Pope grants interview to students: 'Poor are the heart of the gospel'
In an interview granted to Belgium students and broadcast on the country’s public Flemish TV station, VRT, Pope Francis showed himself concerned about the problems of the youth and talked about his very own "mistakes" and "fears."
“Absolutely, absolutely I’m happy! And it’s a tranquil happiness because at this age one no longer has the same happiness of a young person, there’s a difference. There’s a certain interior peace, a strong sense of peace, of happiness, that comes with age. But it’s a road that has always had problems. Even now there are problems but this happiness doesn’t go away because of the problems. No, it sees the problems, suffers because of them and then goes forward, it does something to resolve them and goes ahead. But in the depth of my heart there is this peace and happiness. It’s truly a grace from God, for me. It’s a grace and it’s not through my own merit,” the first Latin American pontiff in history said when he was asked if he considered himself happy.
“The heart of the gospel,” Francis then explained when the students queried him about his devotion and protection of the poor.
"For me, the heart of the Gospel is about the poor. Two months ago, I heard a person who said (on hearing this): ‘But this Pope is a communist!’ But no! This is the banner of the Gospel, not of communism: of the Gospel! But it’s poverty without ideology…. And it’s for this reason that I believe that the poor are at the centre of Jesus’ message. All you have to do is read it. The problem is that this attitude towards the poor has sometimes during history been made the subject of ideology.”
Among the participants, was a non-believer girl who wanted to know what Francis’ message to the young was.
“We’re all brothers and sisters. Believers, non-believers or whether belonging to this or that religious confession, Jews, Moslems… we’re all brothers and sisters! Human beings are at the centre of history and this for me is really important: humans are at the centre (of society). In this moment of history, humans have been pushed away from the centre, they have slid towards the margins and at the centre --- at least right now --- there’s power, money and we must work on behalf of human beings, for men and women who are the image of God.”
There was time also for more personal questions. The pope talked about his very own mistakes and fears.
"They’re great teachers, they teach you so much. They also humiliate you because somebody may feel a superman, a superwoman. But then you make a mistake and this humiliates you and puts you in your place. I would not say that I have learnt from all my mistakes: No, I believe I haven’t learnt from some of them because I’m stubborn (laughing) and it’s not easy to learn. But I have learnt from many mistakes and that’s been good for me. It’s also a case of recognizing our mistakes. I make a mistake here, I made a mistake there…. And also being careful not to go back and make the same mistake. One example, in the conducting of the Church’s life: I was named Superior (of the Jesuits in Argentina) when very young and I made so many mistakes because of my authoritarianism, for example. I was too authoritarian: at the age of 36… and then, I learnt that one must dialogue, one must listen to how others think…. But I didn’t learn this for ever after! It’s a long road.”
"What frightens you?" one of the students asked the head of the Roman Catholic Church. And the head of the Roman Catholic Church answered:
“Well, of myself (laughing) Fear…. But look in the Gospel, ‘Jesus repeats it so often: “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid!’ And he says it many times, doesn’t he? And why’s that? Because he knows that fear is a rather ‘normal’ feeling. We’re afraid of life, we’re afraid when faced with challenges, we’re afraid in front of God. We’re all afraid, all of us. You mustn’t worry about being afraid. You must feel that but not be afraid and then ask yourselves: ‘Why am I afraid?’ And in front of God and in front of yourselves, try to shed light on the situation or ask help from another person. But fear is not a good advisor because it gives you bad advice.”
The interview was recorded on March 31st and aired this week. Accompanied by Bishop Lucas Van Looy of Ghent, the group put the questions to the Pope in English and he replied in Italian.