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Saving lives must be first concern of immigration policy, pope says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The defense of the life, dignity and human rights of migrants and refugees must come before any other question when enacting migration policies, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in April 2016. In an interview with an Italian government journal, the pope said his visit to Lesbos and his 2013 visit to Lampedusa, Italy, were meant to show that all religions want "to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land." (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in April 2016. In an interview with an Italian government journal, the pope said his visit to Lesbos and his 2013 visit to Lampedusa, Italy, were meant to show that all religions want “to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land.” (CNS/Paul Haring)

“The defense of human beings knows no limits,” the pope said in an interview with the journal of the Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration of the Italian Ministry of the Interior.

“Those in power,” he said, “must be both far-sighted and coherent in watchful respect for fundamental human rights, as well as in trying to end the causes which force civilians to flee.”

Of course, he said, a safe and humane approach to handling the current global migration crisis requires international cooperation and policies that “respect both those who welcome and those who are welcomed.”

Newcomers must respect the laws of their host countries and be assisted in integrating into the life of their new communities, he said in the interview published April 7. And members of the receiving community must be educated to understand the real causes of migration and the desperate situations of those who feel forced to flee their homes.

The news media play a big role, Pope Francis said. They should explain the human rights violations, violence, poverty and catastrophes that lead so many people to flee.

But, especially, he said, the media must report responsibly and not simply “indulge in negative stereotypes when talking about migrants and refugees.”

“Just think of the unfair terms often used to describe migrants and refugees,” the pope said. “How often do we hear people talk of ‘illegals’ as a synonym for migrants? This is unfair. It is based on a false premise, and it pushes public opinion toward negative judgments.”

Asked about his 2016 trip to refugee camps in Lesbos, Greece, with leaders of the Orthodox Church, Pope Francis said it was a sign of “fraternal responsibility.”

“We are all united in wanting to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land,” the pope said. “There is no difference of creed that can outweigh this wish, in fact, quite the contrary.”

Pope Francis said he wished the political leaders of every nation would show the same kind of joint concern for “the cries of the many innocents who ask only for a chance to save their own lives.”

As for anti-immigrant feelings and fears among some Europeans, the pope urged people to remember what Europe was like after World War II.

Millions of Europeans immigrated to South America or the United States, he said. “It was not an easy experience for them, either. They had the burden of being seen as foreigners, arriving from afar with no knowledge of the local language.

“The process of integration wasn’t easy, but for the most part it ended in success,” Pope Francis said.

Countries that have grown and thrived over the centuries by accepting and integrating newcomers cannot forget that experience or pretend it will not be repeated today, he said.

For example, “Europeans contributed greatly to the growth of trans-Atlantic societies,” those in North and South America. “This is always the case: Any exchange of culture and knowledge is a source of wealth and should be valued as such.”

Members of the Catholic Church have an even greater obligation to recognize the value of welcoming newcomers, Pope Francis said. “We can see the peaceful integration of people from other cultures as a kind of reflection of its Catholicism. A unity which accepts ethnic or cultural diversity constitutes a dimension of church life, which in the spirit of Pentecost is open to all. open to embracing everyone.”

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Pope Francis talks criticisms, populism in interview with German weekly


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — When facing criticism, a sense of humor and the grace to remain at peace are always the best response, Pope Francis said in an interview with Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper.

In the interview, published March 8 online and in print March 9, the pope laughed and said the Roman dialect featured in posters that were plastered around the Rome city center criticizing him “was great.”

Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 1.In an interview he gave to a German weekly newspaper, Die Zeit, published March 8, the pope addressed his response to criticisms and the current populism trend.  (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 1.In an interview he gave to a German weekly newspaper, Die Zeit, published March 8, the pope addressed his response to criticisms and the current populism trend. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The poster, featuring a stern-faced picture of the pope, said: “Ah Francis, you’ve taken over congregations, removed priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of the Immaculate, ignored cardinals … but where is your mercy?”

“There is this prayer, which is attributed to (St.) Thomas More, that I pray every day: ‘Lord, give me a sense of humor!’ The Lord preserves my peace and gives me a great sense of humor,” Pope Francis said.

Vatican Radio released a brief summary with selected quotes from the nearly 6,000-word interview, in which the pope discussed several issues and events.

Order of Malta

Among the areas of discussion was his relationship with Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, current patron of the Order of Malta, who is often viewed as one of Pope Francis’ most vocal critics.

The pope denied rumors that Cardinal Burke was sent to Guam as a form of “exile” to be the presiding judge in a church trial investigating allegations of sexual abuse leveled against Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron of Agana.

Instead, he was chosen, the pope said, because the former head of the Vatican’s highest court is “an excellent jurist” and the allegations were “terrible incidents.” He said he was grateful for the cardinal’s service to address “a serious abuse case.”

“I do not regard Cardinal Burke as an adversary,” the pope said.

The pope was asked about the recent change of leadership at the Knights of Malta, in which Fra Matthew Festing, the former grand master, resigned at the pope’s request, after the order’s forced ouster of its grand chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager.

While Cardinal Burke remained the order’s patron, the pope appointed Archbishop Angelo Becciu as his special delegate and sole spokesman to the Knights of Malta.

“The problem with the Order of Malta was more that (Cardinal Burke) was unable to deal with it,” he said. “I have not removed his title of patron. He is still the patron of the Order of Malta.”

The pope suggested it was a question of “clearing things up a bit in the order, and that is why I sent a delegate with a different charism than (Cardinal) Burke.”

Pope Francis has been an outspoken in his criticism against populist rhetoric that views refugees escaping war, violence and poverty as “unworthy of our attention, a rival or someone to be bent to our will.”

Rise of populism

When asked by Die Zeit about the rise of populism, particularly from those on the right of the political spectrum , the pope said he uses the word “populism” in the sense defined in Latin America as way “to use the people” to gain power.

Recalling Germany’s history, the pope said Adolf Hitler rose to power promising to return Germany to its former glory after a serious economic crisis.

“He convinced the people that he could. Populism always needs a messiah and a justification: ‘We preserve the identity of the people!’” the pope said.

“Great politicians,” such as Germany’s first post-war chancellor, Konrad Adenauer and former French Prime Minister Robert Schuman, envisioned a Europe united in brotherhood, and that “had nothing to do with populism,” he said.

“These men had the gift of serving their country without placing themselves in the center, and this made them great leaders. They did not have to be a messiah. Populism is evil and ends badly, as the past century has shown,” Pope Francis said.

Other topics the pope touched on in the interview included the shortage of priests and the possibility of female deacons.

“The call for priests represents a problem, an enormous problem,” especially in Germany and Switzerland, he said.

“The problem is the lack of vocations. And the church must solve this problem,” the pope said.

He expressed the view that an increase in prayer and outreach to youth could change the situation.

“The Lord has told us: Pray! That is what’s lacking: prayer. And also lacking is the work with young people who are seeking direction. Service to others is missing” and low birth rates are also a factor, said the pope. “Working with young people is difficult, but it is essential, because youth long for it.”

He added that youths are the ones who lose most in many modern societies because of a lack of employment.

Asked whether the vow of celibacy could be optional for the priesthood, but not for higher offices like bishop or cardinal, the pope said, making clerical celibacy optional “is not the solution.”

When asked about ordaining married men of proven virtue, known in Latin as “viri probati,” Pope Francis replied that was a topic, like others, theologians needed to study more in depth.

“Then we must determine what tasks they could undertake, for example in remote communities,” he said.

Women deacons?

Pope Francis spoke about the commission studying women deacons and the exact roles they played in early church history. The commission is an ongoing project, he said, dedicated to open dialogue.

“It was about exploring the subject, and not to open a door” on automatic approval, Pope Francis said of the commission.

“This is the task of theology; it must research to get to the foundation of things, always. That also goes for the study of the sacred Scriptures. … What does that mean today? Truth is to have no fear. That is what historical truth and scientific truth tell us: Do not be afraid! That makes us free.”

Pope Francis also discussed his personal faith experiences and beliefs about God’s mercy, saying that an individual’s faith grows throughout a lifetime.

“Faith is a gift. It will give itself,” said the pope, adding that faith is to be prayed for.

“He said he does not like to be idealized by others, saying that idealizing a person leads to aggression.

“I am a sinner and I am fallible,” he said. “When I am idealized, I feel attacked.”

He said that he views himself as a normal person trying to do his best.

He also added that he does not become angry at people who disagree with his opinions and believes that diverse opinions are good for the world.

“Since I was elected pope, I have never lost my peace. I can understand if some people do not like my own way of going about things, and that is completely normal,” said Pope Francis.

“Everyone may have their own opinion. That is legitimate and humane and enriching,” he said.

Travel plans

In response to a question, Pope Francis said he is not able to visit Germany this year for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, despite an invitation from Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The appointment calendar is very full this year,” he told Die Zeit.

Asked whether he would visit Russia, China, India or other countries perhaps this year, Pope Francis replied: “To Russia I cannot travel, because then I would also have to travel to Ukraine.

Even more important would be a trip to South Sudan, but I don’t believe that is possible. Also, a trip to the Congo was planned, but that will also not work with (President Joseph) Kabila. So, remaining on the program are India, Bangladesh and Colombia, one day for Fatima in Portugal, and as far as I know, a trip to Egypt is being studied. Sounds like a full calendar, right?”

Contributing to this story were Zita Fletcher in Germany and Carol Glatz in Rome.

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New book of conversations with retired Pope Benedict due in September


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Retired Pope Benedict XVI has given another interview to the journalist and author Peter Seewald, and a German publisher announced it would be released worldwide Sept. 9.

A new book, called "Last Conversations" with Retired Pope Benedict XVI, is due to be released in September. (CNS file)

A new book, called “Last Conversations,” with Retired Pope Benedict XVI is due to be released in September. (CNS file)

Titled “Letzte Gesprache,” (which translates as “last conversations”), the book includes an in-depth conversation with the retired pope about the background of his resignation in 2013, said the German publisher, Droemer Knaur.

Information about an English translation and publisher was not immediately available.

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, which has the rights to an Italian newsstand edition of the book, reported July 1 that Pope Benedict admits to Seewald that he knew of “the presence of a ‘gay lobby’ in the Vatican composed of four or five people and he says he was able to remove their power.”

Pope Benedict also says he kept a diary during his pontificate, but he plans to destroy it, even though he knows that historians could find it valuable, Corriere reported.

On its website, Droemer said Pope Benedict speaks about the priorities of his pontificate, the VatiLeaks scandal, which saw the conviction and jailing of his butler, and about Pope Francis and the “controversial issues” of his papacy.

Pope Benedict discusses the challenges facing the Catholic Church today, but also looks back to memories of his family and formative events in his life, Droemer said.

The retired pope speaks of his “surprise” when Pope Francis was elected and his “joy” in seeing how the new pope prays in public and is able to communicate with a crowd, Corriere reported. He also discusses the ways in which he and Pope Francis are alike and are different.

Before he was elected pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger collaborated with Seewald on two book-length interviews: “Salt of the Earth,” published in German in 1996, and “God and the World,” published in German in 2000. As pope, he and Seewald released “Light of the World” in 2010.

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From butcher to Jesuit: Pope talks to homeless man about his youth, commitment to poor


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Inundated with requests from major media outlets around the world, Pope Francis chose to sit down for an interview with a homeless man who makes his living selling newspapers in Netherlands.

The pope said he wanted to grow up to be a butcher when he was a child in an interview with a homeless vendor that was published this week.  (CNS file/Debbie Hill))

Pope Francis said he wanted to grow up to be a butcher when he was a child in an interview with a homeless vendor that was published this week. (CNS file/Debbie Hill))

The pope met with 51-year-old Marc, who was accompanied by Frank Dries, the Straatnieuws newspaper’s editor; Stijn Fen, a journalist; and Jan-Willem Wits, the former spokesman of the Dutch bishops’ conference. The interview, which took place at the Vatican Oct. 27, was published Nov. 6.

The interview began with a question about the pope’s early days in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio would often sneak out of his home to play soccer with his classmates. The pope admitted that although he loved to play, he wasn’t exactly a star athlete.

“In Buenos Aires, those who played soccer like me were called ‘pata dura,’ which means ‘having two left feet.’ I played; I was the goalie many times,” he said.

The pope’s personal commitment to those in need was also rooted in his childhood, he said, recalling the poor Italian woman who worked as his family’s housekeeper. Her poverty, he said, “struck me” and his mother often gave her necessities that she lacked for her own family.

The woman eventually went back to Italy and returned to Argentina many years later when the pope was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

“I accompanied her until she died at 93 years old. One day she gave me a Sacred Heart of Jesus medal that I carry with me every day,” the pope said, adding that it serves as a daily reminder of how she and many others suffer due to poverty.

When asked if he fears that people will grow tired of his defense of the poor and of refugees, the pope noted that while he does feel that some may be tired of it, “it does not scare me. I must continue to speak the truth and how things are.”

“It is my duty, I feel it inside me. It is not a commandment, but as people, we all must do it,” he said.

Pope Francis stressed that the church must also be “a witness of poverty,” but there are also temptations to lead by words alone and not by deeds. “If a believer speaks about poverty or the homeless and lives the life of a pharaoh: this cannot be done,” he said.

He also warned against the dangers of corruption in both political and religious life, recalling that during the Falklands War with Great Britain, many people, including Catholics, would take home the food and supplies they had been tasked with distributing to others.

“It is corruption: a piece for me and another piece for me,” he said.

Regarding the fact that, as pontiff, he is confined “like a prisoner in the Vatican,” the pope was asked if he had a desire to switch places with a homeless person.

The pope compared his life to the Mark Twain classic, “The Prince and the Pauper,” saying that while the prince lacks nothing and even has friends, he still lives in a “gilded cage.”

Asked if he ever dreamed of becoming pope, Pope Francis replied with a categorical “no,” adding that as a child, he had very different aspirations.

He said, “I would go grocery shopping with my mother and grandmother. I was very small, I was 4 years old. And once they asked me, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I answered, ‘A butcher!’”

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‘I became a priest to be with people’ — Pope Francis talks about his daily habits, hopes, concerns


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said he wants to be remembered as “a good person who tried to do good. I cannot ask for anything more than that.”

The statement, as well as comments about his life as pope and situations that move him to tears, were part of an interview he gave in late May to “La Voz del Pueblo,” a newspaper from Tres Arroyos, Argentina. The Vatican newspaper printed a translation of the interview May 25. Read more »

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Pope Francis answers questions from residents of shantytown near Buenos Aires


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — A religious procession, a brainstorm session and a few glasses of wine led a group of residents gathered in a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to come up with a plan to interview Pope Francis.

It was a warm, Southern Hemisphere’s summer night in January when folks sitting in the church courtyard during a local feast day celebration felt inspired to consider “What if …?” according to a journalist living in Buenos Aires.

Father Jose Maria “Pepe” di Paola, the parish priest in a shantytown near Buenos Aires, Argentina, visited Pope Francis at the Vatican Feb. 7 and handed the pope questions from residents of his parish. (CNS photo/David Agren)

Father Jose Maria “Pepe” di Paola, the parish priest in a shantytown near Buenos Aires, Argentina, visited Pope Francis at the Vatican Feb. 7 and handed the pope questions from residents of his parish. (CNS photo/David Agren)

“To tell the truth, a few glasses of wine were also involved, which, in the right amount, inspires bold ideas,” said Alver Metalli, who was also the mastermind behind the shantytown launching its own community newspaper in December.

“An interview for a publication produced in a shantytown with questions formulated by the people who live there (seemed like) two good ideas that could lure the pope” into agreeing to do the interview, he wrote for the news site Vatican Insider March 10.

The local parish priest, Father Jose Maria “Pepe” di Paola, collated inquiries from hundreds of children and young adults and boiled them down to about a dozen questions, Metalli said.

He said when the priest visited the pope at his Vatican residence Feb. 7, he handed the written questions to the pope, who, to the priest’s surprise, said he would do the interview immediately.

Metalli said, “Father Pepe had no other choice than to take out his cell phone and start recording” as the pope spoke candidly about the role of big money in political campaigns, getting along with people who disagree with him, kids becoming “museums” of information and his awareness that his life is in God’s hands.

“I told the Lord, ‘You take care of me. But if your will is that I die or that they do something to me, I ask you just one favor: that it doesn’t hurt because I am a big wimp when it comes to physical pain,’” the pope said, when asked about people’s concerns for his safety.

When asked what advice he had for politicians during Argentina’s election year, the pope said that something “very healthy” would be for candidates to have “a clear electoral platform.” Candidates should express detailed and concrete plans of what they would do and what they thought about issues, that is, “honesty in the presentation of their position,” the pope said.

Ideally, he added, campaigning should have no strings attached and, therefore, be run for free, making it unnecessary to drum up financing, which “calls into play many special interests who then ask for the bill,” alluding to expectations big donors want something in exchange for their contributions.

“Obviously that is an ideal, because money is always needed for billboards, television,” in which case, he said, the flow of money should be “transparent and clean” so that citizens know who is financing which candidate and with how much.

The pope was asked if there were people around him who were not in agreement with what he says and does, and after he answered “Yes, of course,” he was asked how, then, does he interact with them.

“Listening to people, for me, never did me any harm. Every time I listened to them, it always went well. Those times that I didn’t listen, it went badly,” he said.

“Even if you do not agree with them, they always, always give you something or they put you in a situation that forces you to rethink your position, and this enriches you,” he said.

Dialogue and openness were the proper ways “to behave with those with whom we don’t agree,” he said, because if “I stop saying ‘hello,’ I shut the door in his face, I don’t let him talk and I don’t ask him the reasons for the disagreement, obviously I singlehandedly impoverish myself. Dialogue and listening enrich us.”

The pope was asked about young people’s attraction to “virtual relationships” and how to help them escape “their world of fantasy” and to experience “real relationships.”

The pope said there was a difference between fantasy and online interactions because “sometimes virtual relationships are not imaginary, but are concrete” and real.

However, he said, the best thing is for people to have real, physical interaction and contact with each other.

He said the big risk he sees is with people’s ability to gather such a huge amount of information that nothing is done with it and it has no impact on changing lives. He said this process turns young people into a sort of “youth museum.”

“A youth museum is very well-informed, but what does he or she do with all that knowledge?”

Having a rich fruitful life is not found in “the accumulation of information or just through virtual communication, but in changing the reality of existence. In the end, it means loving,” reaching out to people physically, touching the world and moving forward with one’s life.

The head, heart and hands must all work in harmony together where “you think what you feel and what you do; you feel what you think and what you do; and you do what you feel and what you think. This is concrete reality. To only be in the virtual world is like living in a head without a body,” he said.


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Pope Francis suggests church could tolerate some civil unions


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis suggested the Catholic Church could tolerate some types of nonmarital civil unions as a practical measure to guarantee property rights and health care. He also said the church would not change is teaching against artificial birth control but should take care to apply it with “much mercy.”

Pope Francis prays during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 26. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

Pope Francis’ words appeared in an interview published March 5 in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

In the wide-ranging conversation with the paper’s editor-in-chief, Ferruccio de Bortoli, the pope defended the church’s response to clerical sex abuse and lamented that popular mythology has turned him into a kind of papal superhero. He also addressed the role of retired Pope Benedict XVI and the church’s relations with China.

“Matrimony is between a man and a woman,” the pope said, but moves to “regulate diverse situations of cohabitation (are) driven by the need to regulate economic aspects among persons, as for instance to assure medical care.” Asked to what extent the church could understand this trend, he replied: “It is necessary to look at the diverse cases and evaluate them in their variety.”

Bishops around the world have differed in their responses to civil recognition of nonmarital unions. The president of the Pontifical Council for the Family said in February 2013 that some legal arrangements are justifiable to protect the inheritance rights of nonmarried couples. But until now, no pope has indicated even tentative acceptance of civil unions.

In the interview, Pope Francis praised Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which prohibited the use of contraception.

In contradicting contemporary pressures for population control, Pope Paul’s “genius was prophetic, he had the courage to side against the majority, defend moral discipline, put a brake on the culture, oppose neo-Malthusianism, present and future,” Pope Francis said.

But he also noted that Pope Paul had instructed confessors to interpret his encyclical with “much mercy, attention to concrete situations.”

“The question is not whether to change the doctrine, but to go deeper and make sure that pastoral care takes account of situations and of what each person is able to do,” Pope Francis said.

The pope said birth control, like the predicament of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, would be a topic of discussion at the Vatican in October at an extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family. He said the synod would approach all such problems “in the light of profound reflection,” rather than casuistry, which he described as a superficial, pharisaical theology focused exclusively on particular cases.

The pope said he had welcomed the “intense discussion” at a February gathering of cardinals, where German Cardinal Walter Kasper gave a talk suggesting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics might sometimes be allowed to receive Communion even without an annulment of their first, sacramental marriages.

“Fraternal and open confrontations foster the growth of theological and pastoral thought,” he said. “I’m not afraid of this; on the contrary, I seek it.”

Asked if the church’s teachings on sexual and medical ethics represented “non-negotiable values,” a formulation used by Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis said he had “never understood the expression ‘non-negotiable values.’”

“Values are values, period,” he said. “I cannot say that, among the fingers of a hand, there is one less useful than another. That is why I cannot understand in what sense there could be negotiable values.”

Pope Francis said cases of sex abuse by priests had left “very profound wounds,” but that, starting with the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, the church has done “perhaps more than anyone” to solve the problem.

“Statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also clearly show the great majority of abuses occur in family and neighborhood settings,” Pope Francis said. “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more. And yet the church is the only one attacked.”

Reflecting on his own colossal popularity, the pope criticized “ideological interpretations, a certain mythology of Pope Francis. When it is said, for instance, that he leaves the Vatican at night to go feed the tramps on Via Ottaviano. That never even occurred to me.”

“To portray the pope as a kind of superman, a type of star, strikes me as offensive,” he said. “The pope is a man who laughs, weeps, sleeps soundly and has friends like everybody else. A normal person.”

He acknowledged that he has continued his longtime practice of phoning people who write to him with their problems, including an 80-year old widow who lost her son, whom he calls once a month.

Pope Francis said he has sought out his predecessor Pope Benedict for advice and encouraged him to “go out and participate in the life of the church,” most recently by appearing at a Feb. 22 ceremony with the College of Cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica.

“The pope emeritus is not a statue in a museum,” Pope Francis said. Noting that bishops never retired until after the Second Vatican Council, but that the practice has since become the norm, Pope Francis said the “same thing should happen with the pope emeritus. Benedict is the first and maybe there will be others. We don’t know.”

Asked about the Vatican’s lack of diplomatic relations with China, whose government requires Catholics to register with a state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association and punishes members of the clandestine “underground” church, Pope Francis said he had written to Chinese President Xi Jinping “when he was elected, three days after me. And he answered me. There are some relations.”


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Francis discusses Marxism, women cardinals, ecumenism and Christmas


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In another wide-ranging interview with an Italian journalist, Pope Francis denied he was a Marxist but said he took no offense at the label; dismissed the notion of women cardinals; and reflected on Christmas as an occasion of joy, tenderness and hope.

The pope made his remarks in an interview with Andrea Tornielli of the Italian daily La Stampa and the website Vatican Insider. The interview was conducted Dec. 10 and published Dec. 14.

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 15. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Marxist ideology is wrong, but I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended” at being branded one, Pope Francis said.

Following the publication of the pope’s apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) Nov. 26, U.S. radio show host Rush Limbaugh denounced what he called “pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.”

“There is nothing in the exhortation that cannot be found in the social doctrine of the church,” the pope said. He acknowledged rejecting what he termed “trickle-down theories” of economic growth, but said such a position “does not mean being a Marxist.”

Pope Francis repeated earlier calls for an end to world hunger, recounting a recent encounter during a public audience with a woman holding an infant.

“The child was crying its eyes out as I came past,” the pope said. “‘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!”

Asked about the possibility of creating women cardinals, Pope Francis said: “I don’t know where this idea sprang from. Women in the church must be valued, not clericalized. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.”

The pope reaffirmed his commitment to ecumenism, noting that Christians around the world are already bound together by their common experience of martyrdom.

“Those who kill Christians don’t ask for your identity card to see which church you were baptized in,” he said. “We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps toward unity between us, and perhaps the time has not yet come.”

Pope Francis mentioned a German priest pursuing the sainthood causes of a Catholic priest and a Lutheran pastor, both killed by the Nazis for teaching the catechism to children.

“This is what ecumenism of blood is,” the pope said.

Recalling Pope Paul VI’s historic visit to Jerusalem in 1964, when he met Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople, Pope Francis said the Vatican was preparing for him to mark that event’s 50th anniversary in 2014 with a papal visit to the Holy Land, including a meeting with the current Patriarch Bartholomew.

The pope noted the sufferings of Christians in the Holy Land: “On Christmas night, I think above all of 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.”

Yet he emphasized that, despite the world’s misery, “Christmas is joy, religious joy, an inner joy of light and peace” and “speaks of tenderness and hope.”

“God never gives someone a gift they are not capable of receiving. If he gives us the gift of Christmas, it is because we all have the ability to understand and receive it,” the pope said. “Even a corrupt person has this ability. Poor him, it’s probably a bit rusty, but he has it.”


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