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Pope: War steals children’s smiles but we must never lose hope

Pope Francis grants an interview to Italy’s ‘Canale 5’ program “Journeys of the Heart”, and reflects on the suffering inflicted by war and the importance of faith in God’s plan despite life’s disappointments.

By Salvatore Cernuzio

Pope Francis took 10 questions to knit together the 10 years of his pontificate from Fr. Davide Banzato, a priest of the New Horizons community and presenter of Italian TV program “Journeys of the Heart”.

The special program aired on Mediaset’s Canale 5 on Saturday morning, and saw the Pope interviewed at his Vatican home at the Casa Santa Marta.

As explained by Fr. Banzato, the idea was originally supposed to be a video message for the show’s producers and crew but morphed into a full-length interview.

Don’t get attached to bad things

The interview began with a topic close to the Pope’s heart: memory.

“It is a grace,” he said, “to cultivate memory… The grace of memory takes us to the roots of our current situation. Like my personality, which is nearing the end of life, from where it grew,” he added, recalling his relatives in Italy’s Piedmont region, whom he personally visited in November 2022. “There are significant places linked to memory, people who have marked our lives. It is good to journey.”

But in this journey through memory, he warned, there lies “a danger.”

“All of us have endured bad things in life, things that have made us suffer, and there exists a disease in which we cling to the failures of life: no, this causes only pain. Bad things happen, yes; but, let’s remember them and thank the Lord who helped us to emerge from them. We shouldn’t return to them, because that is a disease. It’s like an attachment to failures, to bad things.”

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A time of human desolation

Bad things, Pope Francis noted, occur frequently in our times. We have just emerged from a pandemic that has “weakened us” and now war has broken out.

“This war is fierce” and has caused “an economic and financial crisis,” he lamented.

“Today, especially throughout Europe, people are unable to pay for electricity, for example. They will have to save so much,” the Pope noted. “It is a difficult moment, a moment of human desolation. The dead or the wounded [due to the war]… You see people tortured before death; the photographs are terrible.”

Smiles stolen from children

The Pope expressed his particular anguish for children affected by war.

“They have forgotten how to laugh… So many children have come here [to Italy], so many from Ukraine, and they don’t laugh… They are lovely, yes, but they don’t laugh; they have lost that. I went to see the children who were at the Bambino Gesu Hospital. Of the wounded Ukrainian children, not one bore a smile.”

Pope Francis added that “to take away a child’s smile is… a tragedy” which marks our time: “Ours is a time in which the biggest market is the sale of weapons from weapons factories. Today, if for one year, according to one expert, no weapons were made, world hunger would end. Wars demand weapons. And why pursue a war? Because usually an empire or a government, when it weakens a bit, needs a war to recover … It’s a terrible thing.”

Presenter of the program in the Vatican Gardens

Presenter of the program in the Vatican Gardens

Considering different horizons

In this dramatic scenario, however, the Pope urged everyone not to lose hope but to look at different “horizons.”

“Looking at the horizons of life means looking at hope,” he said. “And also to realize that history does not end with you; it did not end with my grandfather, it will not end with the fourth generation that will come after.” This perspective “gives us the courage to continue to walk.”

However, we must be careful, cautioned Pope Francis, not to fall into the “psychology of the ostrich,” who “before anything happens puts his head in the ground.” He also warned against navel-gazing. “People who only look at themselves are doing the opposite of seeking the horizon. The horizon makes us consider everything.” This attitude, said the Pope, is “the basis of the virtue of hope.”

He recalled that the Fathers of the Church envisioned hope as “an anchor.”

“Whether you are in the sea or in the river, you throw out your anchor to be safe and you hold on to the rope,” he said. “Hope is what we throw into eternity—the anchor—and we cling on. But if we fail to look to the horizon, we are unable to throw out an anchor, aren’t we?”

“This is a difficult time,” Pope Francis stressed, therefore “our hope is in the Lord. It is difficult and terrible, with so much suffering, but we have our rope and our anchor. This is the mystery of pain and hope.”

Those with faith and those without

Asked what we can say to “those who lack faith”, Pope Francis replied that “it is not a sin not to have faith.”

“Faith is a gift from God…. There are good people, very good people, who do not have the gift of faith. I would only say to them, ‘Be open. Search. Never tire of searching. But do so without anguish, remaining naturally open.’”

However, added the Pope, those who do believe must beware not to live “as pagans.” There are believers who live like “fake Christians, or, as my grandmother used to say, rose-water Christians.”

“To them I would say: ‘Change your life! What is your life like? Is it a righteous life? Is it a life of service to others? Is it a life that wastes money?’”

Wealth is not a sin

Pope Francis then reflected on the theme of wealth.

“A gentleman once told me that there are restaurants here in Rome where, if you invite two people, the bill will run to 1,700 Euro. But how can one live like that, at that level, when there are people starving? ‘Well, Father, don’t be a communist…’ Rather, I say, ‘This is the Gospel.'”

“I’m not speaking ill of the rich,” clarified Pope Francis. “There are saints who were rich but knew how to use their goods for the benefit of others.”

However, it is our “conduct” which helps define our faith. “If our lifestyle is pagan, others can tell that we have no faith or that we have a painted-on faith, as thin as varnish. Then, our life is varnished with faith but (faith) has no roots.”

In this regard, the Pope cited a photograph taken by one of the “Vatican’s photographers” on the street in Rome of a well-dressed elderly lady coming out of a restaurant and ignoring the beggar who asks her for alms.

“If you don’t notice something and someone as you hid behind your vanity or way of life, then you are closed in on yourself…” The “flesh of your brother” is “the same flesh as yours,” the Pope said. “Perhaps tomorrow it will be you in that position… Don’t be afraid to touch wounded flesh.”

‘Sclerosis of the heart’

Such an attitude of awareness, said the Pope, helps us overcome “sclerosis of the heart.”

“A hardened heart is very difficult to soften,” he said. “So many times the Lord uses bad situations for to cure this, such as an illness, so that it changes the heart. We must always ask the Lord: let my heart not be hardened; may it remain human and near to every human person.”

The Pope then asked, “How many people weep today—I don’t mean physically, but in their hearts—for the orphaned children in Ukraine? How many suffer for that? How many suffer for the street children who steal because they are alone in life?”

At this point in the interview, Pope Francis pointed to a painting in the atrium of the Casa Santa Marta, painted by a Piedmontese artist based on a photo of a Syrian man fleeing with his son. Entitled “Forced to Flee Like Them”, it depicts the flight to Egypt.

“We think the flight into Egypt was ‘in a chariot with angels’ assisting them,” he said. “The flight into Egypt was rather like this painting. This reality was experienced by Jesus and this reality is experienced by so many people.”

‘Pray for me’

As the interview drew to a close, Pope Francis mentioned the 10 years of his pontificate, which he will celebrate on 13 March, and recalled his election.

“Poor Peter, what a successor he found himself!” he exclaimed, laughing. “I never imagined such a thing for my life.”

Yet, he said, his transition from Buenos Aires to Rome happened in a “natural way”.

There is certainly no shortage of anxieties, he added, but they are not always “a bad thing”. Rather, worries can become an opportunity for “discernment.”

Pope Francis concluded the interview asking for people to pray for him. “Pray for me, so that I may be a Christian Pope, not a pagan one, that the Lord will give me the grace to live as a Christian and to help the Church, which is the holy faithful people of God.”

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