Pope Francis touched on some major issues during a fifty minute press conference on the six hour flight from Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, to Manila, the capital of the Philippines on January 15. Among the most significant issues that he touched on was the limits of freedom of expression and the question of freedom of religion. He insisted that no one can use violence or kill people in the name of religion or of God, and denounced all such violence or killing as “an aberration.”
In a response that is sure to cause much discussion, the Pope affirmed the right to freedom of expression, in response to a question from a French journalist. He linked the question directly to the tragic events in Paris last week. Here he made it very clear that freedom of expression had certain limits, and a person is not entitled to offend, ridicule, mock, or treat the religion –any religion- as a toy that can be played with, to do so is to show a lack of respect for the dignity of religion and of people’s beliefs. He noted that such provocation is not acceptable, and can cause a backlash. But he also stated clearly, as reported above, that violence and killing in the name of religion or of God is wrong and cannot be justified.
.Pope Francis confirmed that he is in the final stages of completing the encyclical on ecology ( which also deals with the care of the environment, and such issues as climate change). He said climate change was mostly due to the work of man. He revealed that he expects the encyclical to be published in June or July before the important international conference in Paris on climate change etc.
THE FOLLOWING IS A FULL TRANSCRIPT IN ENGLISH OF THE POPE’S PRESS CONFERENCE (The translation is unofficial, and was done by the author and other colleagues aboard the papal flight.)
Father Lombardi: Holy Father, welcome and thanks for being with us in this intermediate journey. Compliments for the first part of the trip which was accomplished so brilliantly. Now we will ask you a number of questions as usual. When you are tired and want to stop you will tell us, and go.
Pope Francis: I am already tired! (Laughs)
Lombardi: To start, I know that there is something very close to your hear that you wish to say to us regarding the significance of the canonization of Saint Joseph Vaz. Please tell us now so that we can receive this important message. Then we will go to the questions. We have various people already on the list.
PF: This canonization was made with the methodology that is envisaged in the Church Law, it is called equipollent canonization. It is used when after a long time a man or woman is blessed (has been beatified) and has the veneration of the People of God, and de facto s/he is venerated as a saint, and the process of a miracle is not made. They are persons who can be that way perhaps for centuries. For this reason I did… the one who came first was Angela of Foligno, and then I choose to do persons who were great evangelizers (men or women). The first was Peter Faber who was the evangelizer of Europe. He died, one could say, on the road; he died travelling from place to place, evangelizing; he died at 40 years of age. And then came the others, the great evangelizers of Canada: Francis della Valle, Maria della Incarnacion. These two were practically the founders of the Church in Canada, he as a bishop, she as a nun, with all the apostolate they did there. Then there was Jose de Argueta, Brazil, the founder of San Paolo, who was for a long time a blessed, he is a saint. Then came Joseph Vaz, the evangelizer here of the Sri Lanka way back . And now in September, God willing, I will do the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra in the United States. He was the evangelizer of the West in the United States. So these are persons (personalities) that did great evangelization, and so they are in accord with the theology of Evangelii Gaudium, and for this reason I choose these people. That’s it.
Lombardi: Now we move onto the questions, for which some of our colleagues are on the list. The first is Gerry O’Connell of America magazine whom you know well, I give him the floor.
O’Connell (America): First of all Holy Father, I agree with Fr Lombardi. Congratulations for the good result of your visit to Sri Lanka. I ask a question on behalf of the English group. We have agreed to make “a bridge question” that links your visit in Sri Lanka to that in the Philippines.
We have seen the beauty of nature in Sri Lanka, but also the vulnerability of this island to the climatic changes, to the sea, and so on. We are now going to the Philippines, and you will visit the zone that has already been hit. You have been studying already for a year the question of ecology, care of creation and so on. There are three aspects to my question. First, is climate change mostly due to the work of man and his lack of care for nature? Second, when will your encyclical come? Third, you insist very much, as we have seen in Sri Lanka, on cooperation between the different religions, do you intend to invite the other religions to come together to face this problem?
PF: Thank you Gerry! The first question: you have used a word that frees me, the precision “mostly.” I don’t know if all, but “mostly,” for the greater part, it is man who gives a slap to nature continually, and we have to some degree become the owners of nature, of sister earth, of mother earth. I recall, and you have heard, what an old peasant once told me: God always forgives, we men forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives. If you give her a slap, she will give you one. I believe that we have exploited nature too much, deforestation, for example. I recall Aparecida, at that time I did not understand well this problem and when I heard the Brazilian bishops speak of the deforestation of the Amazonia, I ended up understanding well. Amazonia are the lungs of the world. Then five years ago, together with a commission for human rights, I made an appeal to the Supreme Court of Argentina to stop, at least temporarily, a terrible deforestation in a zone of Argentina, Tartagal, north of Salta. That’s one thing. Then there is the monoculture in agriculture. The peasants know that if you made a cultivation of corn three years in a row then you have to stop and do another (kind of) cultivation for one or two years to nitrogenize ( I don’t know the word exactly, ‘nitrogenizar’ we say in Spanish) the land so that it grows. Among us (in Argentina) there is cultivation of soya, and they make soya until the land is exhausted. Not all do this, it’s an example, and there are many more.
I believe that man has gone too far. Thanks be to God that there are voices (that speak about this), many, many. At this moment I would like to recall my beloved brother Bartholomew (Patriarch of Constantinople) who for years, for years, has preached about this. I read many things of his to prepare for this encyclical. I could go back on this, but I don’t want to be long. Guardini, and I only say this, used a word that explains a lot. The word that he says is the second manner of inculture is qualitative. The first is the inculture that we receive with creation to make it culture but when you become proprietor of it so much you go too far and this culture goes against you. Think of Hiroshima: an inculture is created, the second one.
The encyclical: the first draft was made by Cardinal Turkson with his team, then, with the help of some people, I took that (draft) and I worked on it. And then with some theologians I made a third (draft) and I sent this to the (Congregation of ) the Doctrine of the Faith and to the Second Section of the Secretariat of State, and to the theologian of the Pontifical Household so that they study it well, because I don’t want to say silly things. Three weeks ago I received the replies; some of them were thick like this, all were constructive. And now I will take a whole week in March to finish it. Then by the end of March it will be finished, and it will go for translation. And if the work of translation goes well – Monsignor Becciu (the Substitute in the Secretariat of State) is listening to me, he has to help in this. Then in June or July it can be published. It is important that there is some time between the publication of the encyclical and the meeting in Paris, because it is (intended) to be a contribution to that. The meeting in Peru was not such a great thing, it disappointed me, and there was a lack of courage. They stopped at a certain point. So let’s hope that at Paris they will be more courageous and that the representatives can go forward on that.
And the third (part of the question): yes, I believe the dialogue between the religions is important and on this point they – the other religions, understand well (the issue). And on this point there is agreement to listen as well. It’s not in the encyclical, the dialogue. But in fact I heard from some (people) of the other religions on this (subject), and I know that Cardinal Turkson did so. I know that at least two theologians did so for me, and this will be the road. There will not be a common declaration, the meetings will come afterwards.
Lombardi: Thanks Holy Father, and now we give the floor to Pia of the Philippine group. She will speak in English and it will be translated.
Pia: Holy Father, the Philippines will be very happy to meet you in a few hours. My question: What is your message to the thousands of people who will not be able to see you personally, even if they want to?
PF: To respond to this I run the risk of being too simple. But I will say a word. The nucleus of the message will be the poor, the poor who want to go ahead, the poor who have suffered the typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and still suffer the consequences. The poor who have faith, (who have) hope and in this (there is) the commemoration of the five hundredth centenary of the preaching of the Gospel in the Philippines. The People of God in the Philippines, the poor (who are) exploited, those who suffer so many social, spiritual and existential injustices, Going to the Philippines I think of them. Some days ago we had a celebration in Santa Marta for the feast of the Nativity which is celebrated on the 7th (January) by the Oriental Churches. There were three persons of Ethiopian nationality and some Filipinos who work there. The Ethiopians held a festive celebration and invited all the employees, some 50 of them, to lunch. I was with them, and I was looking at the Filipino workers and (thinking) how they had left their homeland seeking to be better off, leaving their dads, their moms, their children to make something better. Poor people! The essence of the message will be that.
Lombardi: Thank you. The next one is Juan Vincente Bo for ABC who asks a question on behalf of the Spanish group.
Juan Vincente Bo (ABC): Holy Father for one who is tired you look very well! I want to ask you on behalf of the Spanish group on the history of Sri Lanka and the contemporary history.
During the years of the war in Sri Lanka there were over 300 kamikaze attacks, suicide attacks, made by men and women, and even children. Now we are seeing suicide attacks on the part of young men and women, and even children. What do you think of this method of waging war?
PF: Maybe I feel like saying that it is a lack of respect. But I feel it, No? I believe that behind every suicide attack there is something unbalanced, a lack of human equilibrium. I’m not sure if it is mental, but it human., something that is wrong with that person, who does not have true equilibrium regarding the meaning of his own life and that of others. He fights. He gives his life but he doesn’t give it in a good way. Many people, many people who work… think of the missionaries for example, who give their lives, but to build. Here they give their life destroying themselves and to destroy. There is something not right here. No? I accompanied an Alitalia pilot for his license, not doctoral thesis, in sociology on the Japanese kamikaze and I heard something from him. But it is difficult to understand this. I checked the part about methodology, but one could not understand it. But it is not something of the Orient only. There is research under way about a proposal that came in Italy during the Second World War, it came to Fascism in Italy. The proofs are not there, but there are indications. It is something that is very linked to dictatorial, totalitarian systems. They are closely linked, the totalitarian system if it does not take life, it kills possibilities, it kills the future, and it kills life too. But it’s not a problem that has ended, and it is not just Oriental. I don’t want to say more.
As for the use of children, this should be said in general, let’s talk about children. Children are exploited everywhere for many things, exploited for work, exploited also sexually. Some years ago with some senators in Argentina we wanted to make a campaign in the more important hotels to say publicly that children are not to be exploited for the tourists, but we were not able to do so. There are hidden resistances. I don’t know if they exploited them or not, it was a preventative measure. Then sometimes when I was in Germany I came across some papers where there were advertisements for sexual tourism, tourism in that area of south-east Asia, erotic tourism and there were children (included) in this. Children are exploited, the slave labor of children is terrible, and they are used for suicide (bombings too) too. I can’t say more.
Lombardi: Thanks Holy Father, and now we give the floor to Ignatio Ingrao for the Italian group.
Ignatio Ingrao: Good day, I am for the weekly Panorama and Mio Papa. Your Holiness, there is much worry around the world for your security. According to Israeli and American security services the Vatican is in the sights of the Islamic Fundamentalists who want to fly the black flag on St Peter’s. According to them there is concern for your security when you go abroad. You’ve made clear that you don't want to lose contact with the people. But at this point, is it not necessary to change something in your behavior, in your program? There is also fear for the faithful who participate in your celebrations in the case of attacks. Are you worried about this? And more in general, what in your view is the best way to respond to this threat from the Islamic terrorists?
PF: The best way to respond is always with meekness -- meek, to be humble. Like bread, no? Without making aggression. But there are people who do not understand this. As for the worry about the faithful, I am worried about this truly. They worry me. On this, I have spoken with Vatican security, who are charged with solving this. On the plane there is (Dr.) Gianni, the person who is responsible for security, and he updates me on this matter. This worries me, no? It worries me enough. I have fear but I have in fact a good dose of unawareness. I am unaware of these things.
Sometimes, I have asked myself the question and I have said to the Lord, 'I only want to ask you one grace.' Don't make me hurt, because I am not courageous in front of pain. I am very, very fearful (of physical pain), but I am in the hands of God.... But I know that they take security measures that are prudent, but secure. Then, we will see.
Lombardi: Thanks Holy Father. Let’s hope that we too can also have that same serenity! The next question comes from Christian Schmidt for the German Group and then Sebastian Maillard from La Croix for the French group, and then well’s see if you still want to continue or whether we stop.
Christian Schmidt: Good day Holy Father! Could you tell us about your visit to the Buddhist temple yesterday which was a great surprise. What was your motivation for such a spontaneous visit? What do you say of the inspiration of this religion? We know that Christian missionaries were convinced, right up to the 20th century, that Buddhism is a swindle and a religion of the devil. And, a third point: what could be the relevance of Buddhism for the future of Asia?
PF: You asked why the visit, why did I go? The head of this temple had been able to get himself invited by the government to be at the airport (for my arrival). He’s a very good friend of Cardinal Ranjith, and there he met me and asked me to come to the temple, and Cardinal Ranjith said he’d get me there. Then, talking with the cardinal (I saw) there was not much time. When I arrive I had to suspend the meeting with the bishops because I wasn’t feeling well, I was tired, after the 29km of greeting the people (from the airport to the city) I was like a rag. Then returning (to Colombo) after Madhu there was the possibility of doing it, so we telephoned and we went there. In this temple there are relics of two disciples of the Buddha that for them are very important. These relics were in England and they managed to get them there, and they took them out so we could look at them. He came to see me at the airport, I went to see him at his house.
Second … yesterday I saw something I never thought I’d see … at the shrine of the Madonna, it wasn’t just Catholics, they weren’t even the majority. There were Buddhists, Muslims Hindus. They all go there to pray, and they say they receive graces. There’s something in the people there that unites them. If they are so naturally united that they come together to pray in that holy place, that is Christian, then how could I not go to Buddhist temple to greet them. This witness at Madhu yesterday was very important, it makes us understand the sense of inter-religiosity that is lived in Sri Lanka. There is respect among them, Yes, there are small fundamentalist groups, but they are not of the people, they are ideological elites. They are not of the people .
As far as [Buddhists] going to Hell …but also the Protestants when I was a child, in that time, 70 years ago, all the Protestants were going to hell, all of them. That’s what was said. Do you know what was the first experience I had of ecumenism? I told it to some days ago when I met a group from the Salvation Army. When I was four or five years old walking down the street with my grandmother, I saw two women from the Salvation Army, wearing those old-style hats, and I asked my grandmother, “Tell me, are they sisters (nuns)?” My Grandmother said “No, they are Protestant but they’re good (people).” It was the first time that I heard a person speaking well of people of another religion. At that time in the catechesis they told us that they all went to hell. I believe the church has grown a lot in its consciousness (understanding) and in its respect (for other religions), as I said in the interreligious encounter in Colombo the other day, when we read what the Second Vatican Council about the other religions, and the values in other religions. The Church has grown a lot in these years and in respect. There have been dark periods in the history of the Cchurch too, and we have to say that with shame. We’re all on a path of conversion, which is a grace; always from sin to grace. This inter-religiosity as brothers, respecting each other always is a grace.
Lombardi: Sebastian Maillard from La Croix for the French group.
Sebastian Maillard: Holy Father, yesterday at mass you spoke about religious freedom as a fundamental human right. But in the respect for the different religions, up to what point can one go in freedom of expression? That too is a fundamental human right.
PF: Thanks for the question, it’s an intelligent one. I believe that both are fundamental human rights, religious liberty and liberty of expression. One cannot -- but let’s think -- you are French? Let’s go to Paris, let’s speak clearly. One cannot hide a truth: everyone has the right to practice one’s religion, one’s own religion without giving offense. Freely. That’s how we do it, we want everyone to do that. Second: One cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one’s own religion, that is, in the name of God. To us, that which happens now, it stuns us. But let’s think about our own history: how many wars of religion have we had? You may think of the night of St. Bartholomew; how can this be understood? We too were sinners in this. But one cannot kill in the name of God. This is an aberration. To kill in the name of God is an aberration. I believe that this is the principal point in terms of religious liberty. One has freedom in this, but without imposing or killing in the name of religion.
As for freedom of expression: each one not only has the freedom, the right but also the obligation to say what one thinks to help the common good. The obligation! Let’s think, if a member of parliament or a senator doesn’t say what he thinks is the right path then he does not collaborate for the common good. Not only these, but many others too. We have the obligation to say openly, to have this liberty, but without giving offense, because it is true, one cannot react violently. But if Dr. Gasbarri (the papal trip organizer who was standing beside him), a great friend, says a bad word against my mother, then a punch awaits him. But it’s normal, it’s normal. One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith. Pope Benedict in a speech, I don’t remember exactly where, he spoke of this post-positivist mentality, of post-positivist metaphysics, that led to the belief that in the end religions, religious expressions, are a kind of subculture, which are tolerated but are of little value, are not on the Enlightenment culture. And this is part of the heritage of the Enlightenment. And so many people who speak badly about other religions, or religions [in general], they make fun of, let’s say toy with [make into toys] other people’s religions, these people provoke and there can occur what would happen to Dr. Gasbarri if he said something against my mother. That is, there is a limit. Every religion has dignity; every religion that respects life, human life, the human person. And I cannot make fun of it. This is a limit and I have taken this sense of limit to say that in freedom of expression there are limits, like that in regard to my mom. I don’t know if I have managed to answer the question.
Lombardi: Thanks Holy Father. We’ve now been more than half an hour here, and we said we could stop when you are a little tired. You want us to continue some more, all right. But you tell us when you want to stop. The next in line is Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter.
Joshua McElwee: Thank you again Holy Father for the time. You have spoken many times against religious extremism. Do you have some concrete idea for how to involve other religious leaders to combat this problem, maybe a meeting in Assisi like Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had?
PF: Thank you. This proposal has already been made. I know that some are working on this. And I have spoken with Cardinal Tauran, who is in the inter-religious dialogue, and he has heard about this. I know that the uneasiness has not come from us, it has come from other religions in the area. I don't know how if there’s something involving organization, but there’s something in the air.
Lombardi: A final question and it comes from the Filipino group. We have Lynda Abalos who will ask something, and then we’ll leave the Pope at peace.
Lynda Abalos: Good day, Holy Father! I am sorry but my Italian is not very good.
PF: Nor is mine!
Abalos: Holy Father, you have called for truth and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. I would like do you support a commission for truth and reconciliation in Sri Lanka and also in other places?
PF: I don’t know how these commissions are. I know the one in Argentina in its time, after the military dictatorship and I supported that one, it was the right path. I can’t speak in the concrete [about other commissions], but I support the efforts to find the truth, but not as a vendetta, but to help to reach an agreement.
Maybe I will say something that I heard from the President of Sri Lanka. Now, I don’t want this to be interpreted as a political comment, but I heard something from the President of Sri Lanka, and I’ll just repeat what I heard as something phenomenological. I will just repeat what I heard, and which I agree with. He said he wants to move ahead with the work of peace – first word, and reconciliation. Then he used another word, he said we must create harmony in the people. Harmony is something more than peace, more than reconciliation, and it’s still more beautiful …that’s musical, too. Then he used another word. He said this harmony will give us happiness and joy. I was amazed. I said I like hearing this, but it’s not easy. Fifth word: he said yes, we must reach the heart of the people. And that last word is so profound that I thought of it to respond to your question. Just to reach the heart of the people, to know what is suffering, to know what is injustice, to know what it is to suffer from war, and so many other things. Just to arrive there, because the people knows about pardon; to arrive there so that we can find the right path without compromises that are not just, so that we can go forward. The commissions, investigations for the truth, are one of the elements that can help. I think of the case of Argentina. But they are only one of the elements, but there are others that we can do because we have to arrive at peace, reconciliation, harmony, felicity and joy but we have to reach the heart of the people. That’s what I thought of saying, but using the words of the president.