His now traditional inflight press conference was cut short by turbulence, but Pope Francis managed to answer numerous questions on current issues, including climate change, immigration, and the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.
The first questions were asked by Colombian reporters, regarding the Apostolic Visit. Asked what concrete steps Colombians can take to overcome the divisions and hatred caused by decades of civil war, Pope Francis responded that he would like to see Colombians take as a motto “Let’s take the second step” – a reference to the motto of the Visit, “Let’s take the first step.” The “sins” that occurred during years of conflict causes souls to become sick – but this illness is not culpable; it is caused by “ugly sins.” But there are nonetheless steps toward peace.
Pope Francis was asked about corruption, which can be even more devastating to a country than outright violence. The Holy Father noted that he had touched on this topic numerous times. God never tires of forgiving sin, he said, but corruption is a kind of sin with a difference: the corrupt person tires of seeking forgiveness, and even forgets how to ask for forgiveness. “He is not able to ask for forgiveness,” the Pope said, and for this reason, it is very difficult to help someone who is corrupt. But, he said, “God can do it. I pray for that.”
With regard to the peace process, Pope Francis said in different situations many groups must be integrated. He said that the technical or political aspects of the peace process are necessary, but they will only go so far. If the people do not embrace peace, political steps can only go so far. It is only when the people “take peace” in their hands, that it can end well.
Both English and Italian-speaking journalists asked the pope about climate change.
The first group, noting the three almost parallel hurricanes that affected the United States in recent weeks, which some scientists say is the result of rising temperatures of oceans, asked about the moral responsibility political leaders have to work with other nations to reduce climate change.
“Those who deny climate change need to go to scientists and ask them,” Francis said. “They are clear and precise.”
Scientists, the pope said, have clearly stated what the path to follow is: “Each [person] has a moral responsibility, bigger or smaller.”
Climate change, he added, is a “serious matter over which we cannot make jokes.”
According to Francis, each person has to form their opinion on the matter and decide how to act. “History will judge the decisions,” he said.
“A university, I don’t remember which one, said we only have three years to reverse course or the consequences will be terrible,” Francis said. “I don’t know if three years is true or not, but if we don’t go back we will go down, that is true.”
Italians, instead, asked about why some are taking so long to become conscious of the impact of climate change. To this, the pope answered with an old saying from the Psalms: “Man is a stupid and hard-headed being who doesn’t see.”
Man, he insisted, is the only created animal who trips twice with the same stone (though he technically said, “puts the leg in the same hole.”)
US Immigreation Policy
Speaking of the recent decision by the U.S. President Donald Trump to rescind an Obama administration immigration policy known as DACA(Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), Pope Francis said he had not read enough to express an opinion. He said, though, that separating young people from their families is not good either for the young or for the family. Noting that the policy was crafted by the executive branch, rather than through the legislature, the Pope said there may be hope that it could be considered anew. He said Trump presents himself as pro-life, “and if he is a good pro-lifer, he understands that the family is the cradle of life, and that he must defend the unity” (of the family). He spoke of the need young people have of roots, and noted that he had spoken about the importance of dialogue between young people and the elderly. “Young people need to find their roots again,” he said. “Anything that goes against the roots,” he continued, “steals their hope.”
Reminded that the new American policy meant young people might be deported from the United States, Pope Francis said this would mean losing roots; “and this is a problem.” He insisted, though, that he did not want to express his opinion because he prefers not to speak on issues he has not studied. But he called attention to the suffering Mexico has endured, and called for prayer for that country.
Immigration in Europe
Pope Francis was also asked about migration policy in Italy, and responded by expressing his gratitude for Italy and Greece, which have “opened their hearts” to migrants. But, he said, this is not enough. God commands us to welcome migrants, but governments have a duty to face the problem of migration with “prudence.” Migrants, he said, must not only be welcomed, but integrated. He suggested that countries might be only be able to accept a certain number of migrants before there is a danger of “non-integration.” He also spoke about the humanitarian problems that are associated with mass migration, and the need to resolve the root causes of the immigration crisis.
The exploitation of Africa
Italian journalists asked the pontiff about migration to Europe, particularly about a recent decision by the Italian government of trying to reduce the influx of migrants departing Libya for Europe. The African nation has become the gate of exit for those fleeing hunger and conflict in the continent for Europe, with most arriving in Italy, Greece, and, to a lesser extent Spain.
Francis began responding by thanking Greece and Italy for “opening their hearts to migrants.”
However, he said, it’s not enough to have an open heart, which must always be the case because of God’s commandment to welcome, “because you were a slave, a migrant in Egypt.”
A government, the pope continued, must address this issue with the virtue due to a political leader: “prudence.” Meaning, they must evaluate how many people they can welcome. Then, they must do so, trying to integrate them into society.
The third issue to consider on the migrant crisis is that there’s a “humanitarian problem,” which he witnessed through the photographs of, for instance, the inhuman situation of migrants fleeing through the dessert.
Francis then denounced the fact that there’s a principle in the “collective unconsciousness: Africa is [to be] exploited.”
A head of state, the pope continued, once rightly said that it’s necessary to help those fleeing from hunger, investing in the countries of origin so that they grow. However, when “developed countries go to Africa it is to exploit it. Africa, friend, must be helped to grow.”
When migrants flee war, he acknowledged, it’s a different matter.
Venezuela, and the appeal to the United Nations
French-speaking journalists asked the pope about Venezuela, questioning if perhaps the time has arrived for him to take a stronger stance on the crisis. They also observed that President Nicolas Maduro has criticized the local bishops’ strong position against his government, but defended Francis, claiming the pope is on his side.
Francis said that he believes the Holy See has spoken very clearly, and that it’s up to Maduro to explain what he means.
“I don’t know what is in his mind,” he said.
The Vatican, the pope insisted, has done much, from sending a papal representative to a dialogue attempt made last year by four former presidents to him making several public appeals after the Sunday Angelus prayer.
“It seems that the situation is very difficult,” he said. “The most painful thing is the humanitarian problem. So many people who are escaping or suffering. There’s a humanitarian problem that we have to help respond to. I believe the United Nations should make itself felt to help.”
This is the fifth time throughout the Colombia trip that Francis referenced Venezuela. He did so twice during the flight there, sent out a statement by meeting with five Venezuelan bishops after a Mass in Bogotá, and then on Sunday, after the traditional Angelus prayer, asked for prayers for “the beloved Venezuela.”
How are you?
Journalists also asked the pope about how he’s doing after the small accident he had on Sunday, while riding the Popemobile in Cartagena.
“It was only a moment, I reached out to try to greet the children, didn’t see the glass and ‘boom.’”
One of the funniest moments of the presser came when he was talking about this incident, referring to his injury using an Argentine expression that Spanish-speakers from other countries travelling on the plane didn’t understand: “I have the eye in compote,” would be the literal translation, meaning he has a black eye.