Pope Francis

Dialogika Resources

Interview excerpts from "La Vanguardia" on Middle East, Pius XII, etc.

[From Patheos website, an English translation of an interview with a newspaper in Spain]


On the persecution of Christians:

“The persecuted Christians are a concern that touches me very deeply as a pastor. I know a lot about persecutions but it doesn’t seem prudent to talk about them here so I don’t offend anyone. But in some places it is prohibited to have a Bible or teach the catechism or wear a cross… What I would like to be clear on is one thing, I am convinced that the persecution against Christians today is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church. Today there are more Christian martyrs than in that period. And, it's not because of fantasy, it’s because of the numbers."

Pope Francis received us last Monday in the Vatican – a day after the prayer for peace with the presidents of Israel and Palestine – for this exclusive interview with “La Vanguardia.” The Pope was happy to have done everything possible for understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.

Violence in the name of God dominates the Middle East.  

It's a contradiction. Violence in the name of God does not correspond with our time. It's something ancient. With historical perspective, one has to say that Christians, at times, have practiced it. When I think of the Thirty Years War, there was violence in the name of God. Today it is unimaginable, right? We arrive, sometimes, by way of religion to very serious, very grave contradictions. Fundamentalism, for example. The three religions, we have our fundamentalist groups, small in relation to all the rest.

And, what do you think about fundamentalism?

A fundamentalist group, although it may not kill anyone, although it may not strike anyone, is violent. The mental structure of fundamentalists is violence in the name of God.

The prayer for peace from Sunday wasn’t easy to organize nor did it have precedents in the Middle East nor in the world. How did you feel?

You know that it wasn’t easy because you were there, and much of that achievement is due to you. I felt that it was something that can accidentally happen to all of us. Here, in the Vatican,99% said it would not happen and then the 1% started to grow. I felt that we were feeling pushed towards something that had not occurred to us and that, little by little, started to take shape. It was not at all a political act – I felt that from the beginning – but it was rather a religious act: opening a window to the world.

Why did you choose to place yourself in the eye of the hurricane, the Middle East?

The true eye of the hurricane, due to the enthusiasm that there was, was the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro last year. I decided to go to the Holy Land because President Peres invited me. I knew that his mandate would finish this Spring, so I felt obliged, in some way, to go beforehand. His invitation accelerated the trip. I did not think of doing it.

Why is it important for every Christian to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land?

Because of revelation. For us, it all started there. It is like “heaven on earth.” A foretaste of what awaits us hereafter, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

You and your friend, the Rabbi Skorka, hugged each other in front of the Western Wall. What importance has that gesture had for the reconciliation between Christians and Jews?

Well, my good friend professor Omar Abu, president of the Institute for Inter-religious Dialogue of Buenos Aires, was also at the Wall. I wanted to invite him. He is a very religious man and a father-of-two. He is also friends with Rabbi Skorka and I love them both a lot, and I wanted that that friendship between the three be seen as a witness.

You told me a year ago that “within every Christian there is a Jew.”

Perhaps it would be more correct to say “you cannot live your Christianity, you cannot be a real Christian, if you do not recognize your Jewish roots.” I don’t speak of Jewish in the sense of the Semitic race but rather in the religious sense. I think that inter-religious dialogue needs to deepen in this, in Christianity’s Jewish root and in the Christian flowering of Judaism. I understand it is a challenge, a hot potato, but it can be done as brothers. I pray every day the divine office every day with the Psalms of David. We do the 150 psalms in one week. My prayer is Jewish and I have the Eucharist, which is Christian.  

How do you see anti-Semitism?

I cannot explain why it happens, but I think it is very linked, in general, and without it being a fixed rule, to the right wing.  Antisemitism usually nests better in right-wing political tendencies that in the left, right? And it still continues (like this). We even have those who deny the holocaust, which is crazy.

One of your projects is to open the Vatican archives on the Holocaust.

They will bring a lot of light.   

Does it worry you something could be discovered?

What worries me regarding this subject is the figure of Pius XII, the Pope that led the Church during World War II. They have said all sorts of things about poor Pius XII. But we need to remember that before he was seen as the great defender of the Jews. He hid many in convents in Rome and in other Italian cities, and also in the residence of Castel Gandolfo. Forty-two babies, children of Jews and other persecuted who sought refuge there were born there, in the Pope’s room, in his own bed. I don’t want to say that Pius XII did not make any mistakes – I myself make many – but one needs to see his role in the context of the time. For example, was it better for him not to speak so that more Jews would not be killed or for him to speak? I also want to say that sometimes I get “existential hives” when I see that everyone takes it out against the Church and Pius XII, and they forget the great powers. Did you know that they knew the rail network of the Nazis perfectly well to take the Jews to concentration camps? They had the pictures. But they did not bomb those railroad tracks. Why? It would be best if we spoke a bit about everything.