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Letter #3, 2017: Trump? Francis Waits

January 22, 2017, Sunday -- On Trump, Francis Waits

On the dangers -- and need for -- populist movements

Pope Francis has granted another long interview, this time to two Spanish journalists writing for the daily El Pais of Madrid, Spain. The interview was conducted on Friday, January 20, in the Domus Santa Marta, where the Pope lives, and published today in Spain. There are already complete versions of the text in English and Italian circulating on the internet, and I give the full text below.

The lengthy conversation ranges over many topics — from how Pope Francis views his own pontificate to Liberation theology to the content of the "secret dossiers" on Vatican Curia officials which Pope Benedict handed over to Francis in a large white box on March 23, 2013, four years ago, when the two first met after Francis was elected on March 13, 2013.

It also touches twice on Donald Trump, the new American president, who was being sworn in as president in Washington on the same day that the Pope was giving the interview in Rome.

The journalists first asked Francis what he thought of Trump and his election to the presidency. The 80-year-old pontiff was very cautious. He stressed that it is too early to judge the new US leader, and said "let’s see what he does."

Here is the passage: "I think that we must wait and see. I don't like to get ahead of myself nor judge people prematurely. We will see how he acts, what he does, and then I will have an opinion. But being afraid or rejoicing beforehand because of something that might happen is, in my view, quite unwise."

(Note: One of the first acts of the new administration has been to take down the Spanish translation of the White House web site, which is now only in English, and to remove a page referring to climate change. link)

Then, toward the end of the interview, the two Spanish journalists came at the question a second time, in a different way.

They asked Francis if he was worried about the rise of "populists" in Europe and in America, who "capitalize on the fears in face of an uncertain future in order to form a message full of xenophobia and hatred towards the foreigner." They added: "Trump's case is the most noteworthy, but there are others such as Austria or Switzerland. Are you worried about this phenomenon?"

Responding to this question, the Pope reflected on the history of "populism" in Europe. Still, he did not name Trump.

During this reflection, he spoke about the rise of Hitler in the 1930s as a "populist" phenomenon which ended in the tragedy of World War II.

He said: "Crises provoke fear, alarm. In my opinion, the most obvious example of European populism is Germany in 1933. Germany is broken, looking to get itself going, looking for its identity, a leader, someone capable of restoring its character, and there is a young man named Adolf Hitler who says: 'I can, I can.' And all of Germany votes for Hitler. Hitler didn't steal power, he was elected by the people, and then he destroyed his own people. This is the danger.”

In the minds of some of the commenters on this interview, these two questions were seemingly conflated, as if one immediately followed the other, that is, as if the Pope first said he wished to wait before making any judgment about Trump, then immediately changed his mind and warned that populist movements like the one led by Trump risk turning into movement's like the one led by Hitler. These two questions were at least 40 minutes apart.

And this led to headlines in Europe today like one in The Telegraph of London: "Pope Francis warns against rise of populism in Europe." (link)

And the first sentence of the Telegraph article was: "Pope Francis has warned against the rise of populism around the world and the danger of seeking a saviour that may result in dictators like Hitler."

Indeed, El Pais itself titled its own interview: "The danger is that in times of crisis we seek a savior."

In this context, it seems interesting that, a few paragraphs later in this same interview -- in a passage that has not been picked up yet by many journalists -- the Pope speaks in a positive way of a "populist" phenomenon in Latin American politics which he praises and says was "heroic" in defending the life of the people and nation of Paraguay from those who were "selling out" the nation.

Francis says: "So Latin America must rearm itself with political groups that recover the strength of the people. The biggest example for me is Paraguay after the war. The country lost the War of the Triple Alliance and was left almost entirely in the hands of women. And the Paraguayan woman felt that she had to rebuild the nation, defend their faith, defend their culture and defend their language, and she did it. The Paraguayan woman. She wasn't a cipaya [a word the Pope defines as "the one who sells his homeland to the foreign power who pays him the most"], she defended what was hers, at the expense of anything, but she defended it, and she repopulated the country. I think that she is the most glorious woman in the Americas. That is the case of a position that never gave up. Of heroism."

Here is the important text of this newest papal interview.


Exclusive interview with Pope Francis

(Spanish original, link; English translation link)

"The danger is that in times of crisis we seek a savior"

By Antonio Cano and Pablo Ordaz

El Pais, Madrid, Spain

Sunday, January 22, 2017

During an hour and 15 minutes, in a simple room in the Casa de Santa Marta, where he lives, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was born in Buenos Aires 80 years ago and is on his way to completing his fourth year as pontiff, explained that “in the Church there are saints and sinners, decent men and corrupt men,” but that what most worries him is “a Church that has been anesthetized by worldiness,” one that is far from the problems of the people.

Francis showed himself to be up to speed not just with what is happening within the Vatican, but also in the southern border of Spain or in the tough neighborhoods of Rome. He says that he would love to travel to China — “as soon as they invite me” — and that, although he sometimes “slips up,” his only revolution is the Evangelical one.

The drama of the refugee crisis has affected him greatly — “that man cried and cried on my shoulder, with the life-jacket in his hand, because he hadn't managed to rescue a four-year-old girl” — as much as the visits he has made to women who were sold into slavery by prostitution mafias in Italy. He still does not know whether he will die as Pope or will opt for the open road of Benedicto XVI [i.e., resignation]. He admits that sometimes he has felt used by his Argentinean countrymen, and he calls on Spaniards to do something that looks easy but is not: “Talk to one another.”

Your Holiness, after nearly four years in the Vatican, what is left of that street priest that came from Buenos Aires to Rome with the return ticket in his pocket?

Pope Francis: He is still a street priest. Because, as soon as I can go out on the streets to greet people at the general audiences, or when I am traveling... my character has not changed. I'm not saying that is deliberate: it has been a natural thing. It is not true that you have to change here. To change is unnatural. To change at 76 is putting on makeup. Perhaps I cannot do everything I want, but my street soul is alive, and you can see it.

In the last days of his papacy, Benedict XVI said about his last years at the head of the Catholic Church: "The waters ran troubled and God seemed asleep." Have you felt that loneliness too? The Church hierarchy was asleep with regard to people's problems, both new and old?

Pope Francis: Within the Church hierarchy, or among the Catholic Church's pastoral agents (bishops, priests, nuns, laymen), I am more afraid, rather than of those who are asleep, of those who are anesthetized. Those who are anesthetized by worldly affairs. They sell out to worldliness. That is what worries me. Everything is calm, everything is quiet, when everything goes right. Too much order.

When you read the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul's epistles, it was a mess, there were troubles, people moved. There was movement and contact with people.

An anesthetized person is not in touch with people. He protects himself against reality. He is anesthetized. Nowadays there are so many ways of anesthetizing oneself against the daily life, aren't there?

Maybe the most dangerous illness for a pastor is the one produced by anesthetics, which is clericalism. I am here and the people are there. But you are those people's pastor! If you don't take care of those people, if you give up on taking care of those people, you should pack your bags and retire.

Is there a part of the Catholic Church that is anesthetized?

Pope Francis: It is a risk that we all have. It is a danger, it is seriously tempting. Being anesthetized is easier.

It is a better life, a more comfortable life...

Pope Francis: That is why, rather than those asleep, there is that anesthetized state that gives the worldly spirit. A spiritual worldly spirit.

I am always struck by the fact that Jesus Christ, in his last supper, when he prays to his Father on behalf of his disciples, he does not ask "Look, keep from breaking the fifth commandment, keep them from killing, from breaking the seventh commandment, keep them from stealing."

No, he says: "Keep them from the evils of the world, keep them from the world."

The worldly spirit anesthetizes. When that happens, the pastor becomes a civil servant. And that is clericalism, which is the worst evil that may afflict today's Church.

The troubles that Benedict XVI faced towards the end of his papacy and that were inside that white box that he gave you in Castel Gandolfo, what are they?

Pope Francis: A very normal sample of daily life within the Church: saints and sinners, honest people and crooked people. Everything was there!

There were people who had been questioned and were clean, workers... Because here, in the Curia, there are true saints. I like to say it. We talk too easily about the level of corruption in the Curia. And there are corrupt people. But there are also many saints. Men that have spent all their life serving people anonymously, behind a desk, or in conversation, or in a study, to get... Herein there are saints and sinners.

That day, what most struck me was holy Benedict's memory. He said: "Look, here are the proceedings, in the box." An envelope twice this one. "Here is the sentencing of all the individuals." And here, "So-and-so, that much." He remembered everything! An extraordinary memory. And he retains it.

Does he feel alright, health-wise?

Pope Francis: Mentally, he feels fine. His problem are the legs. He needs help to walk. He has an elephant's memory, even in nuances. I may say something and he goes: "No, it wasn't that year, it was that other year."

What are your main concerns with regard to the Church and the world in general?

Pope Francis: With regard to the Church, I would say that I hope that it never stops being close. Close to the people. Proximity. A Church that is not close is not a Church. It's a good NGO. Or a good and pious organization made up of good people that does good, meets for tea and work in charity...

The hallmark of the Church is its proximity, being close siblings. We all are the Church. Therefore, the problem we should avoid is breaking that closeness. Closeness among everyone. Being close is touching, touching Christ in flesh and blood through your neighbor.

When Jesus tells us how are we going to be judged, Matthew chapter 25, he always talks about reaching to your neighbor: I was hungry, I was in prison, I was sick... Always being close to the needs of your neighbor. Which is not just charity. It is much more.

Also, in the world, there is war. We have a World War III in little bits. Lately there is talk of a possible nuclear war as if it were a card game: they are playing cards. That is my biggest concern.

Sursa: www.InsideTheVatican.com

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