During the return flight from Paraguay to Rome, the Pope answered questions from the journalists who accompanied him on his apostolic trip to Latin America, as summarized below.
Question: In your address to popular movements in Bolivia you spoke about the new colonialism and the idolatry of money that subjugates the economy, and the imposition of austerity measures that continually “tighten the belt” of the poor. For some weeks now in Europe there is the situation in Greece, which risks leaving the Euro zone. What do you think about what is happening in Greece, and which also affects all of Europe?
Answer: I am near to this situation, as it is a phenomenon present throughout the world, all over the world. Also in the East, in the Philippines, in India, in Thailand. There are movements that are organized among themselves not as a form of protest but in order to keep going and to be able to live. And they are movements that have momentum, and these people – there are many of them – do not feel represented by union, as they say that the unions are now corporations and do not fight – I am simplifying somewhat – for the rights of the poor. And the Church cannot be indifferent to this. The Church has a social doctrine and is in dialogue with these this movement, and does so well. You have seen the enthusiasm of feeling that the Church – they say – is not distant from us, the Church has a doctrine that helps us to fight for this. It is a dialogue. The Church does not choose an anarchic path. No, we are not anarchists. These people work, they try to work hard even with waste, with what is left over; they are real workers.
Then, regarding Greece and the international system, I do not understand it well … but it would certainly be all too simple to say that the blame lies only on one side. If the Greek government has advanced this situation of international debt, it too bears responsibility. With the new Greek government, there have been steps in the right direction, towards revision. I hope, and it is the only thing I can say to you, as I do not know the situation well, that a way will be found to solve the Greek problem, and also a path of supervision so that other countries do not experience the same problem, and that this may help us to go ahead, as the path of loans and debts never ends. I was told, about a year or so ago, that there was a United Nations project … whereby a Country can declare itself bankrupt – which is not the same as being in default – but it is a project I heard about and I do not know how it ended or whether or not it was true. If a company can declare bankruptcy why can’t a country do it, so that we can then go to the aid of others?
Then, with regard to the new colonialisms, evidently these are a question of values. The colonialism of consumerism, for example. The habit of consumerism is the result of a process of colonization, as it leads to a habit that is not one's own and causes a personality imbalance. Consumerism also upsets the balance of the domestic economy and of social justice, as well as physical and mental health, for instance.
Question: Holy Father, what did you think when you received the hammer and sickle with Christ on it, offered by President Morales? And what became of the object?
Answer: I didn't know about it, and I was not aware that Fr. Espinal was a sculptor and also a poet. I found out in these days. I saw it and it was a surprise to me. It can be qualified as belonging to the genre of protest art. For example, in Buenos Aires a few years ago there was an exhibition of protest art by a good, creative Argentine sculptor – he is dead now – and I remember a work which was a crucified Christ on a bomber that was falling down. It was a critique of Christianity allied with imperialism, in the form of the bomber. Firstly, then, I did not know about it and secondly, I would qualify it as protest art that can in some cases be offensive; in some cases. Thirdly, in this specific case: Fr. Espinal was killed in the year 1980. It was a time in which liberation theology had many different threads, one of which was the Marxist analysis of reality, and Fr. Espinal subscribed to this. … In the same year, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arrupe, sent a letter to the whole Society regarding the Marxist analysis of reality in theology, stopping this to some extent, saying no, this doesn't work, they are different things, it is not right. And four years later, in 1984, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith published its first short volume, its first declaration on liberation theology, which it criticized. Then there was the second, that opens up more Christian perspectives. … Let us consider the hermeneutics of that period. Espinal was an enthusiast of the Marxist analysis of reality, but also of theology. That work came from this. Espinal's poetry also belongs to the protest genre: it was his life, his thought. He was a special man, with great human geniality, who fought in good faith. Through a hermeneutics of this type I understand the work. To me it was not offensive. But I had to apply this hermeneutics and I say this to you, so that there are not any mistaken opinions. I now carry the object with me, it is coming with me. You perhaps heard that President Morales wished to bestow two honors on me: one is the most important in Bolivia and the other is of the Order of Fr. Espinal, a new Order. I have never accepted honors, but he did this with such good will and with the wish to please. And I thought that this comes from the people of Bolivia – I prayed about this and thought about it – and if I take them to the Vatican they will end up in a museum where nobody will see them. So, I decided to leave them to Our Lady of Copacabana, the Mother of Bolivia, and these two honors will go to the Shrine of Copacabana, to Our Lady. However, I am taking the the sculpture of Christ with me.
Question: During the Mass in Guayaquil, you said that the Synod will have to develop true discernment to find concrete solutions to the difficulties faced by families. And then you asked the people to pray because even that which may seem impure to us, which may seem scandalous or frightening, can be transformed into a miracle by God. Can you clarify what “impure”, “scandalous” or “frightening” situations you were referring to?
Answer: Here again there is a need for a hermeneutics of the text. I was talking about the miracle of the wine during the wedding at Cana and I said that the jars of water were full, but they were intended for purification. Or rather, every person who entered the feast carried out a rite of cleansing, leaving behind their spiritual impurities. It is a purification rite performed before entering a house or a temple. A rite that we have in holy water, which is what remains to us of the Jewish ritual. I said that Jesus made good wine with the impure water, the worst water. In general, I thought about making this comment: the family is in crisis, we all know this. … I was referring to all of this, in general: that the Lord may purify us of these crises, of the many things that are described in the Instrumentum laboris. It is a general issue, not referring to any particular point.
Question: Seeing how well the mediation went between Cuba and the U.S., do you think it would it be possible to do something similar between other delicate situations in other countries on the Latin American continent? I’m thinking of Venezuela and Colombia.
Answer: The process between Cuba and the United States was not mediation. It did not have the character of mediation. There was a wish that came … And then, to tell you the truth, three months went by, and I only prayed about the matter … what could I do with these two who had been like this for more than 50 years. Then the Lord made me think of a cardinal. He went there and talked; then knew nothing more and months went by. One day the secretary of State, who is here, told me, “Tomorrow we will have the second meeting with the two teams.” … “Yes, yes, they are talking, the two groups are talking …”. It happened by itself. It was not a mediation. It was the goodwill of the two countries, and the merit is theirs, the merit is theirs for doing this. We did hardly anything, only small things. And in mid-December, it was announced. … Now, I am concerned that the peace process in Colombia must not come to a halt. I have to say this, and I hope that the process goes ahead. In this sense, we are always willing to help, in many ways. It would be a bad thing if it did not go ahead. In Venezuela, the Episcopal Conference is working to make peace there, too. But there too, there is no mediation.
Question: One thing we have heard very little of is a message for the middle class, that is, people who work, who pay their taxes, normal people. My questions is: why are there so few messages for the middle class in the Holy Father's teaching?
Answer: Thank you, it is a good correction? You are right, it is an error on my part. The world is polarized. The middle class is becoming smaller. The polarization between rich and poor is great, this is true, and perhaps this has led me not to take account of it. Some nations are doing very well, but in the world in general polarization is very evident. And the number of poor is large. And why do I speak of the poor? Because they are at the heart of the Gospel. … Then with regard to the middle class, I have said a few words, but somewhat “in passing”. But the common people, the simple people, the worker, that is a great value. But I think you are telling me about something I need to do: I need to deepen the magisterium on this.
Question: Now that Cuba will have a greater role in the international community, do you think that Havana will have to improve its reputation with regard to human rights and religious freedom? And do you think that Cuba risks losing something in its new relationship with the most powerful country in the world?
Answer: Human rights are for all, and are not to be respected only in one or two countries. I would say that in many countries throughout the world human rights are not respected. … What will Cuba or the U.S. lose? Both will gain something and lose something, because this happens in negotiations. Both will gain, this is sure: peace, encounter, friendship, collaboration. These they will gain … but what will they lose, I cannot imagine. They may be concrete things. But in negotiations one always [both] wins and loses. But returning to human rights, and religious freedom: just think that in the world there are some countries, even in Europe, where you cannot make a religious sign, for different reasons. The same applies to other continents. Religious freedom is not respected in all the world: there are many places where it is not respected.