Pope: Peace will come when Russia and Ukraine are able to speak to each other
In an interview with Telemundo, Pope Francis addresses the issues of migration, abortion and celibacy, and explains that he always asks people to pray for him because when the faithful pray for their pastor "it is as if he wears a suit of armour".
"Peace will be achieved the day they will be able to speak to each other, either the two of them or through others."
The Pope looked at the drama that has been unfolding in Ukraine for over a year and, in an interview with Telemundo, a Spanish-language US television network, on 25 May, points to what could be a solution to the conflict: dialogue.
The conversation with journalist Julio Vaqueiro took place on Thursday in a room at the Augustinianum Institute in Rome, a few metres from the Vatican, where Pope Francis met with Latin American and European mayors attending the Scholas Occurrentes 'Eco-Educational Cities' conference. Vaqueiro himself moderated the meeting. First, however, he conducted the interview with the Pope on the issues of war, abortion and celibacy, his health, migrants who leave their homeland 'out of necessity', the prayer of the faithful which is like 'an armour'.
One question concerned his recent meeting with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and his words to the media about not needing intermediaries. "That was not the tone of the conversation," the Pope clarified, pointing out that Zelensky "asked him for a very big favour" and that was to "take care of the children who had been taken to Russia."
"They do not dream so much of mediations, because in reality the blockade of Ukraine is very strong: all of Europe, the United States. So they have a very big force of their own. What causes them a lot of pain - and they ask for help for - is to try to bring the children back to Ukraine,' the Pope explained.
The interviewer then asked, "to achieve peace, do you think Russia should return those territories?" The Pope responded by saying: "It is a political problem."
Issue of migration
Another 'problem' and a 'serious one' for the Pope is the migration issue, for which he reiterated the need for a strategy that can foster the development and sustainability of the countries from which people flee.
He spoke first of all of the continent of Africa. "Once a woman, a great stateswoman, said that the problem of African migration must be solved in Africa, by helping Africa. But, unfortunately, Africa is a slave to a collective unconscious drive [on the part of foreign nations], according to which Africa must be exploited," said the Pope. "Aid should instead serve to lift it up and make it independent."
Pope Francis expressed his closeness to South Sudan, which he visited last February, and its "wonderful people who are recently rearming."
"Foreign powers immediately put their industries there, not to make the country grow, but to take away," denounced the Pope. "I do not say all, I do not want to name countries, but the problem of Africa is that the dishonest political unconscious is that Africa is to be exploited and this has not changed. And hence all the migrations."
Pope Francis then cited the book "Little Brother", which he gave to the bishops of the Italian Bishops' Conference at the Vatican on Monday. It recounts the life of a boy who left Guinea to search for his brother and takes three years to reach Spain, suffering slavery, imprisonment, torture. "Read it, you will see the drama, the drama of a migrant on the shores of Libya."
"To emigrate is to die a little," the journalist observed, quoting Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Pope Francis confirmed: "Always, because you leave your own land." He experienced it first-hand with his family: "I was born in Buenos Aires but my father was a migrant; he was already an accountant at the Bank of Italy when he went there."
Even now, as a Pope who comes from Argentina (a "cocktail" land of immigrants) and has lived in Rome for ten years, he continues to be a bit of a migrant. "You always leave something behind. The mate that you make yourself with a thermos like this is not the same as the mate that your mother gives you, or your aunt or your grandmother, freshly made. It is not the same thing. It lacks the air of the place where you were born," says Pope Francis.
He cited a "very beautiful" poem by Nino Costa, in Piedmontese, Rassa nostrana, la nostra razza, which recounts the fate of a migrant who goes to America, where he earns a lot of money but eventually dies in an unknown place: "The migrant can become rich and do well, or he can end up suffering badly if he is not welcomed."
The interview went on to mention the issues of abortion and celibacy. On the first issue, the Pope cited embryology studies, according to which already "one month after conception", the one in the womb "is a living being". He then posed the question: "Is it licit to eliminate a living being to solve a problem? Is it licit to hire a hitman to solve a problem?"
On priestly celibacy and the alleged connection with child abuse in the Church, Pope Francis responded by quoting statistics: "32%, in other countries 36%, of abuse takes place in the family, uncle, grandfather, and all married, or with neighbours. After that, in sports venues, after that, in schools..." He added, "it has nothing to do" therefore with the question of celibacy.
Reference was then made to the Holy Father's health and knee problems: "Before, I couldn't walk. Now I can walk again," the Pope smiled. With serenity he also recalled his admission to the Gemelli Hospital at the end of March for an infectious bronchitis: "it was really unexpected. But we caught it in time, they told me, if we had waited a few more hours it would have been more serious. But in four days I was out."
He then explained why he ended every public speech with a request to pray for him. "Sometimes," he said, "people do not realise the power they have in praying for their pastors. And the prayer of the faithful works miracles, really, it works miracles. Take care of the pastor. A pastor, any pastor, whether a parish priest, a bishop or any pastor, is like being defended, armoured, with armour, with the prayer of the faithful."
Finally, Pope Francis offered a quick overview of the reforms carried out during these ten years of his pontificate.
In reality, the Pope explained, nothing more than what the cardinals requested in the pre-Conclave meetings: "the economic system, the new laws of the Vatican State, the pastoral care of the Vatican service," as well as the role of women.
For the future, however, he said he feels he still has much left to do. "It's funny, as you go forward you realise you still have more to do." One goal is certainly "de-clericalisation", he said: "If you are a cleric, you are not a pastor. I always tell bishops, priests and myself to be pastors."