“We never learn. May the Lord have mercy on us, on all of us. Every one of us is guilty!”
Speaking to reporters aboard the papal plane from Malta, Pope Francis recalls what struck him about the island’s welcome and returns to talk about the war in Ukraine. (Here below is an unofficial translation of the Pope’s inflight press conference)
Q: Thank you for your presence in Malta. My question is about the surprise of this morning in the chapel where [St. George Preca] is buried… What motivated you to make this surprise to the Maltese, and what you will remember about this visit to Malta? And how is your health? We have seen you during this very intense trip. We can say it went well. Thank you very much. (Andrea Rossitto with TVM)
My health is a bit fickle, I have this problem with my knee that causes problems with getting about, with walking. It’s a bit annoying, but improving, and at least I can get out. Two weeks ago, I couldn’t do anything. It’s a slow thing; we’ll see if it comes back. However, a doubt arises at this age about not knowing how the game will end. Let’s hope it goes well.
And then about Malta: I was happy with the visit: I saw the realities of Malta; I saw an impressive enthusiasm of the people, both on Gozo and on Malta, in Valletta, and in the other places. There was a great enthusiasm in the streets; I was amazed. It was a bit short.
One problem I saw for you and also one of the problems is migration. The problem of migrants is serious because Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Italy, and Spain: these are the closest countries to Africa and the Middle East, and they land here, they arrive here… Migrants must always be welcomed! The problem is that each government has to say how many they can receive regularly to live there. This requires an agreement among the countries of Europe, and not all of them are willing to receive migrants. We forget that Europe was made by migrants, right? But that’s the way things are, but at the very least let us not leave all the burden to these neighbouring countries that are so generous, and Malta is one of them.
Today I was in the migrant reception centre and the things I heard there are terrible, the suffering of these people to get here… and then the camps, there are camps, which are on the Libyan coast, when they are sent back. This seems criminal, doesn’t it? That’s why I think it’s a problem that touches everyone’s heart. Just as Europe is making room so generously for the Ukrainians who knock on the door, so too for the others who come out of the Mediterranean.
This is a point that I finished the visit with, and it touched me so much, because I heard the testimonies, the sufferings and that are more or less like those that I think I told you are in that little book that came out, “Hermanito” in Spanish, “little brother”; and all the Via Crucis [the Way of the Cross] of these people. One of those who spoke today had to pay four times! I ask you to think about this. Thank you.
Q: On the flight that took us to Malta, you told one of my colleagues that a trip to Kyiv “is on the table”. While in Malta you referred to your closeness to the Ukrainian people, and on Friday in Rome, the Polish President opened the door to a possible visit to the Polish border. Today we were struck by the images coming from Bucha, a village near Kyiv, abandoned by the Russian army where Ukrainians have found dozens of bodies in the streets, some with their hands tied, as if they had been “executed”. It seems, today, that your presence there is increasingly necessary. Do you think such a trip is feasible? And what conditions would have to be in place for you to be able to go there? (Jorge Antelo Barcia with RNA)
Thank you for conveying this news from today that I was not yet aware of. War is always an act of cruelty, an inhuman thing, that goes against the human spirit; I don’t say Christian, [I say] human. It is the spirit of Cain, the “Cainist” spirit… I am willing to do whatever needs to be done, and the Holy See, especially the diplomatic side, Cardinal Parolin and Archbishop Gallagher, are doing everything… everything possible. We cannot render public everything they do, for prudence, for confidentiality, but we are pushing the boundaries of our work.
Among the possibilities there is the trip; there are two possible trips: the President of Poland proposed one trip when he asked me to send Cardinal Krajewski to visit the Ukrainians who have been welcomed in Poland; he has already been there twice – he brought two ambulances, and he was there with them for some time, and he will go again; he is willing to do so.
The other option is the trip that some of you have asked about; I answered with sincerity that I was planning to go, that my availability remains constant. There is no “no”: I am available. What are my thoughts regarding such a trip? This was the question: “we heard that you were thinking about a trip to Ukraine”; I said that it is on the table; it is there, one of the proposals I have received, but I don’t know if it can be done, if it is fitting, and whether if would be for the best or if it is fitting to undertake it, whether I should go… all this is in the air.
For some time there have been considerations made regarding a meeting with Patriarch Kirill; that’s what’s being worked on, with the possibility of the Middle East as a venue for such a meeting. This is the how things are being considered at the moment.
Q: Several times during this trip you have talked about the war. The question everyone is asking is whether since the beginning of the war you have spoken to President Putin, and if not, what would you say to him today? (Gerry O’Connell with America Magazine)
The things which I’ve said to authorities on all sides are public. None of the things I have said are confidential. When I spoke to the Patriarch, he then released a nice statement of what we said to each other.
I spoke to the President of Russia at the end of last year when he called me to wish me ‘happy birthday’. I have spoken twice to the President of Ukraine. Then, on the first day of the war, I felt I had to go to the Russian Embassy to speak to the Ambassador who is the representative of the people, and ask questions and offer my impressions regarding the situation. These are the official contacts I have had. With Russia I did it through the Embassy.
Also, I have spoken to the Major Archbishop of Kiev Shevchuk. I have also spoken regularly—every two or three days—with one of you, Elisabetta Piqué, who was in Lviv and is now in Odessa. She tells me how things are. I have also spoken with the rector of the seminary. But as I said, I am also in contact with one of you.
Speaking of that, I would like to give you condolences for your colleagues who have fallen. Whatever side they are on, it doesn’t matter. However, your work is on behalf of the common good, and they have fallen in service of the common good, on behalf of information. Let’s not forget them. They were brave, and I pray for them that the Lord will reward them for their work. These have been the contacts I have had so far.
Q: But what would be your message for Putin if you had a chance (to talk to him)?
The messages I have given to all the authorities are the ones I have done publicly. I do not do double-speak. I always speak the same.
I think in your question there is also doubt about just and unjust wars. Every war stems from an injustice, always, because that is the pattern of war. This is not a pattern for peace. For example, making investments to buy weapons. Some people say: ‘But we need them to defend ourselves.’ This is the pattern of war. When World War II ended everyone breathed “never war” and peace. There began a wave of work for peace with the goodwill not to give weapons, atomic weapons at that time, on behalf of peace, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There existed a great goodwill.
Seventy years later we have forgotten all that. That’s how the pattern of war imposes itself. There was so much hope in the work of the United Nations then. But the pattern of war has imposed itself again. We cannot image another pattern. We are not used to thinking of the pattern of peace anymore. There have been great people like Ghandi and others whom I mention at the end of the encyclical Fratelli tutti who have bet on the pattern of peace.
But as humanity we are stubborn. We are in love with wars, with the spirit of Cain. It is not by chance that at the beginning of the Bible this problem is presented: the “Cainist” spirit of killing instead of the spirit of peace. ‘Father, you can’t!’
I’ll tell you something personal: In 2014, when I was in Redipuglia and saw the names of the dead, I cried. I truly cried out of bitterness. Then, a year or two later, for the Day of the Dead I went to celebrate in Anzio and saw the names the men who fell there. They were all young men, and I cried there, too. I really did. We must cry on the graves.
There is something that I respect because there is a political problem. When there was the commemoration of the Normandy landings, several heads of government came together to commemorate it. However, I don’t remember anyone talking about the 30,000 young boys who were left on the beaches. Youth does not matter. That makes me wonder. I am grieved. We never learn. May the Lord have mercy on us, on all of us. Every one of us is guilty!
By Vatican News.