis of Fratelli tutti; what I wrote about human friendship in Fratelli tutti is based on the Abu Dhabi Document. I believe that one cannot think of such a path without thinking of a special blessing from the Lord in this path. I want to say this out of justice, it seems right that you know how the Lord inspired this path. I didn’t even know what the Great Imam’s name was, and then we became friends and did something as two friends, and now we talk every time we meet. The Document is relevant today, and work is being done to make it known.

Then regarding Lebanon… Lebanon is a sorrow for me. Because Lebanon is not a country in itself – a Pope said it before me – Lebanon is not a country, it is a message. Lebanon has a very great meaning for all of us. And Lebanon right now is suffering. I pray, and I take this opportunity to make an appeal to Lebanese politicians: leave aside self-interest, look at the country and be in agreement. First God, after that the country, then interests. God and the country. Right now I don’t want to say, ‘Save Lebanon,’ because we are not saviours, but please, you have to support Lebanon, help so that Lebanon stops in this descent, so that Lebanon regains its greatness. There are means… there is the generosity of Lebanon. How many political refugees are in Lebanon! It is so generous and it is suffering. I take this opportunity to ask for prayers for Lebanon, prayer is also a friendship. You are journalists, look at Lebanon and talk about it to raise awareness. Thank you.

 

Carol Glatz, CNS: Your Holiness, during this trip to Bahrain you spoke about fundamental rights, including women’s rights, their dignity, the right to have their space in the social and public sphere; and you encouraged young people to have courage, to make noise; to move forward toward a more just world. Given the situation close by, in Iran, with the protests sparked by some women and many young people who want more freedom, do you support this effort of women and men demanding to have the basic rights that are also found in the Document on Human Fraternity?

Pope Francis: We have to tell each other the truth. The struggle for women’s rights is an ongoing struggle. Because in some places women have equality with men, but not in other places. No? I remember in the 1950s in my country, when there was the struggle for women’s civil rights: for women to be able to vote. Because until about the ’50s only men could do so. And I think of this same struggle in the U.S. But why, I ask myself, does the woman have to struggle like this to keep her rights? There is a… I don’t know if it is a legend, a legend about the origin of women’s jewelry – maybe it’s a legend – that explains the cruelty of so many situations against women. It is said that women wear so much jewelry because in a country – I don’t remember, perhaps it’s a historical fact – there was a custom that when the husband got fed up with the woman, he would say to her, ‘Get out!’ and she couldn’t go back in and take anything. She had to leave with what she had on her. And (that would be) why they would amass gold, to be able at least to take something away. They say this is the origin of jewelry. I don’t know if it is true or not, but the image helps us.

Rights are fundamental. But how come in the world today we cannot stop the tragedy of young girls’ infibulation? This is terrible. Today. The fact that this practice exists, that humanity cannot stop this crime, a criminal act! Women, according to two comments I heard, are either “disposable” material – that’s bad – or they are ‘a protected species.’ But equality between men and women is still not universally found, and there are these instances, where women are second-class citizens or less. We have to keep fighting for that because women are a gift. God didn’t create man and then give him a little dog for fun. He didn’t. He created them equal, man and woman. And what Paul wrote in one of his letters about male-female relationships, which seems old-fashioned to us today, at that time was so revolutionary that it was scandalous. He said the man should take care of the woman as his own flesh. This, at that moment, was a revolutionary thing. All women’s rights come from this equality. And a society that is unable to give the woman her place does not move forward. We have the experience (of this). In the book I wrote, Torniamo a sognare, in the part about economics, for example, there are women economists currently in the world who have changed the economic vision and are able to carry it forward. Because they have a different gift. They know how to run things in another way, which is not inferior, it is complementary.

I once had a conversation with a head of government, a great head of government, a mother with several children, who was very successful in solving difficult situations. And I said to her, ‘Tell me, Ma’am, how did you solve such a difficult situation?’ She began to move her hands like this, in silence. Then she said to me: ‘[This is] how [we] mothers do it.’

Women have their own way of solving problems, which is not man’s way. And both ways must work together: the woman, equal to the man, works for the common good with that insight that women have. I have seen that in the Vatican, every time a woman comes in to do a job in the Vatican, things get better. For example, the vice governor of the Vatican is a woman, the vice governor is a woman, and things have changed for the best. In the Council for the Economy, there were six cardinals and six lay people, all male. I changed the lay people I put one male and five women. And this is a revolution because women know how to find the right way, they know how to move forward. And now I have put Marianna Mazzuccato in the Pontifical Academy for Life. She is a great economist from the United States, I put her there to give a little more humanity to it.

Women carry their own, they don’t have to become like males. No! they are women, we need them. And a society that erases women from public life is a society that impoverishes itself. It impoverishes itself. Equality of rights, yes. But also equality of opportunity. Equality of opportunities in order to move forward, otherwise we become impoverished.

I think with that I have said what globally needs to be done. But we still have some way to go. Because there is this ‘machismo’. I come from a people with machismo. Argentinians, we are masculinist, always. And that is bad, but then we turn to our mothers, who are the ones who solve the problems. This machismo kills humanity. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to say this, which is [something that] I carry in my heart. Let’s fight not only for rights, but because we need to have women in society to help us change.

 

Antonio Pelayo, Vida NuevaHoly Father, the only time you spoke off-the-cuff on this trip was to refer to ‘tormented Ukraine’ and to the ‘peace negotiations.’ I would like to ask you if you can tell us anything about how these negotiations are going on the Vatican side. And another question: Have you spoken lately with Putin or do you intend to do so in the near future?

Pope Francis: Good. First of all: the Vatican is constantly attentive, the Secretariat of State works and works well, works well. I know that the secretary, Archbishop Gallagher, works well there.

Then, a bit of history. The day after [the beginning of] the war – I thought this could not be done, an unusual thing – I went to the Russian embassy, to speak with the ambassador, who is a good man. I have known him for six years, since he arrived. He is a humanist. I remember a comment he made to me then: ‘Nous sommes tombés dans la dictature de l’argent’ [We have fallen into the dictatorship of money], talking about civilization. A humanist, a man fighting for equality. I told him I was willing to go to Moscow to talk to Putin, if the need arose. Lavrov [the foreign minister, ed.] replied very politely – ‘Thank you’ – [but] that it was not necessary for the moment.

Since then we have been very interested. I spoke twice on the phone with President Zelensky; then with the ambassador a few more times. And work is being done to get closer, to seek solutions. The Holy See also does what it has to do with regard to prisoners, these things… they are things that are always done and the Holy See has always done them, always.

And (then) the preaching for peace. What strikes me – that’s why I use the word ‘tormented’ for Ukraine – is the cruelty, which is not of the Russian people, perhaps… because the Russian people are a great people. It is of the mercenaries, of the soldiers who go off to war as an adventure, mercenaries… I prefer to think of it this way because I have high esteem for the Russian people, for Russian humanism. Just think of Dostoevsky, who to this day inspires us, inspires Christians to think of Christianity.

I have great affection for the Russian people and I also have great affection for the Ukrainian people. When I was eleven years old, there was a priest close to me who celebrated in Ukrainian and had no altar boys, and he taught me to serve Mass in Ukrainian, and all these Ukrainian songs I know them in their language because I learned them as a child. So I have a very great affection for the Ukrainian liturgy. I am in the midst of two peoples that I love.

It’s not just me. The Holy See has had many confidential meetings, many good results. Because we cannot deny that a war, at the beginning, perhaps makes us brave. But then it tires and hurts and we see the evil that a war does. This regards the more human, closer part.

Then I would like to lament, taking advantage of this question: three world wars in a single century! The one of 1914-1918, the one of 1939-1945, and this one! This one is a world war, because it is true that when empires, either on one side or the other weaken, they need to make a war in order to feel strong – and also to sell weapons! I believe that today the greatest calamity in the world is the arms industry. Please! I’ve been told, I don’t know if it’s true or not, that if we didn’t make weapons for a year, we could end world hunger. The arms industry is terrible.

A few years ago, three or four, a ship full of weapons came from a certain country to Genoa and they had to pass the weapons onto a bigger ship to take them to Yemen. The workers in Genoa didn’t want to do it… It was a gesture. Yemen: more than ten years of war. Yemen’s children have no food. The Rohingya, moving from one side to the other because they were expelled, always at war. Myanmar, it’s terrible what’s happening… Now I hope something will stop today in Ethiopia, with a treaty…

But we are at war everywhere and we don’t understand this. Now we are closely affected, in Europe, by the Russian-Ukrainian war. But it is everywhere, for years. In Syria, twelve to thirteen years of war, and nobody knows if there are prisoners and what goes on there. Then Lebanon, we talked about this tragedy…

I don’t know if I’ve said this sometimes to you. When I went to Redipuglia, in 2014, I saw that – and my grandfather had been at Piave and had told me what was going on there – and all those graves of young men… I cried, I cried, I’m not ashamed to say it. Then once, on 2 November, a day in which I always go to a cemetery, I went to Anzio and saw the grave of all those American boys, [who died] in the Anzio landings. [They were] 19-20-22-23 years old, and I cried, really, it came from my heart… And I thought of the mothers and of when they hear a knock on their door: ‘Ma’am, an envelope for you.’ She opens the envelope: ‘Ma’am, I have the honour to inform you that you have a son who is a hero of the fatherland…’ The tragedies of war.

I don’t want to speak ill of anyone, but it touched my heart: when the commemoration of the Normandy landings took place. The heads of so many governments were there to commemorate that. It was the beginning of the fall of Nazism, it’s true. But how many boys were left on the beaches in Normandy? They say thirty thousand… Who thinks of those boys? War sows all of this. That is why you, who are journalists, please be pacifists, speak out against wars, fight against war. I ask you as a brother. Thank you.

 

Hugues Lefevre I.Media: Holy Father, this morning in your address to the clergy of Bahrain, you spoke of the importance of Christian joy. But in the past few days many of the French faithful have lost this joy when they discovered in the press that the Church had kept secret the conviction in 2021 of a bishop, now retired, who had committed sexual abuse in the 1990s, while he was a priest. When this story came out in the press, five new victims came forward. Today, many Catholics want to know if the culture of secrecy of canonical justice should change and become transparent, (and I) would like to know if you think canonical penalties should be made public. Thank you.

Pope Francis: Thank you for the question. I would like to start [with]) a bit of history on this. The problem of abuse has always been there, not only in the Church but everywhere. You know that 42-46% of sexual abuse takes place in the family or in the community. This is very serious, but the habit has always been that of covering up; in the family even today everything is covered up, and even in the community everything is covered up, or at least in the majority of cases. An ugly habit that began to change in the Church when a scandal surfaced in Boston at the time of Cardinal Law, who, because of the scandal, resigned; it was the first time that [a case of abuse] came out as a scandal.

Since then the Church has become aware of this and has begun to work, whereas in society and other institutions it is normally covered up. When there was the meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences [on this issue] I asked UNICEF, the UN, for statistics on this [phenomenon], the percentage data: in families, in communities, in schools, in sport…

Some say we are a small minority, but [I say] even if it were a single case, it would still be tragic, because you, as a priest, have the vocation to make people grow, and by behaving in this way you destroy them. For a priest, abuse is like going against his priestly nature and against his social nature. That is why it is tragic and why we must not stop, we must not stop.

In this awakening, making investigations and moving ahead with accusations, everything has not always [and everywhere] been the same, some things have been hidden. Before the scandal in Boston people were substituted [i.e., priests were moved], now everything is transparent and we are moving forward on this, that is why we should not be surprised that cases like this come to light. Now the case of another bishop comes to mine, there are cases you know…? And [now] it’s not easy to say: “We didn’t know,” or “It was the culture at the time and it continues to be a culture to hide.”

I’ll tell you this: the Church is steadfast on this, and here I want to publicly thank the heroism of Cardinal O’Malley, a good Capuchin friar, who sensed the need to institutionalize this with the Commission for the Protection of Minors that he is heading. And this does us all good and gives us courage. We are working with all that we can, but know that there are people within the Church who still do not see clearly, who do not share… It is a process that we are undertaking and we are carrying it out with courage, and not everyone has courage; sometimes there is the temptation to compromise, and we are also all slaves to our sins, but the will of the Church is to clarify everything.

For example, I have received two complaints in recent months about cases of abuse that had been covered up and not judged well by the Church: I immediately asked for a new study [of the two cases] and now a new judgement is being made; there is also this, the revision of old judgements, not well made [not given properly]. We do what we can, we are all sinners, you know?

The first thing we have to feel is shame, the deep shame of all that. I believe that shame is a grace. We can fight against all the evils in the world but without shame…. [it is useless].

That is why I was amazed that St. Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises, when he makes you ask for forgiveness for all the sins you have committed, he makes you go all the way to shame, and if you don’t have the grace of shame you cannot go on. One of the insults we have in my land is ‘You are shameless’ and I believe that the Church cannot be ‘shameless.’ It has to be ashamed of the bad things, as well as [saying] thank you to God for the good things it does. This I can tell you: [we have] all the good will to go on, also thanks to your help.

 

Vania De Luca Rai-Tg3Your Holiness, you have also spoken about migrants in recent days. Four ships off the coast of Sicily, with hundreds of women, men, children, in difficulty – but not all of them can disembark. Do you fear a policy of ‘closed ports’ by the centre-right is back in Italy? And how do you assess the position of some northern European countries on this? And then I also wanted to ask you in general: What impression, what judgment do you have regarding the new Italian government, which for the first time is led by a woman?

Pope Francis: It’s a challenge, it’s a challenge. Regarding migrants, [this is] the principle: Migrants must be welcomed, accompanied, promoted, and integrated; if these four steps cannot be taken, the work with migrants cannot be good. Welcomed, accompanied, promoted, and integrated; we must go forward towards integration.

And the second thing I say: Each EU government has to agree on how many migrants it can receive. Instead, there are four countries that receive migrants: Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and Spain, those closest to the Mediterranean. Inland there are some, like Poland, Belarus…

But [speaking] of the great issue of migrants that cross the sea: lives must be saved. Do you know today that the Mediterranean is a cemetery? Perhaps the biggest cemetery in the world. I think I told you last time that I read a book in Spanish called Hermanito, it’s tiny and it reads quickly, I think it has certainly been translated into French and also into Italian. It can be read in two hours. It’s the story of a boy from Africa, I don’t know if he was from Tanzania or where he was from, who following in his brother’s footsteps arrived in Spain: he suffered slavery five times before embarking! Many people, he recounts, are brought during the night to those boats – no to those big ships that have another role – and if they don’t want to get on: boom, boom! And they leave them on the beach – it really is a dictatorship of slavery what those people do – and then there is the risk of dying at sea. If you have time read this book, it is important.

The migrant policy must be agreed upon between all countries; you cannot make a policy without consensus, and the European Union must take in hand a policy of collaboration and help, it cannot leave the responsibility for all the migrants that arrive on the beaches of Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and Spain. The government’s policy up to now has been to save lives, that is true. Up to a certain point. And I think this [Italian] government has the same policy… The details I don’t know, but I don’t think it wants to change. I think it has already landed children, mothers, and the sick, at least from what I heard, the intention was there. Italy, let’s think here… this government cannot do anything without the agreement of Europe; the responsibility is a European one.

And then I would like to mention another European responsibility with regard to Africa. I think this was said by one of the great stateswomen we have had and have – Merkel. She said that the problem of migrants must be solved in Africa. But if we think of Africa with the motto: “Africa must be exploited,” it is logical that migrants – people – run away. In Europe, we must try to make development plans for Africa. To think that some countries in Africa are not masters of their own subsoil, that they still depend on colonialist powers! It is hypocrisy to want to solve the problem of migrants in Europe; let’s solve it at home too. The exploitation of people in Africa is terrible because of this concept.

On 1 January, I had a meeting with university students from Africa. The meeting was the same I already had with Loyola University in the United States. Those students have a capacity, an intelligence, a critical sense [It.: ‘criticità’], a desire to move forward, but sometimes they cannot because of the colonialist force that Europe has in their governments. If we want to solve the problem of migrants for good, let’s solve Africa. The migrants who come from elsewhere are fewer, they are fewer, but we have Africa, let’s help Africa.

The new [Italian] government starts now. I am here: I wish it the best. I always wish the best to a government because the government is for everyone and I wish it the best so that it can take Italy forward. And to all the others who are against the winning party, I hope that they collaborate with a critical sense, with help, but a government of collaboration, not a government where ‘they treat you well to your face, but they’re working on your downfall’ [It.: ‘ti muovono il viso, ti fanno cadere’] if you don’t like one thing or another. Please, on this point I call for responsibility. Tell me, is it fair that from the beginning of the century until now Italy has had 20 governments? Let’s stop with these jokes.

 

Ludwig Ring-EifelCentrum informationis Catholicum: I also want to say something personal first, because I feel very emotional, because after a break of 8 years I am back on the papal flight. I am very grateful to be here again….

Pope Francis: Welcome back.

Ludwig: Thank you, it’s good to be back. We in the German group are few – there are only three on this flight – and we thought: How can we make a connection between what we saw in Bahrain and the situation in Germany? Because in Bahrain we saw a small Church, a small flock, a poor Church, with many restrictions, and so on, but a lively Church, full of hope, growing. In Germany, on the other hand, we have a large Church, with great traditions; rich, with theology, money, and everything, but losing three hundred thousand believers every year, who leave, who are in deep crisis. Is there anything to learn from this small flock we saw in Bahrain for the great Germany?

Germany has a long religious history. Citing Hölderlin I will say: ‘Many things have they seen, many…’ Your religious history is great and complicated, [a history] of struggles. I say to German Catholics: Germany has a great and beautiful Evangelical Church; I do not want another one, which will not be as good as that one; but I want a Catholic [one], in fraternity with the Evangelical. Sometimes we lose sight of the religious sense of the people, of the holy faithful People of God, and we fall into ethical discussions, discussions about contingent things, discussions that have theological consequences, but are not the core of theology. What does the holy, faithful People of God think? What does the holy People of God sense? Go there and seek what it senses, that simple religiosity that you find in grandparents. I am not saying go backwards, no; but go to the source of inspiration, to the roots. We all have a history of roots of faith; even peoples have it: Find it! That remark of Holderlin’s comes to my mind, for our age: ‘The old man should keep [faith with] what he promised as a boy.’ We, in our boyhood… promised many things, many things. Now we get into ethical discussions, into contingent discussions, but the root of religion is the slap in the face that the Gospel gives you, the encounter with the living Jesus Christ: and from there the consequences [follow], all of them; from there you get the apostolic courage to go to the peripheries, even to the moral peripheries of people to help; but [it starts] from the encounter with Jesus Christ. If there is no encounter with Jesus Christ, there will be an ethicism disguised as Christianity. This is what I wanted to say, from the heart. Thank you.

(Working transcription and English translation prepared by the Dicastery for Communication)

With thanks to Vatican News, where this article originally appeared.

 

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