During his flight from Baku, Azerbaijan to Rome on Sunday, Pope Francis gave a press conference to the journalists aboard the the papal plane. He reflected on his trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan, marriage and divorce, and homosexuality and gender identity.
He also addressed the next consistory of cardinals, the Nobel Peace Prize, and St. John Paul II.
Please find below the full text of the press conference, translated by Catholic News Agency:
Pope Francis: Good evening and thank you very much for your work and your help. It’s true, it was a short trip, three days, but you have had a lot of work. I am at your disposition and I thank you very much for the work, and ask what you would like.
Greg Burke, Holy See press officer: Thank you, Holy Father. The first question goes to Georgia, the television presenter Ketevan Kardava.
Ketevan Kardava, Georgian Public Broadcaster: Thank you very much. Thank you, Holy Father, for your first trip to Georgia. For me it was very important to cover this visit and to follow your visit in my country. All of us citizens of Georgia are touched by your speech, and especially your photo with the Georgian Patriarch was shared thousands and thousands of times on social media. It was an encouraging visit for our very small Catholic community. After your meeting with the Georgian Patriarch, do you see grounds for future cooperation and constructive dialogue between you and the Orthodox about the doctrine we have? You told us that we have much in common, that what unites us is more than what divides. Thank you very much, I await for your answer.
Pope Francis: I had two surprises in Georgia. One, Georgia: I’ve never imagined so much culture, so much faith, so much Christianity…It is a believing people and an ancient Christian culture! A people of so many martyrs. I discovered something that I didn’t know: the breadth of the Georgian faith. The second surprise was the patriarch: he is a man of God. This man has moved me. I many times have found that I left with the heart and moved and full of the sensitivity of having found a man of God, truly a man of God. And on the things that unite us and separate us, I say: don’t make us discuss things of doctrine, leave this to the theologians. They know better than we do. They discuss, and if they are good, they are good, they have good will, the theologians on one side and the other, (but) what must the people do? Pray for each other, this is important: prayer. And second: do things together. Are there poor? We work together with the poor. There is this and that problem: we can do it together, we do together. Are there migrants? We do things together … we do good things for others, together. This we can do and this is the path of ecumenism. Not only the way of doctrine, this is the last, it comes in last. But we begin to walk together. And with good will we can do this, you MUST do it. Today ecumenism is to be done by walking together, praying for each other, and that theologians continue to talk to each other, to study each other … I do not know … but Georgia is wonderful, it is a land I didn’t expect, a Christian nation, but in the marrow, eh!
Tassilo Forchheimer, ARD/BR-Radio: Holy Father, after speaking with all those who can change Azerbaijan’s terrible history, what needs to happen between Armenia and Azerbaijan, what needs to happen for the arrival of a lasting peace that safeguards human rights? What are the problems and what role might His Holiness have in this?
Pope Francis: I have twice, in two discourses, spoken about this. In the last, I spoke of the role of religions in helping with this. I believe that the one way is dialogue, a sincere dialogue without things held under the table. Sincere and face to face. A sincere negotiation. And if you cannot arrive at this, but have the courage to go to an international tribunal, go to The Hague, for example, and submit to an international judgement. I do not see another path! The other way is war, and war always destroys; with war all is lost. And Christians also pray, pray for peace, because these hearts … this path of dialogue, of negotiation or of going to an international tribunal, but they can’t have problems like this. Think that the three Caucasus nations have problems: Georgia also has a problem with Russia, I don’t know much, but it’s greater … but it has a problem that can grow, it’s an unknown. And Armenia is a nation with open borders, it has problems with Azerbaijan and should go to an international tribunal if dialogue and negotiation is a no-go. There is no other path. And prayer, prayer for peace.
Maria Elena Ribezzo, La Presse: Your Holiness, good evening. Yesterday you spoke of a ‘world war’ going on against marriage and in this war you used very strong words against divorce, you said it dirties the image of God, while in previous months during the synod there was talk of a welcome towards divorced persons. I wanted to know if these approaches are reconciled and how.
Pope Francis: Yes. Everything I said yesterday, with other words, because yesterday I spoke off-the-cuff and a was little hot, are in Amoris laetitia, everything! When speaking of marriage as the union of man and woman as God made it, as an image of God and man and woman, the image of God is not man, it is man with the woman together, they are one flesh when they join in marriage: this is the truth. It is true that in this culture conflicts and many problems are not well managed and even philosophies of today: I do this and when I get tired I do another, then I do a third, then I do a fourth, and this is the ‘world war’ you spoke of against marriage. We must be careful not to let these ideas enter. But first, marriage is the image of God, man and woman, one flesh. When you destroy that, you dirty or disfigure the image of God. Then Amoris laetitia talks about how to deal with these cases, how to treat families’ wounds, and mercy enters there. There is a beautiful prayer of the Church that we prayed last week. It said this: God who so marvelously has created the world and the more marvelously recreated it (i.e., with redemption, with mercy). The wounded marriage, the wounded couple, have to do with mercy. The principle is that, but human weaknesses exist, sins exist, and weakness never has the last word, sin does not have the last word. Mercy has the last word. I like to tell, I do not know if I told you, because I repeat it so much … in the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena – I told you or no? – There is a beautiful capital, but it is more or less from the thirteenth century. Medieval cathedrals were catechesis with sculptures. And in a part of the capital there is Judas hanged with his tongue out and eyes (bulging) out, and on the other side of the capital there is Jesus the Good Shepherd who takes (Judas) and carries him with him. And if you look closely, the face of Jesus, the lips of Jesus are sad on the one hand, but with a small smile of understanding in the other. They understood what mercy is … with Judas, huh! For this Amoris laetitia speaks of marriage, the foundation of marriage, as it is … but then come the problems, how to educate their children … and in Chapter Eight, when the problems come, how do you solve them? Solve it with four criteria: welcome wounded families, accompany, discern each case and integrate and do it again. This would work in a second, in this wonderful recreation that the Lord has made with redemption. And if you take just one side it does not go! Amoris laetitia — I mean — they all go to the eighth chapter. No, no … you have to read from beginning to end. And where is the center? It depends on everyone. For me the center, the core of Amoris laetitia is Chapter IV, serving for the whole life, but you have to read it all and re-read it all and discuss it all. It’s all a collection. But there is sin, there is a break, but there is also mercy, redemption and care. I explained myself well on this, right?
Josh McElwee, National Catholic Reporter: Thank you, Holy Father. In that same speech yesterday in Georgia, you spoke, as in so many other countries about gender theory, saying that it is a great enemy and a threat against marriage. But, I would like to ask you, what would you say to someone who has struggled with their sexuality for years and feels that there is truly a problem of biology, that his aspect doesn’t correspond to what he or she feels is their sexual identity. You, as a pastor and minister, how would you accompany these people?
Pope Francis: First of all: in my life as a priest and bishop, even as Pope, I have accompanied people with homosexual tendencies, I have also met homosexual persons, accompanied them, brought them closer to the Lord, as an apostle, and I have never abandoned them. People must be accompanied as Jesus accompanies them, when a person who has this condition arrives before Jesus, Jesus surely doesn’t tell them ‘go away because you are homosexual.’ What I said is that wickedness which today is done in the indoctrination of gender theory…a French father told me that he was speaking with his children at the table, he and his wife were Catholics, ‘rosewater Catholics,’ but Catholics! And he asked his 10-year-old son: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’- ‘a girl.’ The father realized that at school they were teaching him gender theory, and this is against the natural things. One thing is that a person has this tendency, this condition and even changes their sex, but it’s another thing to teach this in line in schools in order to change the mentality. This is what I call ideological colonization. Last year I received a letter from a Spaniard who told me his story as a child, a young man, he was a girl, a girl who suffered so much because he felt he felt like a boy, but was physically a girl. He told his mother and the mom…(the girl) was around 22 years old said that she would like to do the surgical intervention and all of those things. And the mother said not to do it while she was still alive. She was elderly and she died soon after. She had the surgery and an employee of a ministry in the city of Spain went to the bishop, who accompanied (this person) a lot. Good bishop. I spent time accompanying this man. Then (the man) got married, he changed his civil identity, got married and wrote me a letter saying that for him it would be a consolation to come with his wife, he who was she, but him! I received them: they were happy and in the neighborhood where he lived there was an elderly priest in his 80s, an elderly pastor who left the parish and helped the sisters in the parish. And there was the new (priest). When the new one he would yell from the sidewalk: ‘you’ll go to hell!’ When (the new priest) came across the old one, he would say: ‘How long has it been since you confessed? Come, come, let’s to so that I can confess you and you can receive communion.’ Understood?
Life is life and things must be taken as they come. Sin is sin. And tendencies or hormonal imbalances have many problems and we must be careful not to say that everything is the same. Let’s go party. No, that no, but in every case I accept it, I accompany it, I study it, I discern it and I integrate it. This is what Jesus would do today! Please don’t say: ‘the Pope sanctifies transgenders.’ Please, eh! Because I see the covers of the papers. Is there any doubt as to what I said? I want to be clear! It’s moral problem. It’s a human problem and it must be resolved always can be with the mercy of God, with the truth like we spoke about in the case of marriage by reading all of Amoris Laetitia, but always with an open heart. And don’t forget that chapter Vézelay, it’s very beautiful, eh! Very beautiful.
Gianni Cardinale, Avvenire: Two questions, one public and one personal. The personal one, tied to my name: When will you make new cardinals and to what criteria are you aspiring in choosing? And the second, public one, as an Italian: when will you go to meet the earthquake victims and what will be the characteristics of this trip?
Pope Francis: For the second, there are three possible dates that have been proposed. Two are countable and I don’t remember them well but the third I remember well, the first Sunday of Advent. I’ve said that when I return I’ll choose the date. There are three. I need to choose. And I’ll do it privately, alone, as a priest, as a bishop, as Pope, but alone, that’s how I want to do it. I would like to feel, to be close to the people. But I still don’t know how.
About the cardinals. The criteria will be the same as the other two consistories, a little bit of everywhere as the Church is everywhere in the world. Yes, perhaps I am still studying the names…maybe there will be three from one continent and two from another… or one from another part, and another from another. One from one country. But it’s unknown. The list is long but there are only 13 spots. We need to think about how to balance it out. But I’d like to show the universality of the Church in the cardinals’ college, not just the, let’s say, European center. A little bit of everywhere. The 5 continents, if we can.
Cardinale: Is there already a date?
Pope Francis: No, we don’t know. I need to study the list and the date. Then, it could be at the end of the year or the beginning of next year. At the end of the year, there is the problem of the Holy Year, but that can be resolved. Or, it could be at the beginning of next year. But, it will be soon.
Aura Vistas Miguel, Radio Renascenca: Holy Father, good evening. My question is about your schedule for trips outside of Italy, in 3 parts. You said in recent days to Argentinians that your agenda is very full and you even spoke of Africa and Asia. I would like to know which countries. There’s also a colleague her from Colombia who awaits you there, naturally, and I’m from Portugal and there we await you. About Portugal, when will it be, the 12th and 13th, Lisbon and Fatima?
Pope Francis: It’s sure that up until today that I’ll be going to Portugal and I’ll go only to Fatima. Up to today. Because there’s a problem. This Holy Year, the ad limina visits have been suspended. Next year, I have to do this year’s ad limina visits and next year’s. There’s little space for trips.
But I’ll go to Portugal. And India and Bangladesh, almost for certain. In Africa, the place still isn’t sure. Everything depends both on the weather, in which month because if it’s in Northwest Africa it’s one thing, if it’s in the Southeast, it’s another. And it also depends on the political situation, the wars there. But there are possibilities. Think about Africa.
In America, I said that when the peace process comes out, I would like to go. When everything is locked in. When the plebiscite wins. When everything is absolutely certain, when they can’t turn back. That is, when the whole world nationally and internationally are all in agreement that they won’t make recourse. If it’s like that, I could go. But if the thing is unstable, no. Everything depends on what the people say. The people are sovereign. We’re more used to looking at the democratic forms than the sovereignty of the people and both need to go together. For example, a habit has come about in some continents where when he finishes the second term, whoever is in government tries to change the constitution to get a third. This is overestimating of the so-called “democracy” against the sovereignty of the people, which is in the constitution. Everything depends on that. The peace process will be resolved today in part with the voice of the people, which is sovereign. Whatever the people say, I think should be done.
Vistas Miguel: And Fatima will be the 12?
Pope Francis: Until now the 13. But it could be, I don’t know…
Jean-Marie Guenois, Le Figaro: Thank you, Holy Father. A question about the trips, why didn’t you speak in your answer about China? Why are the reasons why you, as Pope, cannot have a ticket for Beijing? Is it a reason internal to the Church in China? Is it an issue between the Church in China and the Chinese government? Or, is the reason an issue between the Vatican and the Chinese government? And, if you allow me, I would like to pose a recent question, because some hours ago Mons. Lebrun, the archbishop of Rouen, announced that you have authorized the commencement of the process of beatification of Fr. Hamel, skipping the regular waiting period of five years. Why this decision? Thanks.
Pope Francis: On the latter, I’ve spoken with Cardinal Amato and we will carry out the studies and he will give the final news. But, the intention is to go on this line, to make the necessary research and to see if there are the motives to do it.
Guenois: He announced that the process has opened.
Pope Francis: No, witness must be sought to open the process. Not losing the witnesses is really important, because the fresh witnesses are those who have seen the people. After a little bit of time, some die, some lose their memory … In Latin, you say “ne perdeat provationem.”
On China, you know the story of China and the Church. The patriotic Church, the underground Church, but we’re working and we’re in good relations. We’re studying and speaking. There are working commissions. I’m an optimist. Now, I believe the Vatican Museums made an exposition in China. The Chinese will make another in the Vatican. There are so many professors that go to attend school in the Chinese universities. So many sisters, so many priests that can work well there. But the relations between the Vatican and China has to be fixed once and we’re speaking about this slowly but slow things always go well. Fast things don’t go well. The Chinese nation has my highest esteem. The day before yesterday, for example, there was a congress – two days, I believe – in the academy of sciences on Laudato Si. And there was a Chinese delegation from the president there too. And the Chinese president sent me a gift. They are good relations.
Guenois: But still no trip?
Pope Francis: I would like to but I don’t think so yet.
Juan Vicente Boo, ABC: Thank you, Holy Father. In the Spanish language group we have seen that the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced Oct. 7. There are more than 300 nominations. An example: the people of Lesbos for what they have done in favor of the refugees or the white helmets of Syria, these volunteers who pull people out of the rubble after bombings – they have pulled 60,000 people out at the price of 130 of their own lives…or even President Santos of Colombia and the commander of the FARC, Timochenko, who signed the peace accord…and many others. Now the question: who is your preferred candidate and which are the people or organizations who merit (the award) due to the work they do?
Pope Francis: There are a lot of people who live to make war, to sell arms, to kill…there are many…but there are also many people who work for peace…many, many, many. I wouldn’t know which. To choose among so many people who today work for peace is very difficult. You mentioned some groups and there are more. But it seems there is always a restlessness in giving the peace prize. I with that also on an international level, leaving the Nobel Peace Prize aside, there would be a remembrance, a recognition, a declaration on the children, the disabled, the minors who have died under the bombs. I believe that is a sin, it’s a sin against Jesus Christ, but humanity needs to say something about the victims of war. For those who make peace, Jesus has said they are blessed in the beatitudes, the workers of peace. But the victims of war: we must say something and become aware. That they throw the children in a hospital and then a bomb and they die, 30-40 in a school…and this is a tragedy of our days. Thank you.
John Jeremiah Sullivan, New York Times Magazine: Holy Father, as you know the United States is nearing the end of a long presidential campaign that has been very ugly and has received much attention in the world. Many American Catholics and people of conscience are struggling with how to choose between two candidates, one of whom diverts from some aspects of the Church’s teaching and the other of whom has made statements vilifying immigrants and religious minorities. How would you counsel the faithful in America and what wisdom would you have them keep in mind next month when the election occurs?
Pope Francis: You pose me a question where you describe a difficult choice, because, according to you, you have difficulty in one and you have difficulty in the other. In electoral campaigns, I never say a word. The people are sovereign. I’ll just say a word: Study the proposals well, pray and choose in conscience. Then, I’ll leave the issue and I speak of a fiction, because I don’t want to speak to this concrete issue. When it happens that in whatever country here are 2, 3, 4 candidates that no one likes, that means that the political life of the nation perhaps is too politicized but perhaps it doesn’t have that much politics. And,one of the jobs of the church, also in the teaching in the (university) faculties, is teaching to have political culture. There are nations, and I’m thinking of Latin America, which are too politicized. But, they don’t have political culture. They are from this party, or this one or this one. Effectively, (they are) without a clear thought on the foundations, the proposals.
Burke: Thank you Holy Father. And now there is Caroline Pigozzi. Here we are…
Caroline Pigozzi, Paris Match: Holiness, good evening. I couldn’t ask this question before. The testimony of the story is more important than the will of a Pope according to you. Let me explain: Pope Wojtyla left in his will that all of his most important documents and many letters would be burned, but were later put into a book. It means that the will of a Pope was perhaps not respected. I want to know what you think. And then, the second question is easier and I would like to know by what miracle you, who extend your hand to so many people every week, still don’t have tendonitis: how do you do it? President Chirac shakes hands, he puts on a band-aid…
Pope Francis: Ah yes? I still don’t have it, I don’t feel tendonitis…and first you say the Pope who sends documents to be burned, letters…but this is the right of every man and every woman, they have the right to do it before their death…
Pigozzi: But Pope Wojtyla wasn’t respected…
Pope Francis: Whoever didn’t respect, whoever is guilty I don’t know. I don’t know the case well. But each person, when someone says, ‘this must be destroyed,’ is because it’s something concrete…but perhaps there is a copy in another area and he didn’t know that and…but it’s the right of each person to make a will as he wishes
Pigozzi: Also the Pope, but he was not respected…
Pope Francis: But many people are respected in their will…
Pigozzi: Yes, but the Pope is more important…
Pope Francis: No, the Pope is a sinner like others…
Burke: The Pope said there is space for another question, but there is no one else on my list and I would like to say that today you have responded to a question: why make these trips to places where there are very few Catholics? We liked (the answer), and we don’t think it’s a waste of your time. We make these short and intense trips, but if you want to make a long relaxing trip we can do it…
Pope Francis: This was asked of me after the first trip, it was in Albania: “Why did you choose to go to Albania for your first European trip, a nation that isn’t in the European Union?” Then, I went to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is not in the European Union. The first nation of the European Union I went to was Greece, the island of Lesbos. It was the first. Why make trip to these countries? But these three are the Caucasus, these three, the three presidents came to the Vatican to invite me, and strongly. All three have a different religious attitude: the Armenians are proud of – this without offending, eh – proud of the Armenianism. And, they have a history and they are Christians in their great majority, but almost all of them… Apostolic Christians, Catholic Christians and a few Evangelical Christians… few! Georgia is a Christian nation, totally Christian, but Orthodox. The Catholics are few. But just a bit, but they are Orthodox. On the other hand, Azerbaijan is a nation which I believe is 96-97 percent Muslim. I don’t know how many inhabitants it has because I said 2 million but I think it’s 20, right? Around 10. Around 10. Around 10 million. The Catholics are 600 at the most, very few. And why go there? For the Catholics, to go out to the periphery of a Catholic community, which is precisely in the periphery, which is small and today at Mass I told them that they reminded me of the peripheral community of Jerusalem closed in the cenacle, awaiting the Holy Spirit, waiting to be able to grow, to go out… it’s small… it’s not persecuted, no! Because in Azerbaijan there is a great religious respect, a great religious liberty…. This is true. I said it today in the speech. And also these three countries are peripheral countries, like Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and I’ve told you: reality is understood better and is seen better from the peripheries than from the center. And that’s why I choose there. But this doesn’t take away the possibility of going to some great country like Portugal, France, I don’t know. We’ll see…
Thanks so much for your work and now rest up a bit and have a good dinner… and pray for me!
Burke: Thanks, Holiness.
By Anacleth Hitayezu