Massimo Franco, journalist at the Corriere della Sera, published a long interview with Pope Francis on the eve of the historic face to face which will take place on February 12 in Cuba with Russian Patriarch Kirill. “I am thrilled,” – Francis answers when asked to comment on the forthcoming meeting with Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. The Pope said he had led and followed the negotiations in a humble way: “I only said I wanted to meet and embrace my Orthodox brethren and let others organize everything. That is all. Secret negotiations have been carried on for two years well conducted by good bishops. Hilarion who is also an artist, a musician, took care of the Orthodox part. They did a good job”.
In less than two weeks, a bridge that had collapsed one thousand years ago has been reconstructed. To those who meet him at St. Martha’s House, Bergoglio talks of reconciliation. “Bridges: this is what you have to build. Step by step, until you get to shake hands with those on the other side. Bridges last and help peace. Walls do not: they seem to protect us, but they only separate. That is why we need to demolish them, not built. They will eventually fall, one after the other. Just think of the Berlin Wall. It seemed forever, yet: puff, one day it fell down.”
“We cannot say there is a peaceful world around us – Bergoglio said – Wherever we look, there are conflicts. I have talked about a fragmented World War III. Truth to be told, it is not broken to ‘pieces’: it is a true war. How do wars work? Acting on the economy, through arms trafficking, and waging war against our common home, that is, nature. Traffickers are making a lot of money, buying weapons from a country that gives them to strike another one, an enemy. Everyone knows what countries I am talking about.”
For Francis, consistent with the name he chose on the day of his election as Pope, the ecological question is a key piece of what we may define as global security. “Cutting down trees means desertification of entire territories. For this reason, in countries such as Zambia they have begun to replant them, to reforest areas in order to avoid the depletion of the earth. We must beware monocultures. If you always produce the same things, no alternate crops, the soil becomes dead quickly”.
Interviewed about the explosive situation in the Middle and Near East, the Holy Father has no doubts: “The West must be self-critical about the Arab Springs.” “On the Arab Springs and Iraq, we could have imagined earlier what was going to happen. Partly, the views of the Holy See and Russia converged. In part, we would better not exaggerate because Russia has its own interests.” Yet, the Pope always invites people to think “about Libya before and after the military intervention: first, there was only one Gaddafi, now there are fifty of them. The West must be self-critical.”
On the issue of migration and the alarm in Europe, Bergoglio answers recalling his first trip to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in July 2013, the symbolic place of the tragedy of refugees. Back then, he threw a wreath into the sea as a tribute to all the people who drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea on overcrowded boats and rafts. “When I went to Lampedusa, the problem of immigration was only starting. Now it exploded. “It is certainly ‘a challenge we have to handle intelligently because there is the huge and terrible problem of terrorism behind it.”
“An Europe capable of learning from its religious roots, knowing how to grasp its wealth and potential” will be able to show “resistance to many extremes that are rampant in today’s world more easily, even to the great void of ideals we see in the so-called West,” – said the Pope visiting the European Parliament in Strasbourg in November 2014. Talking to MEPs, he did not hesitate to call Europe “a grandmother that is no longer fertile nor lively. A reason why the great ideals that inspired Europe seem to have lost their attractive force in favor of the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions”.
Yet, during the meetings at St. Martha’s House, he insists with his interlocutors on the fact that “Europe must and can change. It can and must reform itself. If it is unable to financially help the countries from which the refugees come from, it must face the problem of how to address this great challenge that is primarily a humanitarian one, but not only. An educational system has broken: the one which was transmitting values from grandparents to grandchildren, from parents to children. It is appropriate to consider the problem of how to rebuild it.”
“Europe” – Francis likes to say – “is like Sara, Abraham’s barren wife who had Isaac at age 90 -. At first, she gets scared, but then secretly smiles”. His hope, according to those who talked to him, is that Europe is “secretly smiling” to immigrants. It can draw force from the memory of the “great forgotten characters” of its recent history. Francis is an admirer of the protagonists of the European rebirth after the Second World War. He quotes the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Foreign Minister of France, Robert Schuman, and the Italian Alcide De Gasperi.
He quotes also the “great forgotten names” also in the chronicle of our times such as Bonino who cannot be defined as a 100% Catholic. “For example, the woman mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini,” for what she does for the refugees. Besides, “among the great names of today’s Italy,” he often cites the Head of State emeritus Giorgio Napolitano: “When Napolitano accepted for the second time, at his age, and though for a limited period, to take such a heavy position, I called him and told him that it was an act of patriotic ‘heroism’”. As to the former Minister Emma Bonino, to the interlocutors who get surprised when they hear the name of the radical leader, he tells that “she is the person who knows Africa better than anyone else. She has also offered the best service to Italy to let it learn about Africa. They say: those people have ideas that are very differently from ours. True, but never mind. We have to look at people, at what they do. “Everything else are walls, not bridges.