In major interview, Pope says there is no Catholic culture as such; just a Catholic way of thinking
He also thinks that post-conciliar liturgical abuse has died out (a convenient fiction), that the Council still has another sixty years before it is properly implemented (maintaining wrongly that historians teach that Council's always take this long to implement) and that a nun is acting like a Bishop.....all underlined below. His approach to cultures generally is uncritical, seeing only good- an impossibility since the Fall.
"Africa is original. Africa is a soup to be tasted".
Two days before his 86th birthday, Pope Francis receives MUNDO NEGRO in the private library of the Apostolic Palace. When we handed him a copy of the Africa 2022 Special, he quickly replied that he already had it and that he would consult it. He then offers to talk to us without delay. "Ask whatever you want. We talked for 35 minutes in the middle of his morning schedule.
Holy Father, you became a Jesuit among other things to go as a missionary to Japan.
Yes, that's true.
What remains from that Papa Bergoglio?
I think I have always been interested in the peripheries. I look at the peripheries from the inside, not just because they interest me intellectually. And that's what remains, going beyond borders.
In 2015, after visiting Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic, you said that "Africa never ceases to surprise". How much of that surprise can be attributed to the missionaries you met there?
What surprises me most about the missionaries is their ability to get down to earth and respect the cultures and help them develop. They don't uproot the people, on the contrary. When I see the missionaries, and there is always someone who can fail, I realise that the Catholic Mission is not proselytising but announcing the Gospel according to the culture of each place. That is what Catholicism is all about, respecting cultures. There is no Catholic culture as such; there is a Catholic way of thinking but each culture is rooted in what is Catholic and this is already in the very action of the Holy Spirit on the morning of Pentecost. This is very clear. Catholicism does not have uniformity, it has harmony, the harmony of differences. And that harmony is made by the Holy Spirit. A missionary goes, respects what is found in each place and helps to create harmony but does not proselytise ideologically or religiously, much less colonialism. Some deviations that have occurred in other continents, for example the serious problem of the schools in Canada, where I was and where I spoke about it, were due to the fact that independence was not very clear at that time, but the missionary has to be there to respect the culture of his people, to live with that culture and to carry out his work.
The Second Vatican Council, now 60 years old, was an extraordinary missionary impulse. Has Mission changed much since then? Does the Church and the people need another mission?
Thank God, yes.
Historians say that it takes 100 years for a council to be fully successful, so it's only halfway there.
So many things have changed in the Church, so many things for the better... There are two interesting signs: the first imprudent effervescence of the Council has already disappeared, I am thinking of the liturgical effervescence, which is almost non-existent. And anti-conciliar resistance is emerging, resistance to the Council that was not seen before, which is typical of any process of maturity. But so many things have changed... On the missionary side, respect for cultures, the inculturation of the Gospel, is one of the values that came as an indirect consequence of the Council. Faith is inculturated and the Gospel takes on the culture of its people, there is an evangelisation of culture. Inculturation of faith and evangelisation of culture are these two movements, and when I speak of the evangelisation of culture I am not talking about the reductionism of culture or about ideologising cultures or all that, which is a serious temptation nowadays, but I am talking about evangelising, about announcing, and nothing else, with a great deal of respect. Therefore, the most serious sin that a missionary can have is proselytism. Catholicism is not proselytising.
How important are the congregations, the Comboni Missionaries among others, whose charism stresses the explicit proclamation of the Gospel?
What do you think? They are the ones who carry forward the proclamation that the Lord is alive. Is that not enough? In the face of other licit and good options, the missionary who goes to proclaim the Gospel does something great and he does it with work, he doesn't do it blah, blah, blah, because he is paid but he works. And sometimes he does it within a profession. When I was in Bangui (CAR), I remember a nun who came from the Democratic Republic of Congo in a canoe to the Central African capital to go shopping every Saturday because it was cheaper. The nun was in her seventies. She had been in the DRC since she was 28 years old. She was a midwife. She had attended more than 2,000 or so births. She was with a girl of 13 or 14 years old. And the old lady said to me: "I came here when I was in my twenties and I didn't move, and always with the births". "And that girl," I asked her, "is she your daughter". She was a nun and I didn't understand what she meant. "The mother died in childbirth and we don't know where the father is. So I felt as if God was asking me to adopt her. And I adopted her legally," she told me. This old woman, as old as she is, rowing, with her daughter... These are the missionaries. Do you realise that? They are the ones who leave their lives there, they don't change. I spoke to the general of her congregation, I asked her to come to Rome and I decorated her in St. Peter's Square. She wrote to me a few months ago and told me that she had fallen and broken her wrist and that, even though she could not exert herself, she went to the delivery room and showed the staff how to deliver babies.
The Catholic Church on the African continent is a minority in many places, and in others it co-exists with traditional religions or with Islam. Is the mission necessarily a dialogue?
Of course it is. Today there is a much greater awareness of dialogue, and the person who does not know how to dialogue does not mature, does not grow and will be incapable of leaving anything to society. Dialogue is key.
Mission is undergoing a transformation from the human point of view. On the one hand, those missionaries who left decades ago are getting older and there are fewer and fewer of them. On the other hand, in the West we are receiving young missionaries, also from young Churches. How do you see this North-South missionary current?
It helps, it is an exchange that helps, but we have to be very careful because we cannot use the "raw material", and that would be a bad way to carry on the mission in the West, from the mission countries. Let those who come do so as missionaries here as well. We have to be very careful about the freedom to evangelise and not about other kinds of interests. I remember that in 1994 the Philippine episcopate took a very strong decision not to allow women's religious congregations that did not work in the country to go and look for vocations there because they went there, got some girls excited and brought them here, and the Philippine episcopate was very firm. An Italian newspaper of the time called it "La tratta delle novizie", as if it were a vocational trafficking. The word trafficking is a harsh one, but we have to be very careful with this spirit of human promotion that is not always identified with vocation, and we have cases, especially of girls, who come here as religious, are not prepared, do not have a missionary vocation and end up on the street.
When you visited Morocco in 2019, you said: "Jesus has not chosen us and sent us to be more numerous, but He has sent us on a Mission". Are we still too worried about the number of Catholics?
Because of statistics, even though they often betray. Statistics are useful, but we should not put our hope in them. I ask myself in whom I place my hope, and I ask everyone else: in whom do you place your hope, in your organisation, in the sociological capacity to call people together, or in the power of the Gospel?
According to the "classical" missionary concept, is the West mission territory?
Five places: Belgium, Holland, Spain, Ireland and Quebec filled the world with missionaries. Today, these five places have no vocations. It is a mystery. And in less than 100 years, how can we explain this? I don't see any explanation.
Does that worry you?
No, it doesn't worry me in the sense that we are melting down, it is a sign of the times that signals worldliness, that signals a level of development that puts values elsewhere. It signals crisis, there are crises, and crises have to be lived through and overcome.
At this time of crisis, societies where vocations are scarce are receiving many people, men and women, who come from the South. Here in Europe, for example, sub-Saharan people, some of them with a Catholic background behind them, can they enrich European Christian communities in any way?
Witnessing is very bracing, witnessing is always bracing and that is a good thing. These people offer a fresh witness to new cultures, as opposed to older cultures or cultures organised in a "business" sense. The conflicts in these new or younger countries are different from the conflicts in older, more closed countries. I think it's a rebranding. But the opposite can also happen, they can become enthusiastic about this slightly more static or more pagan lifestyle, if you like, and lose the good that they bring. It's a risk.
From 31 January to 5 February, you will be in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Almost from the beginning of your pontificate you have expressed your desire to go to these two countries. Is this the trip you are most looking forward to?
Yes, in July it was postponed because of the knee issue. The one to Canada was very much on schedule and could not be cancelled, but this one could be postponed. In South Sudan, we are going together, at the same level, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary of the Church of Scotland, and we are working very well together. And the Democratic Republic of Congo... it's like a bulwark, a bulwark of inspiration. Just look here in Rome at the Congolese community, which is led by a nun, Sister Rita, a woman who teaches at the university, but she's in charge, as if she were a bishop, she's in charge. I celebrated Mass in the Congolese rite here, it is a community that is very close to me. I am looking forward to this trip as soon as possible. South Sudan is a suffering community. A few years ago, together with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the delegate of the Church of Scotland, we organised a spiritual retreat here for the political agents of the country, and it is also a dream to be able to make this trip.
Why does the Congolese community inspire you?
They have roots, that's what I like to say. It is a Church with roots. It is not pure varnish, it has roots, it has its own culture. It is impressive.
What message will you take to the South Sudanese and Congolese?
I haven't started to prepare the speeches yet, I'm looking for them. Congo is suffering at the moment from guerrilla warfare, that's why I'm not going to Goma, you can't go there, because of all the guerrilla advances there. I'm not going because I'm afraid, nothing is going to happen to me, but with an atmosphere like this and seeing what they are doing, they throw a bomb in the stadium and kill a lot of people. We have to take care of the people.
How does a Pope prepare for a trip like this?
There is a travel manager and a team that prepares the trip. They have already made two visits to Congo preparing things and to South Sudan. They make the assessments and give me the reports, on the basis of which I make my speeches.
With the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, you will have visited ten African countries in these almost ten years of your pontificate. Your mention of the human and existential peripheries brought us mentally to the African continent. Are these two peripheries indissoluble?
My first strong contact with Africa was in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, at a time of transition. Catherine Samba-Panza, who was mayor of the capital and later elected president of the transition, was president, a woman who was very clear about things. I arrived at a time of great division between the Islamic community and the Catholic community, but with a bishop who is now a Cardinal [Dieudonné Nzapalainga], an evangelical pastor [Nicolas Nguerekoyame] and a Muslim [Kobine Layama] who understood the situation well, and the three of them worked together to achieve unity. I cannot forget that experience. There I opened the door to the Holy Year of Mercy, I opened the way. Africa is original, Africa is a soup to be tasted. Moreover, there is something we must denounce: there is a collective unconscious that in Italian says that Africa sarà sfruttata, that Africa is to be exploited. History tells us so, with independence halfway through: they give them economic independence from the ground up, but they keep the subsoil to exploit it, we see the exploitation of other countries that take their resources. Even the idea of the African as a person to be exploited, the whole collective imaginary of the black slaves who went to Latin America. This idea that Africa exists to be 'exploited' is the most unjust thing there is, but it is in the collective unconscious of many people, and it has to be changed.
Secondly, Africa's wealth, not only its mineral wealth, but also its intellectual wealth, must be taken into account. Two months ago I had an hour and a half long dialogue via Zoom with African university students and I had already done the same a few months earlier with those from the United States and the lucidity of these boys and girls is impressive. They are very intelligent and have an intuitive intelligence that, together with their deductive intelligence, makes them go further. However, the intellectual advancement of Africans and education is not the primary concern. It is a serious one.
How nice! They are three greats. One passed away, the Imam. It was not planned for me to pray in the mosque in Bangui. I went there and I was welcomed at the front with a very nice speech. I saw that the carpet started further on. I asked them if I could come in to pray. When they said yes, I took off my shoes and went there. When I came out, the imam told me that he would accompany me. "Come and get in the popemobile", and we went to the stadium, with a lot of people, it was a very nice thing to do. I will never forget that community.
You were referring to that digital meeting with African university students. You talk a lot about the young and the old. Africa is an overwhelmingly young continent, with an average age of less than 30 and where the elderly still occupy a central place in the communities. Is Africa a "comfortable" environment for you?
Yes, I feel comfortable with the young people . I feel comfortable with the old people too.
When you were in Madagascar you quoted Luke's gospel: "I thank you Father, for you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to the little ones". What riches of the continent do we not see?
We only see the material wealth, which is why it has historically only been sought out and exploited. Today we see that many world powers are going to plunder, that is true, and they do not see the intelligence, the greatness, the art of the people. We must go to the people, not to ideas.
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, you again called for peace in Ukraine. Yesterday [14 December] at the General Audience you called for an austere Christmas with the Ukrainian people in mind. While insisting on this war, you re-iterate that we must not forget other conflicts that remain hidden, some of them in Africa, because we only look at Eastern Europe.
That is obvious. I said that we now realise that this is a world war because it is right next door, but think of Yemen, Syria, Burma. Or, for example, Rwanda and the 28 years of genocide... Let's think about those wars that are going on today. The world has been at war for years, indeed, from 1914 until now there have been three world wars with the current one and we don't stop. One of the serious problems is the manufacture of weapons. Someone once told me that if we stopped manufacturing weapons for a year, hunger in the world would end. An industry for killing..., it's already the norm, importing weapons...
Do we in the media bear any responsibility for this silence that covers the continent?
What do you think? Nowadays, the media are the ones that create an atmosphere. If you silence a reality, as you are the creator of environments, ninety percent of the blame... No, it was just to say a percentage, but we cannot silence the exploitation, the exploitation of children, of women.
Have you seen the images of three migrants who arrived in Spain, coming from Nigeria, at the helm of a boat after 11 days at sea?
Yes, I have seen them.
When you talk about the exploitation of the African continent, you means both natural resources and people. What do we miss out on when we put up fences and obstacles to stop or prevent their arrival?
And when you put up barricades to stop them from escaping... It's a crime. It is a crime. And those countries that have a demographic index at rock bottom, that need people, that have empty villages and don't know how to manage the insertion of migrants. Migrants must be welcomed, accompanied, promoted and integrated. If they are not integrated, it is bad.
I read a little book in Spanish about Africa, Hermanito [by Ibrahima Balde and Amets Arzallus Antia], about a boy who goes to look for his brother and arrives in Spain. What he had to suffer to get there, the refugee camps in North Africa, a whole industry where human flesh is what you market. It's hard what happens. A head of government once said that the problem of migration has to be solved in Africa, helping Africa to become more and more self-reliant. And that is true. But the fact is that Africa is there to be plundered.
You have said that the exclusion of migrants is "disgusting, sinful and criminal". Do you have to raise your tone more and more because, as a society, we are becoming more and more indifferent?
I think I speak clearly on this, but there is a very great European injustice, isn't there? Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Spain and also Malta are the countries that are most in the area of receiving migrations, and what happened in Italy, where despite the fact that the migration policy of the current government is, let's say, in a good way, restrictive, it always opened the doors to save people that Europe does not receive. These countries have to deal with everything and they are faced with the dilemma of sending them back to be killed or die or we do this... It is a serious problem. The European Union is not helping.
In June, in the attempt to enter Spain through the Melilla fence, an unknown number of people died, as many others were sent back to the desert, and although there have been several journalistic investigations that have reconstructed the events, the debate in Spain has been more political than humanitarian.
We have to implement the humanitarian debate, we have to implement the humanitarian debate.
What would you say to our readers?
To keep reading MUNDO NEGRO because this magazine is a horizon, it opens things up more and more. Keep reading it, because it opens up borders and takes us out of the small world of our society, of our city, of our little things, little things, little things... Mundo Negro opens you up to big things.
10 quotes in 10 years
1 "The Church is one Church for all. There is not one Church for Europeans, one for Africans, one for Americans, one for Asians, one for those who live in Oceania, no; it is the same everywhere". 25 September 2013. General Audience.
2 "The gift of whole families is perceived with particular vitality in Africa". 7 April 2014. To the Bishops of Tanzania on ad limina visit.
3 "In Africa, the future is in the hands of young people, and today they are called to defend themselves against new and unconscionable forms of "colonisation", such as success, wealth, power at any cost, but also fundamentalism and the distorted use of religion, and new ideologies that destroy the identity of individuals and families". 7 February 2015. To the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar.
4 "Jesus asks only one thing of you: that you go, seek and find those most in need". 9 May 2015. To the Bishops of Mozambique on an ad limina visit.
5 "Ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue is not a luxury. It is not something added or optional but fundamental; something that our world, wounded by conflicts and divisions, needs more and more". 26 November 2015. Ecumenical and inter-religious meeting in Nairobi (Kenya).
6 "One "puddle" we all have to face is the fear of being different, of going against the tide in a society that constantly pushes us to adopt models of welfare and consumerism that are alien to the deep values of African culture". 28 November 2015. Meeting with young people in Kampala (Uganda).
7 "Against the despair of the poor, the frustration of the young, the cry of pain of the elderly and the suffering, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, transmitted and lived, translates into experiences of hope, peace, joy, harmony, love and unity". 23 June 2018. To the Organization of African Instituted Churches.
8 "It is not possible to think of large-scale strategies, capable of giving dignity, being limited only to actions of assistance to migrants. They are indispensable, but insufficient. It is necessary that you, migrants, feel that you are the first protagonists and executors in this whole process". 30 March 2019. Meeting with migrants in Caritas Rabat (Morocco).
9 "Be attentive to the cries and miseries of the men and women around you who come to you consumed by suffering, exploitation and discouragement. Do not be among those who listen only to relieve their boredom, to satisfy their curiosity or to gather topics for future conversations". 7 September 2019. Meeting with contemplative nuns at the Monastery of the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Antananarivo (Madagascar).
10 "In my visits to Africa, I have always been impressed by the faith and resilience of these peoples (...) Because Africa is poetry". 19 July 2022. Video message to the II Pan-African Catholic Congress.