- Created: October 1, 2013
- Written by Pope Francis and Eugenio Scalfari
The following is an excerpted account of a conversation between Pope Francis and Dr. Eugenio Scalfario, the founder of the newspaper, La Repubblica. Their face-to-face meeting occurred after the two had exchanged letters published over the summer of 2013. Excerpts selected for their relevance to Christian-Jewish relations. The text and translation below come from La Repubblica; bold text is Dr. Scalfari.
The meeting with Pope Francis took place last Tuesday at his home in Santa Marta, in a small bare room with a table and five or six chairs and a painting on the wall. It had been preceded by a phone call I will never forget as long as I live.
It was half past two in the afternoon. My phone rings and in a somewhat shaky voice my secretary tells me: "I have the Pope on the line. I'll put him through immediately."
I was still stunned when I heard the voice of His Holiness on the other end of a the line saying, "Hello, this is Pope Francis." "Hello Your Holiness", I say and then, "I am shocked I did not expect you to call me." "Why so surprised? You wrote me a letter asking to meet me in person. I had the same wish, so I'm calling to fix an appointment. Let me look at my diary: I can't do Wednesday, nor Monday, would Tuesday suit you?"
I answer, that's fine.
"The time is a little awkward, three in the afternoon, is that okay? Otherwise it'll have to be another day." Your Holiness, the time is fine. "So we agree: Tuesday 24 at 3 o'clock. At Santa Marta. You have to come into the door at the Sant'Uffizio."
I don't know how to end this call and let myself go, saying: "Can I embrace you by phone?" "Of course, a hug from me too. Then we will do it in person, goodbye."
And here I am. The Pope comes in and shakes my hand, and we sit down. The Pope smiles and says: "Some of my colleagues who know you told me that you will try to convert me."
It's a joke, I tell him. My friends think it is you want to convert me.
He smiles again and replies: "Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good."
Your Holiness, is there is a single vision of the Good? And who decides what it is?
"Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good."
Your Holiness, you wrote that in your letter to me. The conscience is autonomous, you said, and everyone must obey his conscience. I think that's one of the most courageous steps taken by a Pope.
"And I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place."
Is the Church doing that?
"Yes, that is the purpose of our mission: to identify the material and immaterial needs of the people and try to meet them as we can. Do you know what agape is?"
Yes, I know.
"It is love of others, as our Lord preached. It is not proselytizing, it is love. Love for one's neighbor, that leavening that serves the common good."
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus in his preaching said that agape, love for others, is the only way to love God. Correct me if I'm wrong.
"You're not wrong. The Son of God became incarnate in the souls of men to instill the feeling of brotherhood. All are brothers and all children of God. Abba, as he called the Father. I will show you the way, he said. Follow me and you will find the Father and you will all be his children and he will take delight in you. Agape, the love of each one of us for the other, from the closest to the furthest, is in fact the only way that Jesus has given us to find the way of salvation and of the Beatitudes."
However, as we said, Jesus told us that love for one's neighbor is equal to what we have for ourselves. So what many call narcissism is recognized as valid, positive, to the same extent as the other. We've talked a lot about this aspect.
"I don't like the word narcissism", the Pope said, "it indicates an excessive love for oneself and this is not good, it can produce serious damage not only to the soul of those affected but also in relationship with others, with the society in which one lives. The real trouble is that those most affected by this—which is actually a kind of mental disorder—are people who have a lot of power. Often bosses are narcissists".
Many church leaders have been.
"You know what I think about this? Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy."
The leprosy of the papacy, those were his exact words. But what is the court? Perhaps he is alluding to the curia?
"No, there are sometimes courtiers in the curia, but the curia as a whole is another thing. It is what in an army is called the quartermaster's office, it manages the services that serve the Holy See. But it has one defect: it is Vatican-centric. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests. This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I'll do everything I can to change it. The Church is or should go back to being a community of God's people, and priests, pastors and bishops who have the care of souls, are at the service of the people of God. The Church is this, a word not surprisingly different from the Holy See, which has its own function, important but at the service of the Church. I would not have been able to have complete faith in God and in his Son if I had not been trained in the Church, and if I had not had the good fortune of being in Argentina, in a community without which I would not have become aware myself and my faith. "
I am not anticlerical, but I become so when I meet a clericalist.
He smiles and says, "It also happens to me that when I meet a clericalist, I suddenly become anti-clerical. Clericalism should not have anything to do with Christianity. St. Paul, who was the first to speak to the Gentiles, the pagans, to believers in other religions, was the first to teach us that."
Can I ask you, Your Holiness, which saints you feel closest to in your soul, those who have shaped your religious experience?
"St. Paul is the one who laid down the cornerstones of our religion and our creed. You cannot be a conscious Christian without St. Paul. He translated the teachings of Christ into a doctrinal structure that, even with the additions of a vast number of thinkers, theologians and pastors, has resisted and still exists after two thousand years. Then there are Augustine, Benedict and Thomas and Ignatius. Naturally Francis. Do I need to explain why?"
Francis—I allow myself to call him that because it is the Pope himself who suggests it by the way he speaks, the way he smiles, with his exclamations of surprise and understanding—looks at me as if to encourage me to ask questions that are even more scandalous and embarrassing for those who guide the Church. So I ask him: you explained the importance of Paul and the role he played, but I want to know which of those you named feels closer to your soul?
"You're asking me for a ranking, but classifications are for sports or things like that. I could tell you the name of the best footballers in Argentina. But the saints..."
They say joke with knaves, you know the proverb?
"Exactly. But I'm not trying to avoid your question, because you didn't ask me for ranking of their cultural and religious importance but who is closest to my soul. So I'd say: Augustine and Francis."
Not Ignatius, from whose order you come?
"Ignatius, for understandable reasons, is the saint I know better than any other. He founded our Order. I'd like to remind you that Carlo Maria Martini also came from that order, someone who is very dear to me and also to you. Jesuits were and still are the leavening - not the only one but perhaps the most effective - of Catholicism: culture, teaching, missionary work, loyalty to the Pope. But Ignatius who founded the Society, was also a reformer and a mystic. Especially a mystic."
And you think that mystics have been important for the Church?
"They have been fundamental. A religion without mystics is a philosophy."
Do you have a mystical vocation?
"What do you think?"
I wouldn't think so.
"You're probably right. I love the mystics; Francis also was in many aspects of his life, but I do not think I have the vocation and then we must understand the deep meaning of that word. The mystic manages to strip himself of action, of facts, objectives and even the pastoral mission and rises until he reaches communion with the Beatitudes. Brief moments but which fill an entire life."
We were talking about the saints that you feel closest to your soul and we were left with Augustine. Will you tell me why you feel very close to him?
"Even for my predecessor Augustine is a reference point. That saint went through many vicissitudes in his life and changed his doctrinal position several times. He also had harsh words for the Jews, which I never shared. He wrote many books and what I think is most revealing of his intellectual and spiritual intimacy are the "Confessions", which also contain some manifestations of mysticism, but he is not, as many would argue, a continuation of Paul. Indeed, he sees the Church and the faith in very different ways than Paul, perhaps four centuries passed between one and the other. "
What is the difference, Your Holiness?
"For me it lies in two substantial aspects. Augustine feels powerless in the face of the immensity of God and the tasks that a Christian and a bishop has to fulfill. In fact he was by no means powerless, but he felt that his soul was always less than he wanted and needed it to be. And then the grace dispensed by the Lord as a basic element of faith. Of life. Of the meaning of life. Someone who is not touched by grace may be a person without blemish and without fear, as they say, but he will never be like a person who has touched grace. This is Augustine's insight."
Do you feel touched by grace?
"No one can know that. Grace is not part of consciousness, it is the amount of light in our souls, not knowledge nor reason. Even you, without knowing it, could be touched by grace."
Without faith? A non-believer?
"Grace regards the soul."
I do not believe in the soul.
"You do not believe in it but you have one."
Your Holiness, you said that you have no intention of trying to convert me and I do not think you would succeed.
"We cannot know that, but I don't have any such intention."
And St. Francis?
"He's great because he is everything. He is a man who wants to do things, wants to build, he founded an order and its rules, he is an itinerant and a missionary, a poet and a prophet, he is mystical. He found evil in himself and rooted it out. He loved nature, animals, the blade of grass on the lawn and the birds flying in the sky. But above all he loved people, children, old people, women. He is the most shining example of that agape we talked about earlier."
"I'm not Francis of Assisi and I do not have his strength and his holiness. But I am the Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic world. The first thing I decided was to appoint a group of eight cardinals to be my advisers. Not courtiers but wise people who share my own feelings. This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal. When Cardinal Martini talked about focusing on the councils and synods he knew how long and difficult it would be to go in that direction. Gently, but firmly and tenaciously."
"Why do you ask? I have already said that the Church will not deal with politics."
But just a few days ago you appealed to Catholics to engage civilly and politically.
"I was not addressing only Catholics but all men of good will. I say that politics is the most important of the civil activities and has its own field of action, which is not that of religion. Political institutions are secular by definition and operate in independent spheres. All my predecessors have said the same thing, for many years at least, albeit with different accents. I believe that Catholics involved in politics carry the values of their religion within them, but have the mature awareness and expertise to implement them. The Church will never go beyond its task of expressing and disseminating its values, at least as long as I'm here."
But that has not always being the case with the Church.
"It has almost never been the case. Often the Church as an institution has been dominated by temporalism and many members and senior Catholic leaders still feel this way.
We embrace. We climb the short staircase to the door. I tell the Pope there is no need to accompany me but he waves that aside with a gesture. "We will also discuss the role of women in the Church. Remember that the Church (la chiesa) is feminine." And if you like, we can also to talk about Pascal. I'd like to know what you think of that great soul.
"Give all your family my blessings and ask them to pray for me. Think of me, think of me often."
We shake hands and he stands with his two fingers raised in a blessing. I wave to him from the window. This is Pope Francis. If the Church becomes like him and becomes what he wants it to be, it will be an epochal change.
(Translated from Italian to English by Kathryn Wallace)