Excerpts of an interview with Pope Francis conducted by Paolo Rodari for Italian Swiss Radio and Television, and scheduled for broadcast on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the pontificate. The need to nurture a culture of welcome, the war in Ukraine and other conflicts, relations with his predecessor, the afterlife, are among the topics addressed.
Pope Francis opened the doors of Casa Santa Marta, his residence in the Vatican, to RSI – Italian Swiss Radio and Television – for an interview dedicated to ten years of his pontificate. It is set to be broadcast on the evening of Sunday, 12 March, at www.rsi.ch. In it, the Pope says he is not thinking of resigning, but explains what would eventually drive him to do so: “A tiredness that does not make you see things clearly. A lack of clarity, of knowing how to evaluate situations”. He speaks about what he misses most from his life in Buenos Aires, and that is “walking, going down the street”. But he is adamant that he is fine in Rome, “a unique city”, even if there is no shortage of worries. We are “in a world war”, he says. “It started in bits and pieces and now no one can say it is not worldwide. Because the great powers are all entangled. And the battlefield is Ukraine. Everyone is fighting there”. The Pope says that Putin knows that he would like to meet him, “but there are imperial interests there, not only of the Russian empire, but of empires elsewhere”.
Holy Father, in these ten years, how much have you changed?
I am old. I have less physical endurance, the knee injury was a physical humiliation, although it is healing well now.
Did it weigh on you to ride in a wheelchair?
I was a bit ashamed.
Many describe you as the Pope of the least. Do you feel so?
It is true that I have a preference for those who are discarded, but that does not mean that I discard others. The poor are Jesus’ favourites. But Jesus does not send the rich away.
Jesus asks that everyone be brought to his table. What does this mean?
It means that no one is excluded. When the guests did not come to the feast, He said go into the main roads and invite to the banquet whomever you find, the sick, the good and the bad, the small and the great, the rich and the poor, everyone. We must not forget this: the Church is not a home for some, it is not selective. The holy faithful people of God are: everyone.
Why do some people feel excluded from the Church because of their condition in life?
Sin is always there. And there is a bit of the vanity of the world, feeling more righteous than others, but it is not right. We are all sinners. At the hour of truth put your truth on the table and you will see that you are a sinner.
How do you imagine the hour of truth, the afterlife?
I cannot imagine it. I don’t know what it will be. I only ask Our Lady to be with me.
Why did you choose to live in Santa Marta?
Two days after the election I went to take possession of the apostolic palace. It is not that luxurious. It is well made, but it is enormous. The feeling I had was like an upside-down funnel. Psychologically I cannot tolerate that. By chance I walked past the room where I live. And I said: ‘I’m staying here’. It is a hotel, forty people who work in the curia live here. And people come from all over.
Do you miss anything from your previous life?
Walking, going down the street. I used to walk a lot. I used to catch he underground, the bus, always with people.
What do you think about Europe?
Right now it has so many politicians, heads of government or young ministers. I always tell them: talk to each other. That one is from the left, you are from the right, but you are both young: talk. It is a time for dialogue between young people.
What does a Pope “from the ends of the earth” bring?
I am reminded of something the Argentine philosopher Amelia Podetti wrote: reality is better seen from the extremes than from the centre. One understands universality from a distance. It is a social, philosophical and political principle.
What do you remember about the months of lockdown, your solitary prayer in St Peter’s Square?
It was raining and there were no people. I felt that the Lord was there. It was something the Lord wanted to make us understand the tragedy, the loneliness, the darkness, the plague.
There are several wars in the world. Why is it difficult to understand their drama?
In a little over a hundred years there have been three world wars: ’14-18, ’39-45, and this one which is a world war. It started in bits and pieces and now no one can say it is not worldwide. The great powers are all caught up in it. The battlefield is Ukraine. Everyone is fighting there. This brings to mind the arms industry. An expert told me: if for one year no weapons were produced, the problem of world hunger would be solved. It is a market. Wars are made, old weapons are sold, new ones are tested.
Before the conflict in Ukraine, you met Putin several times. If you met him today, what would you say to him?
I would speak to him as clearly as I speak in public. He is an educated man. On the second day of the war I went to the Russian embassy at the Holy See to say that I was willing to go to Moscow if Putin would give me a window to negotiate. Lavrov wrote to me saying thank you but now is not the time. Putin knows I am available. But there are imperial interests there, not only of the Russian empire, but of empires elsewhere. It is typical of the empire to put nations in second place.
Which other wars do you feel are closest?
The conflict in Yemen, Syria, the poor Rohingyas in Myanmar. Why this suffering? Wars hurt. There is no spirit of God. I don’t believe in holy wars.
You often talk about gossip. Why?
Gossip destroys coexistence, the family. It is a hidden disease. It is the plague.
How have Benedict XVI’s ten years at Mater Ecclesiae been?
Good. He is a man of God; I love him very much. The last time I saw him was at Christmas. He could hardly speak. He spoke in a very low voice. His words had to be “translated”. He was lucid. He was asking questions: how is this going? And what about that problem? He was up to date on everything. It was a pleasure to talk to him. I would ask for his opinion. He would tell me what he thought, he was always balanced, positive, a wise man. The last time, however, you could see he was nearing the end.
The funeral service was sober. Why?
It was challenging for the Masters of the Apostolic Ceremonies to organize the funeral of a non-reigning Pope. It was difficult to make a difference. I have now told them to study the ceremony for the funerals of future Popes, of all Popes. They are studying and also simplifying things a little, removing the things that liturgically are not correct.
Pope Benedict opened the door for resignation. You have said it is a possibility but that you do not contemplate it at the moment. What could lead you to resign in the future?
A tiredness that does not make you see things clearly. A lack of clarity, of knowing how to evaluate situations. A physical problem, too, perhaps. I always ask about this and listen to advice. How are things going? Do you think I should… I ask those who know me and even some intelligent cardinals. And they tell me the truth: carry on, it is fine. But please: give me a shout in time.
When you greet people, you always ask them to pray for you. Why?
I am sure everyone prays. To the non-believers, I say: pray for me and if you don’t pray send me good vibes. An atheist friend writes to me: …and I send you good vibes. It is a pagan way of praying, but it is a loving way. And to love someone is a prayer.