A new book entitled “God and the World to Come” hits bookstores on Tuesday, in which Pope Francis grants a book-length interview to Italian journalist Domenico Agasso (Edizione Piemme-LEV). We publish here an excerpt translated from the original Italian.
Domenico Agasso: Your Holiness, how do you interpret the “earthquake” that hit the world in 2020 in the form of a novel coronavirus?
Pope Francis: “In life there are moments of darkness. Too often we think that they only happen to others and not to us, to someone else, in another country, perhaps on a distant continent. Instead, we all ended up in the pandemic’s tunnel. Pain and sorrow have broken through the doors of our homes, invaded our thoughts, attacked our dreams and plans. And so today no one can afford to rest easy. The world will never be the same again. But it is precisely within this calamity that we must grasp those signs which may prove to be the cornerstones of reconstruction. Speeches are not enough to solve emergencies. The pandemic is an alarm signal on which humanity is forced to reflect. This time of trial can thus become a time of wise and far-sighted choices for the good of humanity, of all humanity.”
DA: What urgencies do you perceive?
PF: “We can no longer blithely accept inequalities and disruptions to the environment. The path to humanity’s salvation passes through the creation of a new model of development, which unquestionably focuses on coexistence among peoples in harmony with Creation. We need to be aware that every individual action does not remain isolated, for good or evil, but has consequences for others, because everything is connected: Everything! By changing the lifestyles that drive millions of people, especially children, into the grip of hunger, we will be able to lead a more austere existence that would make a fair distribution of resources possible. This does not mean diminishing some people’s rights in order to drive downward leveling, but rather involves guaranteeing more and broader rights to those who currently have none.”
DA: Do you see encouraging signs?
PF: “There are already popular movements today which are trying to promote these notions and operations ‘from below’, along with some institutions and associations. They are trying to concretise a new way of looking at our common home: no longer as a warehouse of resources to be exploited, but a sacred garden to be loved and respected, through sustainable behaviours. There is also an awareness among young people, particularly within ecological movements. If we don’t roll up our sleeves and immediately take care of the Earth, with radical personal and political choices, with an economic ‘green’ turn by directing technological developments in this direction, sooner or later our common home will throw us out the window. We cannot waste any more time.”
DA: What are your thoughts on finance and its relationship with government?
PF: “I believe that if we manage to heal it from the dominant speculative mentality and re-establish it with a ‘soul’, according to fair criteria, we will be able to aim at the objective of reducing the gap between those who have access to credit and those who do not. And if one day, in the not-too-distant future, conditions are in place for every person to invest according to ethical and responsible principles, we will obtain the result of limiting support to companies that are harmful to the environment and to peace. In the state in which humanity finds itself, it is scandalous to continue financing industries that do not contribute to the inclusion of the excluded and the promotion of the least, and which penalise the common good by polluting Creation. These are the four criteria for choosing which businesses to support: inclusion of the excluded, promotion of the least, the common good, and care of Creation.”
DA: We are facing one of the worst humanitarian crises since World War II. Countries are taking emergency measures to deal with the pandemic and a dramatic global economic downturn. What do you expect from government leaders?
PF: “Right now, it is a matter of rebuilding from the rubble. And that burden weighs heavily on those in government positions. In our concern for an uncertain future, for the jobs that are in danger of being lost or that have been lost, for the income that is less and less sufficient, and for the other consequences that the current crisis brings with it, it is fundamental to govern with honesty, transparency and farsightedness. But each of us, not only political leaders, is called to eradicate indifference, corruption and connivance with crime.”
DA: What principle can we be inspired by?
PF: “What is happening can awaken everyone. It is time to remove social injustice and marginalisation. If we seize the current trial as an opportunity, we can prepare for tomorrow under the banner of human fraternity, to which there is no alternative, because without an overall vision there will be no future for anyone. By putting this lesson to good use, the leaders of nations, together with those with social responsibilities, can guide the peoples of the Earth towards a more prosperous and fraternal future. Heads of state should talk to one another, confront each other more and agree on strategies. Let us all keep in mind that there is something worse than this crisis: the drama of wasting it. We cannot emerge from a crisis the same as before: we either come out better or we come out worse.”
DA: What attitude of ours would waste it?
PF: “By closing in on ourselves. Instead, we can heal injustice by building a new world order based on solidarity, studying innovative methods to eradicate bullying, poverty and corruption, all working together, each for their own part, without delegating and passing the buck. Also by working to provide healthcare for all. In this way, by practicing and demonstrating social cohesion, we will be able to rise again.”
DA: Concretely, where might we begin?
PF: “It is no longer tolerable to continue to manufacture and traffic in arms, expending huge amounts of capital which should be used to treat people and save lives. We can no longer pretend that a dramatically vicious cycle of armed violence, poverty and senseless and indifferent exploitation of the environment has not crept in. It is a cycle that prevents reconciliation, fuels human rights violations and hinders sustainable development. Against this planetary discord that is nipping the future of humanity in the bud, we need political action that is the fruit of international harmony. United in fraternity, humanity is able to face common threats, without any more counterproductive mutual recriminations, instrumentalisation of problems, short-sighted nationalism, protectionist propaganda, isolationism and other forms of political selfishness.”
DA: Women continue to bear the weight of all recessions: what do you think about this topic?
PF: “Women urgently need to be helped in caring for their children and not be discriminated against in terms of pay and work, or with the loss of work because they are women. On the contrary, their presence is increasingly valuable at the centre of society, politics, employment, and institutional renewal. If we get better at offering them favourable conditions, they will be able to make a decisive contribution to the reconstruction of the economy and societies to come, because women make the world beautiful and make contexts more inclusive. Besides, we are all trying to get back on our feet, so we cannot overlook the fact that the rebirth of humanity began with a woman. Salvation was born from the Virgin Mary. That’s why there can be no salvation without woman. If we cherish the future, if we desire a flourishing tomorrow, we must give the right space to women.”
DA: What would you specifically recommend to parents?
PF: “Playtime with your children is the best time you can have. I know of one family that has created an ‘institutional’ element in the home: ‘The Program.’ Every Saturday or Sunday, the mother and father take a sheet of paper and, with the children, agree and write down all the play dates between children and parents in the coming week, and then hang it on a little board in the kitchen. The children’s eyes sparkle with contentment as they write down ‘the schedule’, which has now become a ritual. This mother and father are educating. This is what I said to them: “Sow education.” By playing with their father and mother, a child learns to get along with other people, and learns about the existence of rules and the need to respect them. They also acquire the self-confidence that will help them as they step into the outside world. At the same time, children help their parents, above all, in two things: giving greater value to life, and remaining humble. For them, they are first and foremost Dad and Mum, the rest comes later: work, travel, successes and worries. And that protects them from the temptations of narcissism and an unbridled ego, which they risk falling into every day.”
DA: The violence of COVID-19 has ravaged the already precarious prospects of millions of young people around the world. Young people are trudging along under a cloak of uncertainty and reductions in educational, vocational, social, economic and political investment, which is depriving them of the right to a future. What would you like to say to the “Covid generations”?
PF: “I encourage them not to give in to the economic downturn, to not stop daydreaming. Don’t be afraid to dream big. By working for their dreams, they can protect them from those who want to take them away from them: pessimists, dishonest people and profiteers. Perhaps never before as in this third millennium have younger generations paid the highest price for the economic, labour, health and moral crisis. But feeling sorry for ourselves leads nowhere. On the contrary, the crisis would only have the better of us. Rather, by continuing to fight as many are already doing, young people will not remain inexperienced, bitter and immature. They will not cease in their search for opportunities. And then, there is knowledge. In Genesis (ch.2) we read that the Lord, after having created the heavens and the earth, takes the man and places him in the garden of Eden, so that he may cultivate it and come to know it. He does not put him in retirement, or on vacation, or on the couch: he sends him to study and work.
God made man capable and eager to know and to work, and to love. “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. There is no commandment more important than this one, Jesus says to the disciples (Mk 12:31). Young people have the vigour and strength to relaunch the fundamental tasks assigned by God, and thus become men and women of knowledge, love and charity. By opening themselves to encounter and wonder, they will be able to rejoice in the beauty and gifts of life and nature, emotions, and love in all its forms. Always moving forward to learn something from every experience, spreading knowledge and amplifying the hope inherent in youth, they will take the reins of life into their own hands and at the same time generate vitality that will advance humanity, making it free. Therefore, even if there seems to be no end in sight to the darkness, we must not lose heart. And, as Saint Philip Neri said, don’t forget to be cheerful, as much as possible.”
Published by Piemme da Mondadori Libri S.p.A.
© 2021 Mondadori Libri S.p.A., Milan, Italy
© 2021 Vatican Publishing House, Vatican City
With thanks to Vatican News and Domenico Agasso, where this article originally appeared.