What came across most strongly was his deep concern over the divisions that have emerged in Europe and the risk that the continent could return to the conflicts that marked the first half of the 20th century. He concluded by appealing to the journalists who were Christians, “Pray for Europe,” and to the journalists who were not to “wish her good things.”
Another major concern of his, closely linked to the first, was corruption in politics and how politicians should run “honest campaigns” and not engage in “calumny, defamation, [using] scandals” and to never “sow hate or fear, only sow hope.”
Answering other questions, he said that those who emigrate from Romania to find work elsewhere in Europe to help their families back home “make a sacrifice of love.” He spoke about the different types of ecumenism—of blood, of witness, of prayer and of the poor and said he prayed the Our Father in the new Orthodox cathedral in Bucharest even though he and Patriarch Daniel did so separately. He also spoke about his relationship with Benedict XVI and about tradition “as the guarantee for the future, not the custodian of ashes.”
Pope Francis emphasized the importance of “the relation of the outstretched hand when there are conflicts.”
A Romanian reporter said millions of men and women have emigrated from the Romania in recent years and asked what would he say to those who leave their family to go abroad in search of a better life.
Pope Francis answered, “To separate oneself from the family so that the children will not be lacking anything is an act of love.” Having to emigrate and leave one’s family “is often the result of a world politics that impacts [on the situation in one’s own country].”
He recalled how after the fall of communism “many companies closed down in Romania and opened up elsewhere to earn more money.” But he said, “to close an enterprise and leave people on the street is a global injustice, it’s a lack of solidarity…. There is suffering and it’s not easy in the present global situation to offer the possibility of work.”
He observed that is particularly “difficult” in Romania because of its high birth-rate. “It’s an injustice not to have work for young people,” he said. He hopes that the situation can be resolved but recognized that “it does not depend only on Romania, but on the world financial order.” He said, “Many people are left alone” and “there is a need for global solidarity.”
In Romania the pope talked about the need “to walk together” and a reporter from that country asked what his advice would be for relations between the different religious denominations, especially between Catholics and Orthodox. The reporter also asked how relations should develop between the various ethnic groups and the political world.
Pope Francis emphasized the importance of “the relation of the outstretched hand when there are conflicts.” He advocated “a process of growing closer between the different ethnic groups, the religious confessions; a commitment of the extended hand, listening to each other.”
“Europe must dialogue. It should not say, ‘But we are united now, so let Brussels sort things out.’ We are all responsible for the European Union.”
He said that the Romanians have “a great patriarch. A man with a big heart, a great scholar, he knows the mysticism of the desert fathers, the mystical spirituality. He studied in Germany and is a man of prayer.”
Francis added, “It’s easy to come close to Daniel. We have spoken as brothers. We go forward together. Having always this idea: ecumenism is not arrived at the end of the game, of the discussions. It is done walking, going together, praying together.”
He went on to point out the different types of ecumenism that exist. First, “we have the history of the ecumenism of blood: when [persecutors] kill, they do not ask Christians, ‘Are you Catholic? Are you Lutheran?’ They ask, ‘Are you a Christian?’”
Then, “there’s the ecumenism of witness” and “the ecumenism of the poor, to work together to help the poor, the sick, the infirm, as we read in chapter 25 of St. Matthew… to walk together, but not to wait for the theologians to reach agreement to arrive at the common Eucharist.” He said, “Ecumenism is done together with the works of charity and loving each other.”
He recalled that when he was in Buenos Aires he was invited to preach at a Scottish church at their service and said, “One can walk together: unity, fraternity, the hand reaching out, not speaking badly about others. We all have defects.”
A French journalist noted that Pope Francis had gone to the new Orthodox cathedral in Bucharest, but he and Patriarch Daniel had not prayed the Our Father together and asked what he was thinking while he remained in silence as the Patriarch was reciting the Our Father in Romanian.
Pope Francis said, “I did not remain in silence; I prayed the Our Father in Italian and I saw that the majority of the people [in the cathedral] were praying in Italian and in Romanian. The people go beyond us leaders. We heads [of churches] have to keep diplomatic equilibriums to ensure that we all go together; there are customs and it’s good to protect these so that the things are not ruined.
“But the people pray together,” he said, “and we too when we are alone we pray together. It’s an experience that I have had with many [Protestant] pastors and many Orthodox.” Pope Francis added, “It is true that we have people who say the Orthodox are schismatics. These are old things. There are Catholic groups that are somewhat integralists; we must pray to the Lord for them. However, I prayed in the cathedral.”
An Italian journalist asked what he thought of Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Northern League and one of Italy’s deputy-prime ministers, who used religious symbols (rosaries, crosses and consecrations to the Immaculate heart) while campaigning for the European elections. He asked Pope Francis if he wished to meet Mr. Salvini.
He began by saying that he had not received any request for an audience from either of the two deputy-prime ministers or from any Italian government minister, but he had received a request from Prime Minister Conte, and they had “a good audience that lasted one hour:” He described the prime-minister as “an intelligent man, a professor, who knows what he is talking about.”
As for the election campaign for the European Parliament, he admitted his lack of knowledge as he only reads two papers each day: “the party paper,” that is L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican daily, “which offers good keys for interpretation,” and the Roman daily, “Il Messagero” “because it has big headlines and I can glance through it easily.”
He said he has not entered into such news, into the propaganda that a party uses. He confessed: “I am ignorant. I cannot give an opinion on the attitudes of the electoral campaign of one of the parties.”
But he said, he prays “that Italy goes forward and that the Italians be united, be loyal in their commitments.” He recalled that he is Italian “because I am the son of Italian immigrants,” and he revealed that “while all his siblings have Italian citizenship” he could not or did not get it “because I had become a bishop in the meantime.”
Francis then moved onto the bigger problem of “the disease of corruption” that concerns him profoundly. He emphasized that “there is corruption in the politics of many countries, everywhere…it is universal…. It is terrible.”
Pope Francis declared: “We must help politicians to be honest and not to make campaigns with dishonest means: calumny, defamation, scandals and many times, sowing hate and fear. This is terrible. A politician should never sow hate or fear, only hope.” He or she should be “just, demanding,” but “only sow hope.”
A Spanish journalist asked whether he still considers Benedict XVI as a grandfather. Francis replied, “Every time I go to visit him, I feel it this way. I take his hand; I get him to speak. He speaks little; he speaks slowly but with the same profundity as always.
“The problem of Benedict is his knees, not his head. He has great lucidity, and listening to him speak, I become strong; I feel the juice of the roots that come to me and held me to go forward. I feel this tradition of the church, which is not something of a museum…the tradition of the church is always in movement.”
He recalled a recent interview in L’Osservatore Romano by its editor, Andrea Monda, in which there is a quotation that he liked from Gustav Mahler who, speaking of traditions, said: “Tradition is the guarantee of the future, and the custodian of ashes.”
“Tradition is not a museum,” Pope Francis said, “tradition does not protect ashes.” He said, “The nostalgia of the integralists is to return to the ashes. No! Traditions are roots that guarantee that the tree grows, blossoms and bears fruit.”
A German journalist noted that he speaks frequently about fraternity and said, “But in Europe we see [in the last elections] there are many who do not like fraternity and prefer egoism and isolation.”
Pope Francis recalled speeches he had given in Strasbourg to the European Parliament and to the Council of Europe and on receiving the Charlemagne prize, and finally to the heads of state of the 28 nations of the European Union on the 70th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that opened the process that led to the union.
He said, “Europe must dialogue. It should not say, ‘But we are united now, so let Brussels sort things out.’ We are all responsible for the European Union.”
He said the rotation of the presidency of the union is not just a matter of courtesy, like dancing a minuet: “Now it’s my turn, now it’s yours. No! It’s a symbol of responsibility that all the [member-states] have in Europe.”
Pope Francis issued a warning: “If Europe does not watch well the future challenges, it will be become rotten. I permitted myself to say in Strasbourg that I feel that Europe is leaving its role of mother and becoming grandmother Europe. It has become old; it has lost the illusion of working together. And one may ask, will this not be the end of an adventure of 70 years.”
Pope Francis went on to say that Europe “must regain the mysticism of the founding fathers. It needs its own identity, its own unity, to overcome , with the many things that good politics has to offer, to overcome the divisions and the frontiers. We are seeing the [return of] frontiers in Europe, and this is not good…. But please, let not Europe be won over by pessimism and ideologies. Because Europe is being attacked, not with cannons and bombs in this moment, but with ideologies, ideologies that are not European, that come from outside and that give birth to small groups in Europe, not big ones.”
He urged the reporters present to “think back to the divided Europe, and to the belligerents of 1914, of 1932 and 1933 up to 1939 when war broke out. Let us not return to this; let us not fall into the same hole!”