The National Catholic Review

Pope Francis acknowledged that he has not given sufficient attention to the middle class when he speaks about the world’s economy, but instead has focused much on the polarization between the rich and the poor and the throw-away culture. He said he has “erred” in not thinking more about the middle class, but now intends to give more study to this. 

He denied reports that he had chewed coca leaves on this trip to eight-day trip to Latin America, in which he showed extraordinary physical energy and stamina for a man of his age. He said drinking “mate” – the herbal infusion that many in Argentina drink – helps him a lot 

He discussed all this and much more in an hour-long press conference on the flight back from Asuncion to Rome, July 12-13, in which he responded to a wide range of questions from reporters travelling with him. He fielded reporters’ questions, from the different language groups, within 30 minutes after takeoff, quite an amazing feat given that all this came at the end of an action packed day.

In the middle of the press conference, he gave reporters a lesson on adopting a proper hermeneutic for the interpretation of speeches and statements, to help them avoid misrepresenting what he says.

In answer to other questions, he spoke about the current dramatic situation of Greece and said all the blame cannot be put on that country; he hoped the international community will find a solution, and also provide ways to prevent something similar to other countries.

He downplayed his own and the Vatican’s role in helping the United States and Cuba reach agreement, and gave full credit to both countries.

Speaking about the shaky peace process in Colombia, he expressed his strong conviction that the peace talks cannot fail.

He also spoke about the importance of the popular movements in the world, and in supporting them he said he was following the Church’s social doctrine. 

NOTE: The following is a full transcript of the Pope’s press conference. The translation is the result of a pool effort by several English-speaking journalists travelling with him. The author has sought to revise the translation. It is a working translation until the Vatican provides an official one.



Thank you for elevating the shrine of our Lady of Caacupé to a basilica but the people of Paraguay ask why don’t we have a cardinal, what is our sin, why don’t we have one?

Not having a cardinal isn’t a sin. Most countries in the world don’t have a cardinal. The nationality of the cardinals, I don’t remember how many they are but they are a minority compared to the whole.

It’s true, Paraguay has never had a cardinal, but I wouldn’t be able to give you a reason. Sometimes you make an evaluation, you study the files one by one, you see the person and the charisma, the cardinal that will have to advise and assist the pope in the universal government of the church. The cardinal, even if he belongs to a particular church, is incardinated to the Church of Rome, and requires a universal vision. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a bishop in Paraguay who doesn’t have it. But there’s a limit of 120 cardinals, so there’s also that.

Bolivia has two, Uruguay has had two. Some Central American countries haven’t had one either, but it’s no sin and it depends on the circumstances, the people, and the charisma to be incardinated. This doesn’t mean doing wrong to them, or that the Paraguayan bishops have no value, there are some that are great. I remember some that made history. Why weren’t they made cardinals? It isn’t an absence, there wasn’t an opportunity. It’s not a promotion. I ask another question. Does Paraguay deserve a cardinal, if we look at the church of Paraguay? I’d say that yes, they deserve two. It’s a lively church, joyful, that fights, and with a glorious history.

ON THE CLASH BETWEEN BOLIVIA AND CHILE: Do you think that the Bolivian desire of once again having a sovereign access to the sea, to the Pacific Ocean is just? In case they ask for your mediation, would you accept?

The issue of mediation is a very delicate one, and it’d be a last resource [step]. Argentina lived this with Chile, and it was to stop a war, it was a very extreme situation, and dealt with very well by those appointed by the Holy See, behind who was always John Paul II, being interested, and with the good will of the two countries that said “let’s see if this works out.”

It’s curious, there was a group, at least in Argentina, that never understood this mediation, and when the president [Raul] Alfonsin called for a plebiscite to see if the proposal for mediation was accepted, obviously the majority of the country said that yes, but there was a group that resisted, that always resisted.

Hardly ever, in the case of mediation, will a whole country be in agreement. But this is a last resource; there are other diplomatic figures that can help facilitators etc.

At this moment. I have to be very respectful regarding this because Bolivia has made an appeal to an international tribunal. If I make a comment, I’m a head of state; it could be interpreted as me trying to interfere in the sovereignty of another state, in one way or another. I have to be very respectful of the decision taken by the Bolivian people that made this appeal.

I also know that there have been a previous attempt at dialogue. I don’t have the issue so clear, but I was told they were very close to a solution once; it was in the time of president Lagos, Chilean president Lagos. I was told about a mediation, a comment made to me by Cardinal Errazuris, but I don’t want to make a mistake about this.

Also there’s something else I want to make very clear. I touched this subject in the Cathedral of Bolivia in a very delicate way, taking into account the situation of the appeal to the international tribunal. I remember the context perfectly, the brothers have to dialogue, the Latin American peoples have to dialogue to create the Great Fatherland (La Patria Grande), dialogue is necessary, I stopped and remained silent and said “I think of the sea,” and then I said, dialogue, dialogue.

My intervention was a remembering of this problem, but respecting the situation as it is s presented today, Being in a international tribunal, one can’t speak of mediation or facilitation, but hope for this.

There’s always a basis for justice when there’s a change in the territorial limits, particularly after a war. There’s a continuous revision of this. I’d say that it’s not unfair to present something like this, this desire.

I remember that in the year 1961, during my first year of philosophy, we saw a documentary about Bolivia, from a father that had come from Bolivia. I believe it was called the 12 stars.

How many provinces has Bolivia?

Nine departments.

So it was called the 10 stars. And it presented each one of the 9 departments, and at the end, the tenth, and you saw the sea without any word. It remained in my mind, so it’s visible that there’s a desire. After a war of this kind,losses are suffered, and I believe it’s important to first have dialogue, then healthy negotiation.

But at this moment the dialogue has been interrupted because of this appeal to The Hague.

INTERPRETING WHAT FRANCIS SAID IN ECUADOR: Ecuador was convulsed before your visit, and after you left the country those who oppose the government went back to the streets. It would seem that they want to use your presence in Ecuador in a political way, especially because of your expression “the people of Ecuador stood up with dignity.” I ask you, what do you mean with this? Do you sympathize in Correa’s political project? Do you believe that the recommendations you’ve made in Ecuador, concerning achieving development, dialogue, the construction of a democracy in the hopes of leaving behind the throw-way culture, is actually practiced in Ecuador?

I know there were some political problems and strikes before the visit, I know about the details of the politics of Ecuador. It’d be imprudent of me to give an opinion. I was told there was a parenthesis during my visit, for which I’m thankful because it’s the gesture of a people standing up, to respect the visit of a pope. I thank them for this and I value it. But if the strikes resumed, then it’s evident that the problems of the political arguments continue.

Concerning the phrase you talk about, I was referring to the broader consciousness that the people of Ecuador has been taking on values etc. There was a border war with Peru not long ago, so there’s a history of a war. After the war, there’s been a broader consciousness of the value of ethnic diversity in Ecuador, and this gives dignity. Ecuador isn’t a country of throwing away, so my phrase refers to the whole people and to all the dignity after the border war as Ecuador took greater consciousness of its dignity and the richness of the diversity and the unity that it has. So the phrase cannot be attributed to one concrete political situation, in one way or another because someone told me the other day – I didn’t see it – that the phrase was used by both sides, both by the Government and by those who opposed the Government. One sentence can be manipulated, and I believe that here we be very careful.

I thank you for your question because you’re giving an example of being careful.

And if you permit me, and since it’s a question no one asked I’ll give you 5 minutes extra as a concession (for this intervention)

THE HEREMENEUTICS OF A TEXT is very important in your work. A text can’t be interpreted only with one phrase. There has to be a hermeneutic of the whole context. There are phrases that are the key to the hermeneutic, and others that are not, that are spoken “in passing” or (are) plastic. One has to look at the context of the whole situation, including the history. Is it the history of this moment, or are we talking about the past, and if so then we need to interpret an event from the past with the hermeneutics of that time.

I don’t know, take for instance the crusades, we must interpret the crusades with a hermeneutic of that time, how were things at the time? This is a key to interpret a speech, any text, (one must) use a totalizing hermeneutic, not (one that’s) isolated.

Forgive me, I don’t want to be the “plum teacher”(An Argentinian idiom that refers to the teacher that is constantly lecturing people], but I say this as a help for you.

And now let’s talk in Guarani! (Laughs)

ON POPULAR MOVEMENTS AND GREECE. In your speech to the popular movements in Bolivia, you spoke about the new colonialism; you spoke about the idolatry of money, and the subjecting of the economy to policies of austerity, making the poor tighten their belts (even more). Now this past week in Europe we’ve had the situation of Greece and the fate of Greece, whether it exits from the European currency. What do you think about what’s happening in Greece, and which also effects the whole of Europe?

First of all, whythis intervention of mine in the conference of the popular movements? It was the second one. The first was held in the Vatican, in the old synod hall. There were more or less 120 people. It is something that the (Council for) Justice and Peace organizes, and Iam close to thisbecause it is a phenomenon in the whole world, in the whole world, even in the East, also in The Philippines, in India, in Thailand. These are movements that organise among themselves, not just to protest but to move forward, to able to live, and they are movements that have strength. And these people, and there are many, many of them, don't feel represented by the unions because they say that the unions are now a corporation and they do not struggle - I am simplifying a bit - but the idea that many people have is that the unions don't fight for the rights of poorest. The Church cannot be indifferent. The Church has a social doctrine that dialogues with these movements and dialogues well. You have seen the enthusiasm at hearing that the Church is not so far from us, the Church has a doctrine helps us in the fight for this. Ct is a dialogue. It is not that the Church makes an option for the anarchic way. No, they not anarchists. They work. They try doing many jobs, even connected with waste, the things that are left behind. They are real workers. That is the first thing, the importance of this.

On Greece and the Iinternational system… I have a great allergy to economic things because my father was an accountantand when he did not manage to finish his work at the factory, he brought the work home on Saturday and Sunday with those books, in those days where the headings were in gothic letters. And when I see my father (working like this) I have a great allergy.

I don't understand the situation very well (in Greece). Certainly, it would be too simple to say that the fault is only on one side. Even the Greek Governments that brought forward this situation of international debt, they too have a responsibility. With the New Greek Government we see a bit of a revision and it’s a bit right, isn’t it. I hope that they find a way to resolve the Greek problemand also a way to have oversight so as not to fall back into the same problem will others countries. And this will help us move forward because that road of loans and debts, in the end, it never ends.

They told me something about a year and a half ago, I don’t know if it is true but it is something that I heard, that there was aproject at the United Nations – and ifany of you know anything about it, it would be good if you could explain it -- there was a project whereby a country could declare itself bankrupt, which is not the sameas default. They told me that it is a project that was in the United Nations. I don't knowhow it ended it up or whether it was true or not ...Iam just using it to illustrate something that I heard.If a company can declare bankruptcy why can’t a country do so too and we go to the aid of others. This is the fundamentals of that project. But I can’t say anything more about this.

As for the new colonization. Obviously it’s all about values. The colonization of consumerism; the habit of consumerism was a product of the progress of colonization. It brings about a habit that is not yours and it even causes disequilibrium in the personality, even consumerisms cause disequilibrium in the internal economy and social justice and even physical and mental health, just to give you an example.


Your Holiness, one of the strongest messages of this trip was that the global economic system often imposes a profit mentality at any cost, to the detriment of the poor. This is perceived by Americans as a direct criticism of their system and their way of life. How do you respond to this perception, and what is your evaluation of the impact of the United States in the world?

What I said, that phrase, it’s not new. I said it in EvangeliI Gaudium. This economy kills. I remember it well. And I said it in Laudato Si. It’s not a new thing, this is known. I cannot say…I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I heard about it but I haven’t read about it, I haven’t had the time to study this well, because every criticism must be received, studied, and then dialogue must be ensue. You ask me what I think. If I have not had a dialogue with those who criticize, I don’t have the right to state an opinion, isolated from dialogue, no? This is what I what I want to say.

But now you are going to the US

Yes, I will go

Now you will go the United States. You must have an idea how it will be, you must have some thoughts about the nation.

No, I have to begin to study now. Until now I studied these three beautiful countries. Such richness, such beauty…Now I must begin to study. Cuba, I will go for two and a half days. And then the United States. The three cities, the east. I cannot go to the west because…Washington, New York, Philadelphia, no? Yes, I must begin studying these criticisms, no? And then dialogue a bit with this.

ON THE CRUCIFIX WITH THE HAMMER AND SICKLE: Holy Father, what did you feel, when Bolivia’s President Evo Morales gave you a crucifix with the hammer and sickle? And where has this object ended up?

I was curious. I didn't know this, nor did I know that Father Espinal was a sculptor and also a poet. I learned this in these days. I saw it and for me it was a surprise.

Second, one can qualify it as a genre of protest art, for example in Buenos Aires, some years ago, there was an exhibit of a good sculptor, a creative Argentine who is now dead. It was protest art, and I recall one that was a crucified Christ on a bomber plane that was coming down. It is Christianity but a criticism that let's say of Christianity allied with imperialism which is (represented by) the bomber plane genre. Second point. If first I didn’t know then, second, I would qualify it as protest art that in some cases can be offensive. In some cases.

Third. In this concrete case, Father Espinal was killed in 1980. It was a time when liberation theology had many different branches. One of the branches was with the Marxist analysis of reality. Father Espinal belonged to this. Yes, I knew this because in those years I was rector of the theology faculty and we talked a lot about it, about the different branches and who were the representatives, no? In that same year, the Father General of the Society (of Jesus), Father Arrupe, wrote a letter to the whole Society on the Marxist analysis of reality in theology. Putting a stop to this a bit, saying this isn’t on; these are different things, it’s not on, it’s not correct. Then 4 years later, in 1984, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published its first small booklet (on the subject): the first declaration on liberation theology that criticises this. Then there was a second (booklet) which opens the more Christian perspectives. I’m simplifying a little. No?

So let’s do the hermeneutics of the time: Espinal was an enthusiast of this Marxist analysis of the reality. but also of theology using Marxism in this. He came up with this work; also the poetry of Espinal was of this genre of protest. But it was his life. It was his thinking. He was a special man, with so much human geniality, who fought in good faith. No? Using a hermeneutic of this genre, I understand this work. It was not offensive to me. But I had to use this hermeneutic. And I say this to you so that there aren't any wrong opinions.

Did you leave it (the crucifix) there?

No, I brought it with me. Maybe you heard that President Morales wanted to give me honours: one is the most important in Bolivia, the other is the Order of Father Espinal, a new order. I never accept honours. I don’t do it. But he (the President) did it with so much good will, with good will and to something pleasing to me. And I thought, this comes from the people of Boliva. So I prayed, what should I do? If I bring it to the Vatican it will l go to the museum and end up there. And no one ... so I thought about leaving it with the Madonna of Copacabana, the mother of Bolivia. It will go to the sanctuary. It will be in the sanctuary of the Madonna of Copacabana, the Madonna with these two honours, but I have brought the Christ with me.

ON THE SYNOD AND FAMILIES During the mass at Guayaquil, you said the Church was making a discernment so as to come up with concrete solutions for the problems of families, And then you asked the people to pray so that those things “that seem to us impure, that scandalize us or frighten us, that God may transform them by a miracle.” Could you tell us what impure, or frightening or scandalous situations you were referring to?

Here, too, I will do some ‘hermeneutics’ of the text. I was speaking of the miracle of the fine wine. I said the jugs, the jugs of water were full, but they were for the purification. Every person who entered for the celebration performed his purification and left his spiritual dirt (there). It was a rite of purification before entering into a house or the temple, no? Now we have this in the holy water -- that is what has remained of the Jewish rite.

I said that Jesus makes the best wine from the dirty water -- the worst water. In general, I thought of making this comment.

The family is in crisis. You know that, everyone knows that. It’s enough to read the (synod’s) Working Document (Instrumentum laboris), which you know well because it was presented to you. And there I was referring to all of that, in general. That the Lord would purify the crises of many things that are described in that Working Document. But it was in general, I wasn’t thinking of any point in particular. That he (the Lord) would make us better, that he would make families that are more mature, better. But the particular elements are all there in that Working Document that you have.

ON POPE’S MEDIATION BETWEEN USA AND CUBA, AND POSSIBLE OTHER SUCH MEDIATIONS IN LATIN AMERICA: Seeing how well the mediation went between Cuba and the U.S., would it be possible to do something similar for some delicate situations between other countries on the Latin American continent? I’m thinking of Colombia and Venezuela. Also, out of curiosity, I have a father who is younger than you but has half your energy. After what I’ve seen on this trip and in these two and a half years, I’d like to know what is your secret?

‘What is your drug?’ is what he means, that’s the question! (Laughs)

The process between Cuba and the United States was not mediation; it did not have the character of mediation. There was a desire that had arrived, and on the other side also a desire. And then – and in this I’m telling the truth – there passed -- this was in January of last year – three months went by, and I only prayed over this. I didn’t decide anything, (I prayed and asked), what can I with these two who have been going on like this for 50 years. Then I thought of a cardinal, and he went there and talked. Then I didn’t know anything more. Months went by. Then one day the Secretary of State, who is here, told me, “Tomorrow we will have the second meeting with the two teams.” How’s that? “Yes, yes, they are talking, the two groups are talking, and they are making headway …” It went on by itself. It was not 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 then in December, mid-December, it was announced. This is the story; truly, there is no more to it.

In this moment I am concerned that the peace process in Colombia not halt. I must say so, and I hope that this process goes ahead. In this sense, we are always disposed to help; there are so many ways to help. It would be an ugly thing if it couldn’t go ahead.

 In Venezuela, the bishops’ conference works to make a little bit of peace there too. But there is not any mediation, that’s what you asked about.

In the case of the U.S., it was the Lord, and then two things by chance, and then it went on (by itself).

As for Colombia: I hope and pray, we must pray that this process does not stop. It is a process that’s (gone on for) more than 50 years, too. How many dead? I’ve heard millions! And then, about Venezuela, I have nothing more to tell you.

And the secret of your energy? 

The drug! (Laughs). Mate helps me, but I have not tasted coca. That must be clear!

THE POPE AND THE MIDDLE CLASS: Holy Father, on this trip, we’ve heard so many strong messages for the poor, also many strong, at times severe messages for the rich and powerful but something we’ve heard very little was a message for the middle class, that is, people who work, people who pay their taxes, the normal people then. My question is why in the magisterium of the Holy Father are there so few messages of the middle class. If there were such a message, what would it be?

Thank you so much. It’s a good correction, thanks. You are right. It’s an error of mine not to think about this. I will make some comment but not to justify myself. You’re right. I have to think a bit.

The world is polarized. The middle class becomes smaller. The polarization between the rich and the poor is big. This is true. And, perhaps this has brought me not to take account of this, no? Some nations are doing very well, but in the world in general the polarization is seen. And, the number of poor is big. And why do I speak of the poor? Because they’re at the heart of the Gospel. And, I always speak from the Gospel on poverty, no? Even if it’s sociological. Then, on the middle class, there are some words that I’ve said, but a little in passing. But the common people, the simple people, the worker, that is a great value, no? But, I think you’re telling me about something I need to do. I need to do delve further into this magisterium. I thank you for your help.

WILL POPE ADDRESS THROW-AWAY CULTURE WHEN HE VISITS THE UN AND THE WHITE HOUSE: In these days you have spoken a lot on integration, fighting the throw-away culture; are these things you will speak about at the United Nations and in the White House? Were you thinking of that trip when you addressed those matters in South America?

No. No. I was just thinking concretely of this trip and of the world in general -- that is true.

The debt of countries at this moment is terrible; every country has debt. There are one or two countries that have purchased the debt of grande countries. It’s a global problem. But I didn’t think specifically of the trip to the United States.

CUBA AND HUMAN RIGHTS: Now that Cuba will have a role in the international community, in your opinion should Havana improve its record on human rights, as well as religious freedom? Do you think Cuba risks losing something in this new relationship with the most powerful country in the world?

Human rights are for all and they are not respected not only one or two countries. I would say that in many countries of the world human rights are not respected. In many countries in the world...

And what will Cuba lose or what will the US lose (from this accord)? Both will gain something and lose something as happens in negotiations. They are like that. Both will gain peace, meetings, friendship, collaboration...these they will gain...but what will they lose, I cannot imagine concretely. But in negotiations one always wins and loses.

But returning to human rights, and religious freedom. Just think of some countries of some countries in the world, and also some European counties where you are not allowed to make a religious sign, for different reasons and in other continents it is the same. Yes, this...Religious liberty is not a reality in the entire world; there are many countries that do not allow it.    

WHY MORE PAPAL OUTREACH TO POPULAR MOVEMENTS THAN TO THE BUSINESS WORLD Your holiness. You present yourself as the new world leader of alternative politics. I would like to know: why do you support so strongly popular movements, and not so much on the business world? And do you think the Church will follow you in your outreach to the popular movements which are lay movements?

The popular movements are a big reality, and they are a very big reality in all over the world. What did I do? I gave them the social doctrine of the Church, just as I do with the business world. If you read what I said to the popular movements, it is a rather major discourse, it is a synthesis of the Church’s social doctrine, but applied to their situation. All that I said is the social doctrine of the Church, and when I have to talk to the business world I will say the same. I will say what the social doctrine of the Church has to say to them. For example, in Laudat Si, there’s a passage on the common good, on the social debt of private property, and all else that goes in that sense. But all I do is to apply the social doctrine of the Church.

As for the second question: "Do you think the Church will follow you, in your closeness towards popular movements?”

It is I who follow the Church here! Because I simply preach the Church’s social doctrine to these movements. It’s not an outstretched hand to an enemy, it’s not a political fact, and it’s a catechetical fact. I want this to be clear.

IS POPE AFRAID HIS WORDS WILL BE EXPLOITED, MANIPULATED? Holy Father, the Spanish-speaking journalists want to ask if you are not somewhat concerned that you or your speeches might be manipulated or exploited by governments, by power groups, by movements and so on?

I repeat a bit what I said at the beginning. Every word, every sentence of a speech can be manipulated (instrumentalized). What the journalist from Ecuador asked me, that very sentence some said it was for the government, others said it was against the government. That is why I allowed myself to speak of the hermeneutics of the whole (speech). Always they (words) can be exploited. At times some news takes a phrase, out of context. But I am not afraid. I simply say look at the context. And if I make a mistake, with a bit of shame, I ask forgiveness, and I go forward.

What do you think of people taking selfies at mass, young people, children and colleagues that want to them with you?

What do I think of it? I feel like a great-grandfather! It’s another culture.

Today as I was taking leave (from Asuncion), and a policeman in his 40s asked me for a selfie! I told him you’re a teenager!

Yes. It’s another culture. I respect it.


I wanted to ask you, Holy Father, in synthesis what was the message you wished to give to the Latin American Church during these days and what role can the Latin American Church have, also as a sign to the world?

The Latin American Church has a great wealth. It’s a young Church. And this is important. It’s a young Church with certain freshness. Also with some informalities, not so formal, no? It also has a rich theology of research. I wished to give encouragement to this young Church and I believe that this Church can give much to us. I’ll tell you something that really struck me. In all three countries, all three, along the streets there were moms and dads with their children, showing their children. I’ve never seen so many kids! So many kids. It’s a people, and also the Church is like this, no? It’s a lesson for us, no? For Europe, where the decrease in birthrate is a bit scary, no? And also the policies for helping big families are few. I think of France, which has a good policy for helping big families. It has arrived to a higher than two percent birthrate, but others are at zero percent or less.

In Albania, for example, I believe the level of young people is at 45 percent. In Paraguay, 72 or 75 percent of the population is younger than 40 years old. The wealth of this Church, this nation is also that it is a living Church, a Church of life, no? And, this is important. We also need to learn from this and correct it because, on the contrary, if children don’t come… For me, it’s the same question of discarding. Children are thrown away. The elderly are discarded. And with the lack of work, we discard young people, no? And these new nations of young people give us more strength in all this. And for the Church I’d say they are young churches with so many problems. They have problems. So this is the message I find: Don’t be afraid of the youth, of the freshness of this Church. It can also be an undisciplined Church but with time it will become disciplined. But they will give us so much good.

I don’t know if this is what you wanted to ask me. Thanks.


Loretta de Córdova | 7/17/2015 - 9:16am

fascinating. thank you for sharing this with us! however, in the first paragraph re Paraguay, the Pope is quoted as saying the Church is joyful, fights...did he he use the word lucha (struggle) or pelea (fight)? lucha sounds more in line with his thinking...