Following his five-day journey through Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic, Pope Francis spoke about a wide range of topics on the papal plane.
In Kenya, you met poor families and listened to their stories of exclusion from fundamental human rights such as access to drinking water. What did you feel when you listened to their stories and what needs to be done to end such injustices?
“I have spoken about this problem on a number of occasions. I do not recall the statistics precisely but I seem to recall reading that 80% of the world’s wealth is in the hands of 17% of the population, I don’t know if that’s true. It is an economic system that places money at the centre, the god money. I remember a non-Catholic ambassador once speaking in French and saying “Nous sommes tombeé dans l’idolatrie del’argent”. What did I feel in Kangemi? I felt pain, great pain! Yesterday I went to a children’s hospital, the only one in Bangui and in the whole country. In the intensive care unit there’s no oxygen, there were children that were malnourished. Idolatry is when a man or a woman loses his or her ID card, in other words their identity as God’s children and prefers to seek a tailor-made God. The bottom line is this; if humanity does not change, poverty, tragedies, wars and injustice will continue. Children will go on dying of hunger. What does that percentage of people that holds 80% of the world’s wealth in their hands think of this? This is not communism, it is the truth. And seeing the truth is not easy.”
I would like to know what the most memorable part of the trip was, whether you will return to Africa and where your next visit will be to?
“If this go well, I think the next visit will be to Mexico, the dates have not been set in stone yet. Will I return to Africa? I don’t know. I’m old and travelling is tiring! The most memorable part of this trip were the crowds, all that joy, that celebratory spirit, the will to celebrate even on an empty stomach. For me, Africa was a surprise. God always surprises us, but Africa surprises us too. I remember many moments, but above all, I remember the crowds… They felt ‘visited’, they are so incredibly welcoming and I saw this in all three nations. Though each country has its own unique identity: Kenya is a bit more modern and developed. Uganda’s identity is shaped by its martyrs: the Ugandan people – both Catholics and Anglicans – venerate the martyrs. The Central African Republic is hungry for peace, reconciliation, forgiveness. Until four years ago, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims lived together as brothers and sisters. Yesterday I went to the Evangelicals who are working so hard and then they came to mass. Today I went to the mosque, I prayed there, the Imam got into the Popemobile to go for a short ride among the refugees. There is one small group that is very violent, I believe they are Christians or they claim to be Christians but it’s not ISIS, it’s something else. Now elections are going to take place, they have chosen an interim President, a woman, and they seek peace: no hate.”
Religious fundamentalism is threatening the whole planet, we saw this with the Paris attacks. In the face of this danger, do you think religious leaders should intervene more in the political sphere?
“If intervening in the political sphere means doing politics, then no. They should be priests, pastors, Imams, Rabbis. Their political intervention is indirect, they preach values, real values and one of the greatest values of all is fraternity between us. We are all God’s children, we all have the same Father. I don’t like the word tolerance, we need to live peacefully alongside one another, develop friendships. Fundamentalism is a disease that exists in all religions. In the Catholic Church we have some – many – who believe they possess the absolute truth and they go on sullying others through slander and defamation and this is wrong. I say this because it is my Church. Religious fundamentalism must be combatted. It is not religious, God is not lacking, it is idolatric. What religious leaders need to do is convince people who have these tendencies. Fundamentalism that ends in tragedy or commits crimes is a bad thing but it exists in all religions.”
AIDS is a serious problem in Africa, the epidemic continues. We know that prevention is the key and that condoms are not the only means of stopping the epidemic, but it is an important part of the solution. Is it not perhaps time for the Church to change its position with regard to the use of condoms in order to prevent infections?
“The question seems biased to me. Yes, it is one of the methods, the morality of the Church faces a bit of a predicament here. The fifth or the sixth commandment: defend life or a sexual relationship that is pen to life. But this is not the problem. There is a greater problem than this: this question makes me think of the question they once asked Jesus: tell me Master, is it acceptable to heal on a Saturday? Healing is obligatory! Malnutrition, exploitation, slave labour, the lack of drinking water, these are the problems. We’re not talking about which plaster we should use for which wound. The great injustice is social injustice, the great injustice is malnutrition. I don’t like making such casuistic reflections when there are people dying because of a lack of water and hunger. Think about arms trafficking. When these problems cease to exist, then I think we can ask ourselves the question: is it acceptable to heal on a Saturday? Why are arms still being manufactured? Wars are the leading cause of death. Forget about whether it is acceptable or not to heal on a Saturday. Make justice and when everyone is healed, when there is no injustice in this world, then we can talk about Saturday.”
You have shown many gestures of friendship and respect towards Muslims. What do Islam and Mohammed’s teachings tell today’s world?
“Dialogue is possible, they have many values and these values are constructive. I am also friends with a Muslim, a world leader. We are able to talk. He has his values I have mine, he prays and so do I. Many values; prayer, fasting. You cannot wipe out a religion just because there are some or a number of groups of fundamentalists at one moment in history. It is true, there have always been wars between faiths and we too need to ask for forgiveness: Catherine de’ Medici was no saint and that war that lasted 30 years, St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre… We also need to ask for forgiveness. But they have values and dialogue is possible. Today I went to the mosque, the Imam wanted to come with me. A Pope and an Imam both got into the Popemobile. Think of all the wars we Christians have waged. It wasn’t the Muslims who were responsible for the Sack of Rome.”
This was your first visit and everyone was concerned about your safety. What would you say to a world that thinks Africa is nothing but a victim of war and destruction?
“Africa is a victim, Africa has always been exploited by other powers, African slaves were sold in America. There are powers that simply want to take Africa’s great riches – it is perhaps the world’s richest continent – but they do not think about helping countries to grow so that everyone can work. Africa is a martyr of exploitation. Those who claim that all adversities and wars come out of Africa have no idea of the harm certain forms of development are doing to humanity. That is why I love Africa, because it has been a victim of other powers.”
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