“The Lord is a good friend; he treats me well,” says Pope Francis in a new interview with Argentine journalist Bernarda Llorente, of the Telam news agency.
In the wide-ranging interview, the Pope also returns to the subject of international tensions, referring once again to his estimation that we are already in a World War III, but it’s a “world war fought piecemeal” that is plunging the planet into mourning.
This interview, broadcast on October 16, 2023, was recorded at the end of September, before the opening of the Synod and prior to the Hamas offensive on Israel.
Change and tradition
When asked about the meaning of the current Synod, the Pope takes his cue from John XXIII, who, when he launched the Second Vatican Council, “had a very clear perception: the Church had to change” and commit herself “to people’s dignity.” He reminds us that these changes must take place without breaking with the past, but on the contrary by taking care of our “roots.”
“We all have a tradition, we all have a family, we are all born with the culture of a country, a political culture,” Francis explains.
Closeness to God
The Argentine pontiff reminds us of the need for the Church to engage with all human realities. “God became man, he didn’t become a philosophical theory,” explains Francis, who insists that all believers, not just Peter’s Successor, are “representatives of God.”
“The Lord is a good friend, he treats me well. He takes great care of me, just as he takes care of us all,” explains Francis, when asked about his prayer life. “The three most convincing qualities of God are closeness, mercy, and tenderness,” he assures us.
The Pope at the South Pole?
Asked about the important journeys he still has to make, the Pope mentions his native Argentina, but also talks about Papua New Guinea, scheduled before the pandemic.
With a touch of irony, the Pope broadens his horizons to include Oceania: “Someone told me that since I’m going to Argentina, I should make a stopover in Rio Gallegos, then the South Pole, land in Melbourne and visit New Zealand and Australia. That would be a bit long,” says the Argentine pontiff humorously. In 2013, he explained that Australia would not be a priority destination during his pontificate, since Benedict XVI had visited the country during the Sydney World Youth Day in 2008.
This reference to the South Pole also echoes Argentina’s territorial claims over part of Antarctica and the Atlantic islands that form part of its continental shelf, notably the Falklands, an archipelago that was the subject of a war with the United Kingdom in 1982.
The Pope points out that he receives “many invitations” to travel, but that his response depends on “the intuition of the moment.”
“It’s not something automatic. Every decision is original, unique,” he explains.
Denouncing “messianic clowns”
Asked about the expansion of far-right political forces — with no direct mention of populist candidate Javier Milei, who could win Argentina’s presidential election, the first round of which takes place this Sunday, October 22 — the Pope denounced politicians who turn themselves into “messianic clowns,” capitalizing on social malaise.
He invites us to transform crises into opportunities to grow. Crises can be labyrinthine, but depending on whether they involve “a person, a family, a country, or a civilization,” they can “help people grow” if they are “well resolved.”
“A crisis must be accepted and overcome, but always upwards,” insists Francis, who reminds us that “the major dictatorships” were born of an “illusion” fostered by a climate of indifference.
Faced with those who criticize him for being a “communist” — an insult leveled by candidate Javier Milei in particular — the Pope retorts that he bases himself on the Gospel and the Bible. “Already in the Old Testament, Hebrew law required us to take care of widows, orphans, and foreigners,” he explains.
The ever-present risk of slavery
In the face of the temptations of “laziness and idleness,” Pope Francis emphasizes the dignity of the austere workers, who “earn bread by the sweat of their brow, be it material or intellectual sweat.” But all work must be carried out “with rights,” otherwise it runs the risk of becoming exploitation or slavery, warns the Pope.
He also mentions the new forms of alienation brought about by the development of new technologies, particularly artificial intelligence. “When changes are accelerated, assimilation mechanisms don’t have enough time; we end up as slaves,” Francis warns. He is nonetheless open to scientific “progress,” provided that humanity retains control of these tools.
Referring once again to the “piecemeal global war” that is plunging the world into mourning, Franis hammers home the need for a principle of “universal security” that can be applied everywhere. He explains that many wars are linked to exploitation and control over territory rather than cultural issues. The Pope mentions once again the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority by the Burmese army, carried out in the name of “elitist domination, as of a superior humanity.”
Cardinal Pironio, an Argentinian papabile
“We had the idea of an Argentine pope with Pironio,” reveals Francis, who often visited his fellow Argentine when he came to Rome. Cardinal Eduardo Pironio (1920-1998) was President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity from 1984 to 1996, during the pontificate of John Paul II.
“I remember that he was disliked by a close-minded, traditionalist branch of the Argentine episcopate, who claimed that his appointment could harm the Church. He invented World Youth Day and did so much good for the Church,” says Francis, explaining that a miracle is being studied that could lead to his beatification by the end of the year.