Interview to Pope Francis

"We do not come out from a crisis
on our own: we need to take risks
and take each other's hand"

by Bernarda Llorente

Outside, the blazing sun does not seem to discourage the thousands of tourists who, in full sunshine, share endless lines to enter the Vatican City. Just a few feet away, at Casa Santa Marta, his busy schedule moves forward step by step. Some odd movements announce his arrival.

Francis, his Holiness, the Argentine Pope, one of the leaders who sets the social and political agenda of the world, walks toward me with a beaming smile on his face. He looks fully recovered. Aware of all the transformations put in place during his nine years of Papacy and with a long-term view regarding the future of humanity, faith and the need for new answers. As we walk together into the hall where the exclusive conversation with Télam (Argentina's National News Agency) will take place during an hour and a half, I know that this 20th June is an exceptional and unique day for me.

- Francis, you have been one of the most important voices in a moment of extreme loneliness and fear in the world, during the pandemic. You defined it as the limitations of a world in economic, social and political crisis. And then you said “We do not come out from a crisis the same as before. We either come out better or worse”. In which way do you think we are coming out of this crisis? Where are we headed? 

- I’m not particularly liking it. We have grown in some aspects, but, in general, I don’t like it because it has become selective. Look, the mere fact of Africa not having many vaccines or having a minimum amount of doses means that salvation from the disease has been rationed by other interests. The fact that Africa is in need of vaccines indicates that something has not worked well.

When I say we never come out of a crisis the same as before, it is because the crisis necessarily changes us. Even more, crises are moments in life in which we take a step forward. There is the adolescence crisis, the coming-of-age crisis, the midlife crisis. A crisis gets you moving, makes you dance. We must learn to take responsibility, because if we don’t, they become a conflict. And conflict is a closed thing, conflict searches the answer within itself, it destroys itself. On the contrary, a crisis is necessarily open, it makes you grow. One of the most serious things in life is knowing how to go through a crisis, not with bitterness. Well, how did we experience this crisis?

Each person did what they could. There were heroes. I can speak of what was closest to me: doctors, nurses, priests, nuns, laypeople who gave their lives. Some of them died. I believe over sixty of them died in Italy. One of the things we saw during this crisis was people giving their lives. Priests also did a great job, in general, because churches were closed, but they would call people over the phone. Young priests would ask elderly people what they needed from the market or they would buy groceries for them. I mean, crises make you show solidarity, because everyone is going through the same crisis. And we grow from that.

- Many people thought that the pandemic was setting some limits: to extreme inequality, to the disregard of global warming, to exacerbated individualism, to the malfunction of political and representation systems. However, some sectors insist on reconstructing the conditions previous to the pandemic.

- We cannot go back to the false security of the political and economic structures that we had before. Just as I say we don't come out from a crisis the same as before, we come out either better or worse, I also say we don't come out from a crisis on our own. It is either all of us or none of us. Expecting just one group to come out from the crisis alone, it may be a salvation but it is a partial, economic, political salvation, for certain sectors of power. But that is not leaving the crisis behind entirely. You will be gripped by the choice of power that you made. You have turned it into a business, for example, or you have grown stronger culturally from the crisis. Using the crisis for one's own profit is coming out from the crisis in a wrong way and, above all, it is coming out from it on one's own. We don't come out from a crisis on our own, we need to take risks and take each other's hand. If we don't do that, we can't come out from the crisis. So, that is the social aspect of the crisis.

This is a civilization crisis. And it just happens that nature is also in a crisis. I remember a few years ago I received several Heads of State from countries in Polynesia. And one of them said: "Our country is considering buying land in Samoa, because we may not exist in 25 years time, since the sea level is rising". We may not be aware, but there is a Spanish saying that could make us ponder: God always forgives. You can rest assured that God always forgives, and we, men, forgive every now and then. But nature never forgives. It pays us back. If we use nature for our profit, it will bear down on us.

A warmed up world prevents the construction of a fraternal and just society. We have the crisis, the pandemic, the notorious Covid. Back when I was a student, the "corona" viruses would give you a cold, at most. But then they began to mutate and we have seen what happens. It is so curious this thing about the viruses mutations, because we are facing a viral crisis, but also a world crisis. A world crisis in terms of our relationship with the universe. We are not living in harmony with the creation, with the universe. We slap it ever so often. We use our strength in a wrong way. Some people can't imagine the danger in which humanity is right now with this global warming and this abuse of nature.

I will tell you a personal experience: in 2007 I was part of the committee that would draft the Aparecida Document, and Brazilians would bring proposals regarding the protection of nature. "What are these Brazilians thinking"?, I wondered back then, as I didn't understand anything of these matters. But I have woken up, little by little, and then I felt I had to write something. Years later, when I traveled to Strasbourg, President François Hollande sent his Minister of Ecology and Sustainable Development, who was Ségolène Royale, to welcome me. And she asked me: "Is it true that you are writing something on the environment"?. When I said yes, she said: "Please, have it published before the Paris Climate Conference". So, I got together with scientists again, and they gave me a draft. Then I got together with theologists and they gave another me draft. And so I wrote Laudato Si. It was a demand to make the world aware that we are slapping nature. And nature will pay us back. It is paying us back.

"I don't like the way the world
is coming out from the pandemic"

- The encyclical Laudato Si warns that we often speak of ecology, but separating it from the social and development conditions. What would those new rules be, in economic, social and political terms, in the middle of what you have defined as a civilization crisis and with an Earth that, on top of everything, says "I'm done"

- Everything is connected, it is harmonious. It is impossible to think of humankind without nature and it is impossible to think of nature without humankind. Just like that passage in Genesis: "Grow, multiply and fill the Earth". Filling the Earth is being in harmony with it, to make it fruitful. We must have that vocation. The indigenous people from the Amazon rainforest use an expression that I love: "living well". They have a philosophy of living well, which has nothing to do with our Argentine concept of "having a good time" or with the Italian dolce vita. To them, living well is living in harmony with nature. We need an inner option for people and counties. A conversation, let's say. When people told me that Laudato Si was a nice environmental encyclical, I replied "No, it is a social encyclical". We cannot separate the social and the environmental aspects. The lives of men and women take place in an environment.

I think of a Spanish saying, I hope it is not too vulgar: "He who spits toward the sky is spitting on his face". This is what abusing nature is about. Nature will pay us back. Again: nature never forgives, not because it is vengeful, but because we set in motion processes of degeneration that are not in harmony with our being. A few years ago, I was stunned to see a photograph of a ship sailing over the North Pole for the first time. A navigable North Pole! What does this mean? The ice is melting because of global warming. When we see these things, it means we need to stop. And young people perceive it the most. We, elderly people, have worse habits. We say "it's not just a big deal", or we simply don't understand.


- Young people, as you point out, seem to have greater ecological awareness, but it also seems to be segmented. We observe less political commitment and voter turnout is very low among people under 35. What would you say to these young people? How can we help rebuild their hope?

-You brought up a difficult issue: the lack of political commitment in young people. Why don't they get involved in politics? Why don't they take a chance? Because they are disheartened. They have seen -I don't mean all of them, of course- mafia deals, corruption. When young people see that in their countries, as the saying goes, "even one's mother is up for sale" for the sake of business, then political culture is in decay. And that is why they do not want to get involved in politics. Nevertheless, we need them because they are the ones who have to lay out the salvation for universal politics. Why the salvation? Because if we do not change our approach to the environment, we are done for. Last December, we had a scientific and theological encounter about this environmental situation. And I remember that the Head of the Italian Academy of Sciences said: "If this doesn't change, my granddaughter who was just born yesterday will live in an uninhabitable world in 30 years time". That is why I say to young people that protesting is not enough. They need to find the way to take responsibility for the processes that can help us survive.

"If young people are not the protagonists
of history, we are done for"

- Do you believe that this frustration in young people is, in part, what leads them to be seduced by political extremism and hate speech?

- The process of a country, its process of social, economic and political development, needs continuous reassessment and continuous clashing with others. The world of politics is that clash of ideas and positions that purifies us and makes us move forward together. Young people must understand the science of politics, of coexistence, but also of the political struggle that cleanses us of selfishness and carries us forward. It is important to help young people in that social and political commitment, and also to protect them from being duped. Although, I do believe the youth of today are more sharp. Back in my days, we were so easily duped. They are more awake, they are brighter.

I have a lot of faith in the youth. “Sure, but they don’t show up to Mass”, a priest may say. And I reply that we must help them grow and be by their side. Then, God will speak to each of them. But we need to let them grow. If young people are not the protagonists of History, we are done for. Because they are the present and the future.

- A few days ago, you spoke of the importance of intergenerational dialogue.

- Regarding that, I would like to underline something that I always say: we need to reinstate the dialogue between the youth and the elderly. Young people need to dialogue with their roots and the elderly need to feel that they are leaving a legacy behind. When young people spend time with their grandparents, they receive sap, they receive things to carry forward. And when the elderly spend time with their grandchildren, they get hope. There is a line in one of Bernárdez’ poems, I forget which one, that says: “What the tree has in bloom is nourished by that which is buried”. He does not say “flowers come from the underground”. No, flowers are up there. But the dialogue between them, what we take from our roots and carry forward, that is the true meaning of tradition.

There is a quote by composer Gustav Mahler that had an impact on me: “Tradition is the guarantee of the future”. It is not a museum piece. It is what gives us life, as long as it makes you grow. Going backwards is something different: that is unhealthy conservatism. “It has always been done this way, so I won’t take a step forward”, they say. This topic may need further explanation, but I am sticking to the essential: the dialogue between young people and the elderly being the true meaning of tradition. It is not traditionalism. It is tradition that makes you grow, that is the guarantee of the future.


- Francis, you usually describe three evils of our times: narcissism, despondency and pessimism. How can we fight them?

-Those three things you mentioned "narcissism, despondency and pessimism" are within what is called "mirror psychology". Narcissus, obviously, looked at himself in the mirror. And that way of looking is not looking forward, but turning in on oneself and licking your own wounds. Actually, what makes one grow is the philosophy of otherness. One cannot grow in life without confrontation. Those three things you mentioned are related to the mirror: I look in the mirror to see myself and feel sorry for myself. I remember a nun who was always complaining. People at the convent called her "Sister Lament". Well, some people are constantly complaining about the evils of our times. But there is one thing that really helps to fight narcissism, despondency and pessimism: a sense of humor. It is so humanizing.

There is a beautiful prayer by Saint Thomas More that I have prayed every day for over 40 years, that begins this way: "Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest. Grant me a sense of good humor. Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke" A sense of humor puts things in perspective and is very good for us. It goes against that pessimistic, lamenting spirit. That was Narcissus, wasn't it? Going back to the mirror. Typical narcissism.

- Back in 2014, you already maintained that the world was entering a Third World War. Today, reality seems to confirm your prediction. Is the lack of dialogue and listening an aggravating factor for the current situation?

- The expression I used back then was “a World War in pieces”. The conflict in Ukraine is very close, so we are alarmed, but let’s think of Rwanda 25 years ago, or Syria the last 10 years, or Lebanon with their infighting, or Myanmar at this moment. What we are seeing today has actually been happening for a long time. Unfortunately, war is daily cruelty. War is not about dancing the minuet, it is about killing. And there is an entire structure for the sale of arms that favors it. A person who knew a lot about statistics once told me, I can’t remember the right numbers, that if arms were not produced for a year, we could end world hunger.

"The use and possession of nuclear weapons is immoral"

I believe it is time to rethink the concept of a "just war". A war may be just, there is the right to defend oneself. But we need to rethink the way that concept is used nowadays. I have said that the use and possession of nuclear weapons is immoral. Resolving conflicts through war is saying no to verbal reasoning, to being constructive. Verbal reasoning is very important. Now I am referring to our daily behavior. When you are talking to some people, they interrupt you before you have finished. We don't know how to listen to one another. We don't let people finish what they are saying. We must listen. Receive what they have to say. We declare war in advance, that is, we stop dialoguing. War is essentially a lack of dialogue.

When I visited Redipuglia in 2014, a World War I Memorial, I saw the age of the dead and I cried. That day I cried. Some years later, on 2nd November, I visited the Anzio War Cemetery and when I saw the age of those dead boys, I cried as well. I’m not embarrassed to say it. Such cruelty! And during the commemoration of the Normandy landings, I thought of the 30,000 boys who died on those beaches. Troops were ordered to storm the beaches, as the Nazis were waiting for them. Is that justified? Visiting the military cemeteries in Europe helps it dawn on you. 


- Are multilateral organizations failing in regard to these wars? Is it possible to achieve peace through them? Is it feasible to seek joint solutions?

- After World War II, trust was placed in the United Nations. It is not my intention to offend anybody, I know there are very good people working there, but at this point, the UN has no power to assert its authority. It does help to prevent wars, and I'm thinking of Cyprus, where Argentine troops are collaborating. But in order to stop a war, to resolve a conflict like the one we are seeing in Europe right now or like others around the world, it has no power. I don't mean to offend. It is just that its constitution does not give the organization that kind of power.

- Have the powers in the world changed? Has the weight of some institutions been modified?

- I don’t want to universalize. I’ll put it this way: some distinguished institutions are in crisis or, even worse, they are in a conflict. Those in crisis give me hope for possible progress. But the ones in a conflict are busy resolving internal problems. At the moment, we need courage and creativity. Without those two things, we won’t have international institutions that can help overcome these very serious conflicts, these death situations.


- 2023 will mark the 10th anniversary of your appointment as Pope, an ideal time to take stock. Were you able to achieve all your objectives? What projects are still pending?

- Everything I have done was neither my invention nor a dream I had after a night of indigestion. I picked up everything that we the Cardinals had said at the pre-Conclave meetings, the things we believed the new Pope should do. Then, we spoke of the things that needed to be changed, the issues to tackle. I carried out the things that were asked then. I do not think there was anything original of mine. I set in motion what we all had requested. For example, the Curia Reform concluded with the new Apostolic Constitution "Praedicate Evangelium", which "after eight and a half years of work and inquiries" managed to include what the Cardinals had asked, changes that were already in motion. Nowadays, it is a missionary-style experience. "Praedicate Evangelium", that is, "be a missionary". Preach the word of God. It means that the essential thing is going out.

Something curious: at those meetings, one of the Cardinals said that in the text of the Apocalypse, Jesus says "I am at the door and call; if someone opens the door, I will enter". So the Cardinal said: "Jesus is calling, but this time He wants us to let Him out, because we are imprisoning Him". That is what was asked at those meetings with the Cardinals. When I was chosen, I set things in motion. A few months later, inquiries took place and we published the new Constitution. Meanwhile, changes were being made. I mean, these were not ideas of my own. I want that to be clear. These were ideas born from the requests of the entire College of Cardinals.  

- But you are leaving your mark. We can see the stamp of the Latin American church?

- That is true.

-How did this perspective make the changes we are seeing possible?

- The Latin American Church has a long history of being close to the people. If we go over the episcopal conferences -the first one at Medellín, then Puebla, Santo Domingo and Aparecida-, they were always in dialogue with the people of God. And that really helped. It is a popular Church, in the real sense of the word. It is a Church of the People of God, That was altered when people could not express themselves and it ended up becoming a Church of trail bosses, with pastoral agents in command. People began to express themselves more and more about their religion and they ended up becoming protagonists of their own story.

Rodolfo Kusch, an Argentine philosopher, is the one that best understands what a people is. I highly recommend reading Kusch. He is one of the greatest Argentine brains. He wrote books on philosophy of the people. In a way, this is the experience of the Latin American Church, although there have been attempts of ideologization, such as the use of Marxist concepts in the analysis of reality by Liberation Theology. That was an ideological exploitation, a path of liberation -let?s say- of Latin American popular Church. But there is a difference between the peoples and populisms.


- What would that difference be?

-In Europe, I have to explain this constantly. They have had a very sad experience with populism here. There is a new book entitled Sindrome 1933 that goes over the way in which Hitler's populism took shape. So, I like to say: we shouldn't confuse populism with popularism. Popularism is when the People carries out its plans, expresses its voice in dialogue and is sovereign. Populism is an ideology that brings people together, that meddles with it to regroup it in one direction. Here, when you speak of fascism and Nazism, people understand what populism is in that aspect. The Latin American Church has had some cases of ideological subordination. That has happened and will continue to happen because it is a human condition. But it is a Church that has been able to express increasingly better its popular piety, for example, its religiousness and its popular organization.

When one sees in Salta, the "Misachicos" (TN: Misachicos are small processions organized by families or groups carrying the image of a saint, typical of the Argentine Northwest.) coming down 2 miles to participate in the patronal festivals of El Milagro, there is a religious entity there that is not superstition, because they identify with it. The Latin American Church has grown a lot in this sense. And it is also a Church that has been able to cultivate the peripheries, because that is where one can see true reality.

-Why does true transformation come from the periphery?

-I once heard a philosopher during a conference that really grabbed my attention. Her name was Amelia Podetti and she said: "Europe saw the Universe when Magellan arrived at the South". That is, from the largest periphery, Europe understood herself. The periphery makes us understand the center. You may or may not agree, but if you want to know what the People feels, go to the periphery.

Existential peripheries, not just social ones. Meet with the elderly, with children, go to the neighborhoods, go to the factories, to universities, go where there is a day-to-day struggle. That is where the People is. Those are the places where the People can express itself with more freedom. This to me is key. A politics from the People that is not populism. Respecting the values of the People, the rhythm and wealth of a People.

-These last years, Latin America began to show alternatives to neoliberalism, based on the construction of popular and inclusive projects. How do you see Latin America as a region?

-Latin America is still on that slow path of struggle, the path of San Martin and Bolivar’s dream of unity for the region. It has always been a victim and it will be a victim until it completes its liberation from exploitative imperialisms. All countries are dealing with that. I don’t want to mention any in particular because it is so obvious that everyone can see them. San Martin and Bolivar’s dream was a prophecy: the unity of all the Latin American People, beyond ideologies, in sovereignty. This is the challenge to achieve unity in Latin America. Each People must feel one with its identity and, at the same time, in need of the other’s identity. It is not easy.

"True reality is seen from the periphery"

-You suggest a path based on certain political principles.

- There are four political principles that help me, not just on this issue but even to solve problems of the Church. Four philosophical, political or social principles, as you like it. I will mention them: "Reality is superior to the idea"; that is, when you choose idealism, you have lost. It is about the reality, touching the reality. "The whole is superior to its parts"; that is, always seek the unity of the whole. "Unity is superior to conflict"; that is, when you prioritize conflict, you damage unity. "Time is superior to space"; notice imperialisms always try to occupy spaces and the People's magnanimity is to initiate processes.

These four principles have always helped me understand a country, a culture or the Church. They are human principles of integration. Other principles are more ideological, of disintegration. But reflecting on these four principles really does help a lot. 


- You may be the most important voice in the world in terms of social and political leadership. Do you feel that, with your discordant voice, you have the chance to change many things?

- I have felt at times that it is discordant. I believe my voice can change things "but I'm not so sure of myself, because that may hurt you. I say what I feel before God, before other people, with honesty and wishing it helps. I'm not so concerned with whether it will change things or not. I'd much rather say things and help in the process of them changing on their own. I believe that there is -in the world, and especially in Latin America- a great impulse to change things according to these four principles I just mentioned.

And it is true that when I speak everybody says "The Pope said this and that". But it is also true that they take a phrase out of context and make you say something you didn't mean. One must be very careful. For example, during the war there was a controversy over a statement I made on a Jesuit magazine. I said "there are no good guys and bad guys" and I explained why. But the phrase was taken out of context and they said "The Pope does not condemn Putin!". The reality is that the state of war is much more universal, more serious, and there are no good guys and bad guys. We are all a part of it and that is what we need to learn.

- The world has become increasingly inequitable and that also reflects on the media, in the form of corporate concentration, digital platforms and social networks that are increasingly powerful in terms of discourse production. In that context, what, in your opinion, should be the role of media?

-I think of the principle "Reality is superior to the idea", and a book by philosopher Simone Paganini comes to my mind. He is a professor at Aachen University and in this book he speaks of communication and the tensions that exist among the author of a book, the reader and the strength of the book itself. He believes tension grows, both in communication and when reading a book. And, in communication, that is key. Because, somehow, communication has to create a healthy kind of tension, one that makes the other person think and leads them to respond. If this doesn't occur, it is merely information.

"Communication must not change the essence of reality"

Human communication -and she speaks of journalists, communicators, whatever- must participate in the dynamics of that tension. We must be aware that communicating means getting involved. And we need to be aware of the need for getting involved appropriately. For example, there is the issue of objectivity. I communicate something and I say: "This thing happened, I believe this other thing". That is me taking a risk and opening myself to other people's response. But if I communicate something by pruning it and I don't say I'm pruning it, I am being dishonest because I am not communicating a truth. It is impossible to communicate objectively because if I am communicating it, I will put my sauce in it. That is why it is important to make the distinction "this thing happened, and I think this other thing". Unfortunately, nowadays, the "I think" leads to a distortion of reality. And this is very serious.

-In several occasions you have spoken of the sins of communication.

-The first time I spoke about this was at a conference in Buenos Aires, when I was archbishop. I spoke of the four sins of communication, of journalism. The first one is misinformation: I say what is convenient for me and I don’t say the rest. No, you have to say everything, otherwise it is misinformation. The second sin is libel. They make up things and sometimes they may destroy a person. The third one is defamation, which is different from libel, but it takes place when they bring back a thought that a person had a long time ago and this person has changed. It is equivalent to show the dirty diapers from babyhood when a person is a grown up already. The person was a baby and thought that way. Now they have changed, now they are different. And for the fourth sin I used the word coprophilia, that is, a taste for feces, a taste for filth. That is, they seek to smear, when they seek the scandal for the scandal’s sake. I remember Cardinal Antonio Quarracino used to say: “I don’t read that newspaper, because when I open it, blood gushes out of it”. It is the taste for what is dirty, what is ugly.

I think the media should be watchful not to fall into misinformation, libel, defamation and coprophilia. Their value is in expressing the truth. I say the truth, but it is me who expresses it and I add my own sauce to it. But I should make very clear which part is my sauce and which part is objective. And I transmit that. Even though sometimes in the process of transmission, honesty gets lost a little bit along the way: with word of mouth transmission, you go from Little Red Riding Hood running away from the wolf who wants to eat her, to -after the process of communication- a feast in which Grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood are eating the wolf. It is important to be careful so communication does not change the essence of reality.


-What is the value of communication?

-Communication is a sacred thing. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful things of humankind. Communicating is divine and we must do it with honesty and authenticity. Without adding things from our own harvest and not saying it. "This is what happened. I think it must this or my interpretation is that one", but it must be clear that it is you. Nowadays, the media have a great educational responsibility: teaching honesty to people, teaching how to communicate, leading by example, teaching how to coexist with one another. But if the media seem to have a machine gun in their hand to destroy people -with the selection of the truth, with libel, with defamation or by smearing- that will never make a People grow.

I ask the media to keep that healthy objectivity, which does not mean it should be like distilled water. Again: "this is the fact and I think this way". And you are out on the arena, making clear which part is your own thought. That is very noble. But if you speak with an agenda imposed by a political party, without saying it, that is ignoble, that is not what a well-bred person does. To be a good communicator, one must be well-bred.

-Many media, by prioritizing their interests, clear the way for an agenda based on the globalization of indifference. This concerns which issues the media decide to bring to light or to conceal, for various reasons.

-Yes. Sometimes, when I think of the media that unfortunately do not fulfill their mission, when I think of these aspects of our culture in general, of our global culture, aspects that harm society, a line comes to my mind, a line from a tango that may seem pessimistic but it is true: “Go ahead, come on! It’s all the same. And in the furnace we will meet again”. [TN: The quote belongs to “Cambalache” by Enrique Santos Discépolo] I does not seem to matter what is true and what is not. It does not matter whether a person wins or loses. It is all the same. When the media adopt that philosophy, it is disastrous because they generate a culture of indifference, of conformity, of relativism that harms us all.

- Very often technology is assigned a life of its own, as if it was responsible for doing wrong, over and beyond the use made of it. How can we recover humanism in such a technological world?

- An operating room is a place where technology is used in every detail. However, new technologies are used in surgical interventions with utmost care. Because there is a life at stake. The guideline should be as follows: technology must always bear in mind that it is dealing with human lives. One must think of an operation room. That is the kind of honesty one must always have, even in communication. There are lives at stake. We cannot act as if nothing happens. 


- You have always been a shepherd. How can you inspire that Church of shepherds, that Church of the street that speaks to the faithful. Is faith different now? Is the world less faithful? Can faith be recovered?

- I like to make a distinction between shepherds of the People and State clergymen. A State Clergyman is the one we could find at the French courts, like Monsieur L'Abbé. Sometimes we priests have the temptation of flirting with power too much, and that is not the way. The true way is shepherding. Being among your people, in front of your people and behind your people. Being among them to be able to smell them, to get to know them, because that is where you come from. Being in front of your people to lead the way, at times. And being behind your people to help stragglers, to let them walk on their own and see how far they can go, because sheep sometimes have an intuition for good pasture. That is a shepherd. A shepherd that only stands in front of the people is not a good one. The shepherd must be among the people, participating in the life of his people. If God made you shepherd is for you to herd, not to condemn. God came here to save, not to condemn. Those are words of Saint Paul, not mine. We need to save people, not get too stern.

Some people are not going to like what I am about to say: there is a capital at the Vèzelay Abbey, I can't remember if it was done around the year 900 or 1000. You know that, in medieval times catechesis was done with sculptures, with capitals. People would look at them and learn. This capital in Vèzelay really moved me: it is Judas hanging, the devil pulling him down and, on the other side, a good shepherd carries him on his shoulders with an ironic smile on his face. This teaches people that God is greater than your sin, God is greater than treachery. Don't despair over the mistakes you have made, there will always be someone to carry you on their shoulders. That is the best catechesis about the person of God, God's mercy. Because God's mercy is not a gift, it is Himself. He cannot be any other way. When we present a stern God, full of punishments, that is not our God. Our God is full of mercy, of patience. God never gets tired of forgiving. That is our God. Not the one we priests sometimes distort.

"Latin America has always been the victim of exploitative imperialisms"

-If society listens to God and to that People that is often unheard, do you believe we can construct a different discourse, alternative to the hegemonic discourse?

-Yes, of course. Hegemony is never healthy. I would like to talk about something before we finish: in our liturgical life, in the Gospel, we find the flight into Egypt. Jesus is forced to flee, with His mother and father, because Herod wants to kill Him. The Magi and all that story. When we think of the flight into Egypt, we often think they went in a carriage, very peacefully on a little donkey.

Well, two years ago a painter from Piedmont thought of the drama of a Syrian father and his son and said: “That is Saint Joseph and his child”. What that man suffers is what Saint Joseph suffered back in those days. That is the picture hanging over there, which he gave me as a gift.


-We are very proud of having an Argentine Pope, yet I always wonder how do you see yourself. How does the Pope see Bergoglio and how does Bergoglio would see Francis?

-Bergoglio never imagined he would end up here. Never. I came to the Vatican with a small suitcase, with the clothes on my back and very little more. Even more: I had left the sermons ready for Palm Sunday back in Buenos Aires. I thought: no Pope will be inaugurated on Palm Sunday, so I'll be flying back home by Saturday. I mean, I never imagined I would be here. And when I look back at the life of Bergoglio photographs speak for themselves. It is the story of a life with many gifts from God, many flaws on my part, many stances that were not so universal.

One learns in life to be universal, to be charitable, to be less bad. I believe that everybody is good. I mean, I see a man who has walked, who chose a path, with its highs and lows, and many friends who helped him along the way to keep on walking. In my life, I never walked alone. There were always men and women, starting with my parents, my siblings -one of them is still alive-, who were by my side. I don’t think of myself as someone lonely, because I’m not. A person who walked his life, who worked, who decided to be a priest, who did what he could. I can’t imagine thinking about it any other way.

-And how would Bergoglio see the Pope?

-I don’t know. I think deep down he would say “Poor guy! The life that befell you!” But being a Pope is not so tragic. One can be a good shepherd.

-Perhaps he would see you the way we see you: he would discover you.

-Yes, maybe. But it never occurred to me to ask myself that question, to go there. I’m going to think about it. 

- Do you feel that you have changed much as a Pope?

- Some people tell me that things that were seeds in my personality have bloomed. That I became more merciful. In my life, I have had strict periods, in which I was too strict. Then I realized that that is not the way. One needs to know how to lead. It has to do with the paternity of God. There is a very beautiful Neapolitan song that describes what a father is, and it says "Father knows what is going on with you, but pretends not to know". A father knows he must wait. He knows what is going on with you, but finds the way for you to figure it out on your own. He is waiting for you as if nothing happens. That is one aspect of Bergoglio of which I would be critical, during a period of his life, not always. As a bishop I was more benevolent. But in my days as a Jesuit I was very stern. Life is very nice in the style of God, knowing how to wait, always. To know, but to play the fool as if you didn't know, and letting the other person grow. That is one of the most beautiful wisdoms of life.

- You look very well, Francis. Does Pope Francis have a long way ahead?

- That's up to Him to decide.

The four principles of Pope Francis

Ever since his early years as a Jesuit student, Pope Francis has always defended four conceptual principles that have helped him understand not only his country's crossroads but also some the challenges of his own Church. "Reflecting on them really helps me a lot", his Holiness admitted during his exclusive interview to Télam at the Vatican.

"Reality is superior to the idea" is the first of these principles. The Pope explained that "when you choose idealism, you have lost. It is about the reality, touching the reality".

"The whole is superior to its parts" is the second principle, which translates as the need to "seek the unity of the whole", as Pope Francis pointed out.

“Unity is superior to conflict” is the third principle. In his words, “when you prioritize conflict, you damage unity”.

“Time is superior to space” is the fourth principle, which allows Pope Francis to explain the way “imperialisms always try to occupy spaces and the people’s magnanimity is to initiate processes”.

When defining them, Pope Francis likes to categorize them as “four philosophical, political or social principles”, as he recalls that they have always helped him “to understand a country, a culture or the Church”.

“They are human principles of integration”, he concluded, “while other principles are more ideological, of disintegration. I choose these.”

The Sins of Communication

The increasing influence of the media and the need to set in motion defence mechanisms in the face of information manipulation and "fake news", are issues that, for years, have been part of Pope Francis' agenda. "We need to be aware that communicating means getting involved. And we need to be very aware of the need for getting involved appropriately", Pope Francis said in his interview with Télam.

Since his days as archbishop in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis has critically analyzed this dangerous phenomenon and, true to his religious education, he has called it "the four Sins of Communication".

The first of them is misinformation. That is, reporting exclusively what is convenient to the medium and remaining silent about the rest. "No", Pope Francis stated, "You need to say it all. You can't misinform".

The second sin is libel, that is, a false accusation that “sometimes may even destroy a person”, Pope Francis said.

The third one is defamation, an action such as “bringing back an old thought of a person who has now changed, disregarding that the person is different now”, in words of the Pope.

For the fourth sin, Pope Francis used the word coprophilia, that is, “a taste for filth that seeks to smear by means of scandal”.

“The media -concluded Pope Francis- should be watchful not to fall into misinformation, libel, defamation and coprophilia. Their value is in expressing the truth”.

"We are abusing nature"

In a new call to protect the environment and stop what he defined as a "global crisis of our relationship with the Universe", Pope Francis warned that "some people can't imagine the danger in which humanity is right now with this global warming and this abuse of nature".

During the exclusive interview with Télam at the Vatican, Pope Francis expressed his concern about the worsening damage to the environment and the lack of global policies to address this situation. "We are not living in harmony with the creation. We slap it constantly. We use our strength in a wrong way", the Pope said.

Pope Francis also revealed his own personal path of awareness that concluded with Laudato Si, the 2015 encyclical in which he warned about the increasing harm to nature due to humankind’s irresponsible actions. “In 2007 I was part of the committee that would draft the Aparecida Document, and Brazilians would bring proposals regarding the protection of nature. “What are these Brazilians thinking?”, I wondered back then. But I have woken up, little by little, and then I felt I had to write something”, he recalled.

“Some time later”, he added, “when I traveled to Strasbourg, President François Hollande sent his Minister of Ecology and Sustainable Development, who was Ségolène Royale, to welcome me. And she asked me: ‘Is it true that you are writing something on the environment?’. When I said yes, she said: ‘Please, have it published before the Paris Climate Conference’. So, I got together with scientists again, and they gave me a draft. Then I got together with theologists and they gave me another draft. And so I wrote Laudato Si.”

“It was a demand to make the world aware that we are slapping nature. And nature will pay us back…It is paying us back”, he stated.

Kusch, the philosopher that Pope Francis recommends to read

Ignored by academia and isolated in his time for not accepting the ideas that Europe was trying to impose, Günter Rodolfo Kusch (1922-1979) was an Argentine philosopher, anthropologist and playwright who dedicated his life to research and disseminate the values of Latin American indigenous popular thinking.

The essence of his line of thought lies in the fact that if, when studying, we apply categories that are alien to our own reality, cultural domination makes the necessary emancipation of the Peoples impossible.

To fight this logic, Kusch moved to the Argentine Northwest with his wife and two fundamental "weapons": a recorder and a camera. With these tools, he listened to the people, keeping a record of the rich cultural knowledge that could be expressed by members of society such as a pharmacy owner, a weaver or a mule driver. In Kusch's opinion, philosophy could not be done without a specific environment in which to place it.

Also, Kusch established an essential difference between Spanish verbs "ser" and "estar" (the two Spanish translations for the English verb "be"), clarifying that the experience of "ser" goes back to 16th Century Europe, while "estar" comes from pre-Columbian cultures. Kusch believed that moving away from nature was a way of destroying it.

From Kusch's point of view, Latin American philosophy could only emerge from the Latin American cultural individual. According to this reasoning, he believed that there could not be a genuine Latin American philosophy, because its basis had been born in another cultural environment.

For this reason, he proposed that it was fundamental to bring to the forefront the Latin American culture expressed by the people, in order to capture an authentic philosophy.

"I start from the thesis that the question regarding popular thinking conceals the possibility of a thinking of one's own", explained the philosopher "that best understands what a people is", as Pope Francis defined him.

  Indigenous and popular thinking in America, originally published in 1970, is the only of his books that has been translated into English and published in 2010.


Documents and reads mentioned by Pope Francis

Aparecida: This document is the result of the V General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM), which took place at Aparecida, Brazil, in May 2007. Then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was chosen to lead the committee that would draft the concluding document. In nearly 300 pages, including an opening speech by Benedict XVI, the text delves into Latin America's new social order, based on the dignity of humankind and justice, with equity and solidarity as essential values.

Encyclical Letter Laudato Si': It is one of Pope Francis' fundamental books, a call to action to help humankind understand the importance of caring for what His Holiness defined as "our common home" and the way in which the destruction caused by our civilization impacts on people and the environment. It was presented on 24th May 2015, two years after being chosen Pope. "May our struggles and our concerns for this planet never take away from us the joy of hope", the encyclical concludes. Its nearly 200 pages, which summarize Pope Francis' philosophy and thinking, can be read at the Vatican Library.

Francisco Luis Bernárdez: (1900-1978) Argentine poet and civil servant. Bernárdez included Catholic themes in his work, in a lyrical tone. The words quoted by Pope Francis are the last lines of a sonnet that begins with the words "If to recover what I recovered" and is included in the book Cielo de tierra (1937). Together with Leopoldo Marechal and other artists, he was part of Convivio, a group of Catholic artists (visual artists, poets, architects, philosophers and historians) that was active between 1927 and 1947, approximately. He wrote for Proa and Criterio magazines, among others.

Gustav Mahler: (1860-1911) Austro-Bohemian composer and conductor, born in what is now the Czech Republic. Along with Richard Strauss, Mahler was one of the greatest exponent of late Romanticism. He composed nine symphonies, which are considered masterpieces, especially the Ninth Symphony, a deeply personal composition that he finished before his death. Mahler believed his music was best enjoyed in liturgical silence, yet considered tradition to be "the preservation of fire, not the worship of ashes", a quote often paraphrased by Pope Francis.

Siegmund Ginzberg: (1948 -) Philosopher and journalist, born in Istanbul into a Jewish family who moved to Milan (Italy) in 1950. He worked for many years as correspondent for "l'Unità", a newspaper connected to the Italian Communist Party, living in China, Japan, the United States and France, among other countries. Ginzberg is author of Sfogliature (2006), Risse da stadio nella Bisanzio di Giustiniano (2008), the novel Spie e zie (2015) and the essay Sindrome 1933 (2019), in which he analyzes Hitler's ascent to power. Sindrome 1933 is one of the books that Pope Francis recommended to Pedro Sánchez, current President of Spain.

Amelia Podetti: (1928-1979) Argentine philosopher, writer, essayist and university professor, Podetti was one of the most influential intellectuals of the Peronist group Iron Guard. She was editor-in-chief of Hechos e Ideas magazine. Her book La irrupción de América en la historia (1981), an analysis of the ways in which the discovery of the Americas changed not only the international scene but the world itself, delves into her ideas on the "peripheries", a subject that interested then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.

Simone Paganini: (1972 - ) Born in the North of Italy, he studied theology, philosophy and History and is currently a professor at Aachen University. He worked as research assistant at the universities of Vienna and Innsbruck and at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. He is author and researcher of several publications and books.

"Cambalache": Pope Francis quotes a few lines ("Dale que va, todo es igual, que allá en el horno se vamo' a encontrar") of "Cambalache", an iconic tango by Enrique Santos Discépolo. Composed in 1934, "Cambalache" was performed for the first time by the end of that same year at Teatro Maipo in Buenos Aires, sung by Sofía "La Negra" Bozán.

* Translated by Lucía Balducci