In his interview with journalists on board the flight from Seoul to Rome, Francis spoke of ISIS’ violence: “It is right to stop an unjust aggressor. When I say “stop” I do not mean launch bombs and go to war…It is the UN that needs to work out how to intervene.” Francis wanted to visit the conflict zone and said he is ready for a trip to China. He confirmed his visit to the US and to the offices of the United Nations

 In his interview with journalists on board the flight from Seoul to Rome, Francis spoke of ISIS’ violence: “It is right to stop an unjust aggressor. When I say “stop” I do not mean launch bombs and go to war…It is the UN that needs to work out how to intervene.” Francis wanted to visit the conflict zone and said he is ready for a trip to China. He confirmed his visit to the US and to the offices of the United Nations

On ISIS’ aggression against Christian minorities in Iraq and the bombs dropped by the US

“In cases where there is unjust aggression, all I can say is that it is right to “stop” an unjust aggressor. I must emphasise the verb “stop”, by this I do not mean dropping bombs and declaring war, but stopping it. Careful consideration needs to go into how it is stopped. Stopping an unjust aggressor is right. But we must bear in mind how many times the excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor has been used by powers to take control of populations and gone to war in order to conquer. One nation alone cannot judge how an unjust aggressor should be stopped. After World War Two, the idea of the United Nations came about; this is where discussion needs to take place, asking: is this an unjust aggressor? It seems so, so how do we stop him? Nothing more than this. Secondly there are the minorities. Thank you for using this term. Because people talk to me about Christians, about the suffering, about martyrs. And yes, there are many martyrs. But here there are men and women, religious minorities; not all of them are Christians but all of them are equal in God’s eyes. Stopping the unjust aggressor is humanity’s right but it is also the aggressor’s right to be stopped so he does not cause any harm.”

On the possibility of visiting the Iraq war zone

“I am prepared to go to Iraq and I believe I can say this: when my collaborators and I learnt about the current situation religious minorities are faced with and the problem Kurdistan was facing at the time, unable as it was to shelter so many people, many thoughts went through our head. First of all we wrote the statement Fr. Lombardi  published. This statement was then sent to all Nunciatures so it could be sent on to governments. Then we wrote to the General Secretary fo the United Nations and decided to send a personal envoy there, Cardinal Filoni. Finally, we said that if necessary I could go there after I returned from Korea, it was a possibility. I am prepared to do it! It would not the best thing to do at the moment but I am prepared to do it.”

Was the peace prayer meeting with Abu Mazen and Peres a failure?

“The peace prayer meeting was absolutely not a failure. These two men are men of peace, they are men who believe in God and have experienced many awful things, so many awful things. And they are adamant that the path of negotiation, dialogue and peace is the only to solve the problem. Was the meeting a failure? I believe the door is still open. Peace is a gift from God which we earn through hard work, but it is a gift. And humanity needs to know that the negotiation room which is very important, is also a prayer room After our prayer session in the Vatican, what happened happened. But this is short-term. That meeting was not, it is a fundamental human step, a prayer. Now the smoke caused by the bombs and war makes the door impossible to see but the door remained open as of that moment. I believe in God, I believe in the Lord, that door remained open and we ask Him to help us.”

On the victims of war

“Today we live in a world that is at war, war is everywhere! Someone said to me: you know father, this is the third worlds war but split into different chapters. It is a world at war, where cruel acts are committed. I would like to focus on two words here. The first is cruelty. Children no longer matter! Once we spoke of conventional warfare, now this no longer matters. I am not saying that conventional warfare is a good thing, no. But in today’s world, bombs killed the innocent along with the guilty, children, women, mothers: they kill everyone. Can’t we just stop for a minute and think about the level of cruelty we have reached? And this should frighten us. The level of human cruelty right now is a little frightening.”

On torture

“Today torture is almost the norm in intelligence operations and some judicial processes… And torture is a sin against humanity, it is a crime against humanity. I say this to Catholics: torturing a person is a deadly sin, it is a serious sin. But it is more than this: it is a sin against humanity. Cruelty and torture. I would love you journalists to reflect in your reports about what level of cruelty humanity has reached and what you think about torture. I think it would be good for all of us to reflect on this.”

The Holy See’s relationship with China and the possibility of the Pope visiting the country

“When we were flying through Chinese airspace on the way to Korea, I was in the cockpit and one of the pilots showed me a log that showed that we would be entering Chinese airspace in ten minutes and we had to ask for authorisation – this is the norm, you always have to ask, whichever country you fly over – and I heard how they were asking for authorisation and how they responded, I was witness to this. The pilot said: the telegram if being sent, I don’t know how he did it but he did it. Then I returned to my seat and I prayed and prayed for the beautiful and noble Chinese people: a wise people.”  I am thinking of the great Chinese wise men, I am thinking of the history of science, of wisdom… Us Jesuits have our own piece of history there thanks to Matteo Ricci… Do I want to go to China? Of course! I would go there tomorrow! We respect the Chinese people. All the Church asked for was to exercise its ministry freely, to work freely. No other conditions. And then we must not forget that fundamental letter on the Chinese problem which Pope Benedict XVI sent to the people of China. That letter is still relevant today. It is good to read it again. The Holy See is always open to communication, always, because it has a deep respect for the Chinese people.”

On Francis’ upcoming trips and the hope of seeing him in Avila (Spain) in 2015

“This year’s planned destination is Albania. I am going there for two important reasons. Firstly because this country managed to form a government – remember this is Balkans we are talking about -, a national unity government comprising Muslims, Orthodox faithful and Catholics and they have an interreligious council that helps a lot and is well balanced. I felt my presence would be of help to this noble people. The other reason in this: think of Albania’s history; it is the first and only communist and constitutionally atheist country to ever exist. Going to mass was anti-constitutional! One of the ministers was telling me that – and I want to give the precise figure here – 1,820 Orthodox and Catholic churches were destroyed here. Back then, other churches were turned into cinemas, theatres ad dance halls. I felt I needed to go and I can do it in one day. Next year I would like to go to the meeting of families in Philadelphia and I was invited by the President of the United States to address the US Congress. I was also invited by the Secretary General of the United Nations to visit the UN headquarters in New York. Maybe I can do all three cities: Philadelphia, Washington and New York. The Mexicans want me go and visit Our Lady of Guadalupe  (in Mexico City) during my trip to America and I may take the opportunity to go but nothing has been decided yet.”

Francis’ relationship with Benedict XVI

“We see each other. I visited him before I left for Korea. He sent me a text two weeks ago which he wanted my opinion on. We have a normal relationship. Because I don’t think the Pope Emeritus is an exception and perhaps certain theologians don’t like this, but I am not a theologian.  I think the Pope Emeritus is already an institution because we do get old and when one reaches a certain age, one does not have the strength to govern well because the body is too tired … One’s health may be good but there is no longer the ability to take on all the problems that come with governing the Church. If I didn’t feel I was able to carry on I would do the same. I will pray but think I would do the same. We are brothers and I have already said that because of his wisdom it is like having my grandfather with me. He is a man of wisdom. Speaking to him does me good. And he gives me quite a bit of encouragement.”

You lead a very busy life. Little rest and no holidays. Is your fast-paced lifestyle something to be concerned about?

“Yes, I have been told that. I spent my holidays at home, as I always do. I once read an interesting book titled “The happy neurotic” (“Rallegrati di essere nevrotico”). I am neurotic about some things too and I have to take care eh? One of my obsessions is that I am a little bit too attached to my own habitat. The last time I went on holiday away from home was with the Jesuits back in 1975. I always take time off but in my own habitat, I slow down: I sleep more, I read things I like, I listen to music, I pray more. And this relaxes me. I did this often in July. It’s true, the day I was meant to go to the Gemelli hospital I was ready to go but then ten minutes later I just couldn’t. That was a very busy time. Now I know I need to be more prudent. You are right…”

You are hugely popular. How do you deal with this? What’s it like for you?

“I thank the Lord that His people are happy, wishing people the best. I see it as genuine generosity from the people. Inside, I try to reflect on my sins, my mistakes, so that I don’t get too big for my own boots (Francis used the expression “credermela”, from the Spanish “creerse”, which means “to think too highly of oneself”, Ed.), because I know that this will only last as long as I do, two or three years and then… it’s off to the Lord’s house! I experience it as the Lord being present among his people, using the bishop, who is the people’s shepherd, to show them many things. It feels more natural than before, because it used to scare me a bit.”

What is your life in the Vatican like besides work?

“I try to be freer. I have work commitments and the life I lead is as normal as it gets. I would like to go out but I can’t, I can’t. Life in St. Martha’s House is normal: work, rest, chats here and there… Do I feel like a prisoner? No. At the beginning I did but some walls have been broken down now… for example (he smiles), the Pope could not take the elevator on his own, someone would immediately come to accompany him! “You go and get on with your job, I can take the elevator by myself!” And that was that,  and so eh… normality, normality.”

On the next encyclical dedicated to the protection of creation

“Cardinal Turkson and I have talked a great deal about this and I have also discussed it with others. I asked cardinal Turkson to collect together all the material that has been sent in. He gave me the first draft before the trip. It’s this big (he said widening his arms, Ed.); it’s one third thicker than the “Evangelii Gaudium”. It’s the first draft. It is not an easy topic to deal with because one can only speak with certainty about the protection of Creation, ecology – human ecology – up until a certain point. Then there are the scientific theories, some are quite reliable, others are not. And an encyclical is supposed to be magisterial so it can only base itself on certainties, on things that are certain. If the Pope said that the Earth is at the centre of the universe and not the sun, he would be wrong because he would be making a statement that is not scientifically sound. The same applies in this case too, each paragraph needs to be carefully studied. I think it will be thinned down as we have to go straight to the heart of the issue. Footnotes can be added to explain the various theories that exist. But these should be provided as additional information, they should not be included in the main body of the text which is doctrinal, meaning all information must be rock solid.”

On the beatification of the Salvatorian archbishop Oscar Romero

“The cause was blocked in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith apparently out of prudence. Now it has been unblocked. It has gone to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and is going through the same procedures as any other cause; it depends on how the Postulators handle it. It is important for things to move quickly. Because I would like clarification to be given as to what constitutes martyrdom in odium fidei, both for professing the Creed and for acting in the way Jesus asks us to with others. This is a job for theologians, and they are currently looking into this. A part from Romero there is also Rutilio Grande and others. Otehrs who were killed but did not have the same status as Romero; a theological distinction needs to be made between all of this. For me, Romero is a man of God. His cause needs to be carried forward; the Lord needs to send a sign; if it is His wish to do so he will do it. Now postulators need to crack on because there are no longer any obstacles.”

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