Geopolitics

Pope Francis Full Interview: "God Is Patient" - A La Stampa Exclusive

In a rare sit-down with a reporter, Argentine pontiff responds to a wide range of questions from La Stampa's Vatican correspondent about Marxism, divorce and the meaning of suffering.

The human touch
The human touch
Andrea Tornielli

LA STAMPA: What does Christmas say to people today?
POPE FRANCIS: Christmas is God’s meeting with his people. It is also a consolation, a mystery of consolation. It speaks of tenderness and hope. When God meets us he tells us two things. The first thing he says is: have hope. God always opens doors, he never closes them. He is the father who opens doors for us. The second thing he says is: don’t be afraid of tenderness. When Christians forget about hope and tenderness they become a cold Church, that loses its sense of direction and is held back by ideologies and worldly attitudes, whereas God’s simplicity tells you: go forward, I am a Father who caresses you. Throughout my life as a priest, going to the parish, I have always sought to transmit this tenderness, particularly to children and the elderly. It does me good and it makes me think of the tenderness God has towards us.”

Christmas is often presented as a sugar-coated fairy tale. But God is born into a world where there is also a great deal of suffering and misery.
The message announced to us in the Gospels is a message of joy. The evangelists described a joyful event to us. They do not discuss about the unjust world and how God could be born into such a world. All this is the fruit of our own contemplations: the poor, the child that is born into a precarious situation. The (first) Christmas was not a condemnation of social injustice and poverty; it was an announcement of joy. Everything else are conclusions that we draw. Some are correct, others are less so and others still are ideologized. Christmas is joy, religious joy, God’s joy, an inner joy of light and peace. When you are unable or in a human situation that does not allow you to comprehend this joy, then one experiences this feast with a worldly joyfulness. But there is a difference between profound joy and worldly joyfulness.

This is your first Christmas in a world marked by conflict and war...
God never gives someone a gift they are not capable of receiving. In a world afflicted by war, this Christmas makes me think of God’s patience. The Bible clearly shows that God’s main virtue is that He is love. He waits for us; he never tires of waiting for us. He gives us the gift and then waits for us. This happens in the life of each and every one of us. There are those who ignore him. But God is patient and the peace and serenity of Christmas Eve is a reflection of God’s patience toward us.



This coming January marks the 50th anniversary of Paul VI’s historic visit to the Holy Land. Will you go?
Christmas always makes us think of Bethlehem, and Bethlehem is a precise point in the Holy Land where Jesus lived. On Christmas night, I think above all with the Christians who live there, of those who are in difficulty, of the many people who have had to leave that land because of various problems. But Bethlehem is still Bethlehem. God arrived at a specific time in a specific land; that is where God’s tenderness and grace appeared. We cannot think of Christmas without thinking of the Holy land. Fifty years ago, Paul VI had the courage to go out and go there and this marked the beginning of the era of papal journeys. I would also like to go there, to meet my brother Bartholomew, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and commemorate this 50th anniversary with him, renewing that embrace which took place between Pope Montini and Athenagoras in Jerusalem, in 1964. We are preparing for this.

You have met with seriously ill children on more than one occasion. What do you have to say about this innocent suffering?
One man who has been a life mentor for me is Dostoievski and his explicit and implicit question “Why do children suffer?” has always stirred my heart. There is no explanation. This image comes to mind: at a particular point of his or her life, a child “wakes up,” doesn’t understand much and feels threatened, he or she starts asking their mom or dad questions. This is the “why” age. But when the child asks a question, he or she doesn’t wait to hear the full answer, they immediately start bombarding you with more “whys.” What they are really looking for, more than an explanation, is a reassuring look on their parent’s face. When I come across a suffering child, the only prayer that comes to mind is the “why” prayer. Why Lord? He doesn’t explain anything to me. But I can feel Him looking at me. So I can say: You know why, I don’t, and You won’t tell me, but You’re looking at me and I trust You, Lord, I trust your gaze.

Speaking of children’s suffering, we can’t forget the tragedy of those who are suffering from hunger
With all the food that is left over and thrown away we could feed so many. If we were able to stop wasting and start recycling food, world hunger would diminish greatly. I was struck by one statistic, which says ten thousand children die of hunger each day across the world. There are so many children that cry because they are hungry. At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few month's old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: madam, I think the child’s hungry. “Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied. “Please give it something to eat!” I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone. If we work with humanitarian organizations and are able to agree all together not to waste food, sending it instead to those who need it, we could do so much to help solve the problem of hunger in the world.

Some of the passages in the “Evangelii Gaudium” attracted the criticism of ultraconservatives in the US. As a Pope, what does it feel like to be called a “Marxist”?
The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.

The most striking part of the Exhortation was where it refers to an economy that “kills"
There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church. I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on. The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the “trickle-down theories” which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger, and nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.

(Christoph Wagener)

Is Christian unity a priority for you?
Yes, for me ecumenism is a priority. Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill, we are Christians. We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for. I knew a parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism. After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: “I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest’s.” This is what ecumenism of blood is. It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don’t ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptized in.

In the Apostolic Exhortation you called for prudent and bold pastoral choices regarding the sacraments. What were you referring to?
When I speak of prudence I do not think of it in terms of an attitude that paralyzes but as the virtue of a leader. Prudence is a virtue of government. So is boldness. One must govern with boldness and prudence. I spoke about baptism and communion as spiritual food that helps one to go on; it is to be considered a remedy not a prize. Some immediately thought about the sacraments for remarried divorcees, but I did not refer to any specific cases; I simply wanted to point out a principle. We must try to facilitate people’s faith, rather than control it. Last year in Argentina I condemned the attitude of some priests who did not baptize the children of unmarried mothers. This is a sick mentality.

And what about remarried divorcees?
The exclusion of divorced people who contract a second marriage from communion is not a sanction. It is important to remember this. But I didn’t talk about this in the Exhortation. We will discuss marriage as a whole at the Consistory meetings in February. The issues will also be addressed at the Extraordinary Synod in October 2014 and again at the Ordinary Synod the following year. Many elements will be examined in more detail and clarified during these sessions.

Amongst his flock (Semilla Luz)

What is the right relationship between the Church and politics?
The relationship needs to be parallel and convergent at the same time. Parallel because each of us has his or her own path to take, and his or her different tasks. Convergent only in helping others. When relationships converge first, without the people, or without taking the people into account, that is when the bond with political power is formed, leading the Church to rot: business, compromises… The relationship needs to proceed in a parallel way, each with its own method, tasks and vocation, converging only in the common good. Politics is noble; it is one of the highest forms of charity, as Paul VI used to say. We sully it when we mix it with business. The relationship between the Church and political power can also be corrupted if common good is not the only converging point.

May I ask you if the Church will have women cardinals in the future?
I don’t know where this idea sprang from. Women in the Church must be valued not “clericalised”. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.

Could you have imagined a year ago that you would be celebrating Christmas 2013 in St. Peter’s?
Absolutely not.

Were you expecting to be elected?
No I didn’t expect it. I never lost my peace as the number of votes increased. I remained calm. And that peace is still there, I consider it a gift from the Lord. When the final balloting was over, I was taken to the center of the Sistine Chapel and asked if I accepted. I said I did and that I had chosen the name Francis. Only then did I walk away. I was taken to the next room to change (my cassock). Then, just before I made my public appearance, I knelt down to pray for some minutes in the Pauline chapel along with Cardinals (Agostino) Vallini and (Claudio) Hummes.

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$57,789

A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."


— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.

🕌 🔍 IN OTHER NEWS

Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more Chicago Bulls or running of the bulls? Let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com info@worldcrunch.com!

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