After what has been termed an amazing homecoming trip by many in the media as well as by people following Francis’ trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, the Pope returned to Rome this morning from Paraguay and, during the long flight back to Italy, spoke with reporters. (news.va)

POPE FRANCIS - inflight interview

Following are two reports from that hour-long press conference:


Before arriving in the United States in September, Pope Francis said, he will study American criticisms of his critiques of the global economy and finance.

“I have heard that some criticisms were made in the United States — I’ve heard that — but I have not read them and have not had time to study them well,” the pope told reporters traveling with him from Paraguay back to Rome July 12.

“If I have not dialogued with the person who made the criticism,” he said, “I don’t have the right” to comment on what the person is saying.

Pope Francis said his assertion in Bolivia July 9 that “this economy kills” is something he believes and has explained in his exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” and more recently in his encyclical on the environment.

In the Bolivia speech to grassroots activists, many of whom work with desperately poor people, the pope described the predominant global economic system as having “the mentality of profit at any price with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.”

Asked if he planned to make similar comments in the United States despite the negative reaction his comments have drawn from some U.S. pundits, politicians and economists, Pope Francis said that now that his trip to South America has concluded, he must begin “studying” for his September trip to Cuba and the United States; the preparation, he said, will include careful reading of criticisms of his remarks about economic life.

Spending almost an hour answering questions from journalists who traveled with him July 5-12 to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, Pope Francis also declared that he had not tried coca leaves — a traditional remedy — to deal with the high altitude in Bolivia, and he admitted that being asked to pose for selfies makes him feel “like a great-grandfather — it’s such a different culture.”

The pope’s trip to Cuba and the United States Sept. 19-27 was mentioned frequently in questions during the onboard news conference. U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro publicly thanked Pope Francis and the Vatican last December for helping them reach an agreement to begin normalizing relations.

Pope Francis insisted his role was not “mediation.” In January 2014, he said, he was asked if there was some way he could help. “To tell you the truth, I spent three months praying about it, thinking what can I do with these two after 50 years like this.” He decided to send a cardinal — whom he did not name — to speak to both leaders.

“I didn’t hear any more,” he said.

“Months went by” and then one day, out of the blue, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, told him representatives of the two countries would be having their second meeting at the Vatican the next day, he said.

The new Cuba-U.S. relationship was the result of “the good will of both countries. It’s their merit. We did almost nothing,” the pope said.

Asked why he talks so much about the rich and the poor and so rarely about middle-class people who work and pay taxes, Pope Francis thanked the journalist for pointing out his omission and said, “I do need to delve further into this magisterium.”

However, he said he speaks about the poor so often “because they are at the heart of the Gospel. And, I always speak from the Gospel on poverty — it’s not that it’s sociological.”

Pope Francis was asked about his reaction to the crucifix on top of a hammer and sickle — the communist symbol — that Bolivian President Evo Morales gave him July 8. The crucifix was designed by Jesuit Fr. Luis Espinal, who was kidnapped, tortured and killed in Bolivia in 1980.

The pope said the crucifix surprised him. “I hadn’t known that Fr. Espinal was a sculptor and a poet, too. I just learned that these past few days,” he said.

Pope Francis said that he did know, however, that Espinal was among the Latin American theologians in the late 1970s who found Marxist political, social and economic analysis helpful for understanding their countries and their people’s struggles and that the Jesuit also used Marxist theories in his theology. It was four years after the Jesuit’s murder that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said plainly that Marxist theory had no place in a Catholic theology, the pope pointed out.

Espinal, he said, “was a special man with a great deal of geniality.”

The crucifix, the pope said, obviously fits into the category of “protest art,” which some people may find offensive, although he said he did not.

“I’m talking it home with me,” Pope Francis said.

In addition to the crucifix, Morales had given the pope two honors, one of which was making him part of the Order of Father Espinal, a designation that comes with a medal bearing a copy of the hammer-and-sickle crucifix.

Pope Francis said he’s never accepted such honors; “it’s just not for me,” he said. But Morales had given them to the pope with “such goodwill” and such obvious pleasure at doing something he thought would please the pope that the pope said he could not refuse. “I prayed about this,” the pope told reporters. He said he did not want to offend Morales and he did not want the medals to end up in a Vatican museums storeroom. So he placed them at the feet of a statue of Mary and asked that they be transferred to the national shrine of Our Lady of Copacabana.

Pope Francis also was asked about his request in Guayaquil, Ecuador, that people pray for the October Synod of Bishops on the family “so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening, and turn it — by making it part of his ‘hour’ — into a miracle.”

The pope told reporters, “I wasn’t thinking of any point in particular,” but rather the whole range of problems afflicting families around the world and the need for God’s help for families.


During a press briefing on the return flight from South America, Pope Francis clarified that his call for prayer ahead of the upcoming Synod on the Family referred to today’s family crisis generally – not, as some media have sources speculated, to “any point in particular.”

“The family is in crisis, you know,” the pontiff told journalists in reference to remarks made near the beginning of his week-long voyage to the continent of his birth, stressing that he was speaking about this crisis “in general.” The Pope explained his words were a call for prayer “that the Lord would purify us from the crises” among families, such as are described in the Instrumentum Laboris – or “working document” – for October’s Synod.

“The family is in crisis: May the Lord purify us, and let’s move forward!” he said.

Sunday’s wide-ranging press briefing on the papal plan en route to Rome came at the conclusion of Pope Francis’ July 5-13 trip to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay. The journalist’s question about the Synod on the Family was in reference to the pontiff’s July 6 Mass, the first major event of his visit to Ecuador, in which he prayed for Christ to turn what seems “impure, scandalous or threatening” about the Synod into a “miracle.” In the same homily, the Pope said the Synod would examine “concrete solutions to the many difficult and significant challenges facing families.”

Some media outlets have interpreted these remarks as heralding changes in the Church’s teaching on family issues. These speculations include a more “welcoming” approach to gay couples, and the allowance for divorced and remarried couples to receive the sacraments. However, during the July 12 press briefing Pope Francis explained the context of his remarks were in reference to the Gospel account of the wedding feast of Cana, in which Jesus performed the miracle of turning water into “fine wine” at the request of his mother.

The pontiff said he was showing how Jesus had the power to turn the “dirty” water of purification into the finest wine. “The jugs of water were full, but they were for the purification,” Pope Francis said. “Every person who entered for the celebration performed his purification and left his ‘spiritual dirt.’ It was a rite of purification before entering into a house or the temple, no? Now we have this in the holy water – that is what has remained of the Jewish rite.” “I said that precisely Jesus makes the best wine from the dirty water – the worst water. In general, I thought of making this comment.”

This year’s Synod on the Family, to be held on Oct. 4-25, will be the second and larger of two such gatherings to take place in the course of a year. Like its 2014 precursor, the focus of the 2015 Synod of Bishops will be the family, this time with the theme: “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world.”

The 2014 meeting became the subject of widespread media attention, largely owing to proposals by a small number of prelates to rethink the Church’s practice regarding the admission to Holy Communion for divorced persons who have remarried without obtaining an annulment.