POPE ANSWERS MEDIA QUESTIONS ON PAPAL PLANE

POPE ANSWERS MEDIA QUESTIONS ON PAPAL PLANE

From vaticannews.va: The Pope’s comments on the Agreement with China were among the most anticipated by reporters on board the return flight from the Baltic countries. Among the other themes touched on by the Pope were the defense of the identity of the three republics, the condemnation of armaments, and clerical abuse, which he called a “monstrosity.”

The Vaticannews.va summary of the interview on the papal plane as Francis, his entourage and the media returned to Rome, first touched upon – at the Pope’s request – his just-concluded trip to the three Baltic nations.

The report starts: “There was more than one aspect to the Pope’s Apostolic Journey to the Baltics—or rather, the experience that has just been lived quickly branches into interwoven themes upon which Pope Francis wanted to express himself, themes that are the keystones of his Magisterium. And so there was a reversal of roles during the press conference. At one point the Pope was prodding the reporters on the flight back from Talinn to ask “questions about the trip,” holding back others who were fluttering over their notebooks. Because the three questions asked by reporters from the Baltic countries were not enough for the Pope to fully express himself, he took it upon himself to immerse himself in the reality of the “three sisters,” Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, united in the wounds that remain etched in their collective memory. The Baltic nations are currently looking to the west, while rooted in the east, with a future that the Pope has looked forward to with hope.

And then – inexplicably for me – the second paragraph began by noting that, “The Holy Father then submitted to the duty of responding to current events.”

I found that a bit curious “…submitted to the duty”?

Catholic News Agency provided a transcript in English of the entire interview aboard the papal plane last night:

File photo from vatiannews:

Vatican City, Sep 25, 2018 / 03:49 pm (CNA).- The following is an unofficial transcript of the in-flight press conference on the papal plane returning from Tallinn, Estonia to Rome on Sept. 25, 2018.

Greg Burke: Good evening, Holy Father, and thanks especially. Three countries in four days isn’t so easy. It’s tiring. But, perhaps it’s better than four countries in three days. It seemed a bit like four countries in four days because the first day there was this surprise from China. So, we did a little of this also, we came close to China. Let’s try to remain on the theme and speak about the trip and certainly we’ll begin with the local journalists from each nation and we’ll try during the press conference to speak about the trip to the Baltics. I don’t know if you want to say something first, or…
Pope Francis: First of all, ‘d like to thank you for the work that you’ve done because also for you three countries in four days isn’t easy, especially moving from one place to another is tiring. I thank you so much for the service you offer to the people, the people on this trip because communication is important. What happened there, they are many important things that happened on this trip and I await your questions.

Greg Burke: First is Saulena Ziugzdaite from Lithuania.
Saulena Ziugzdaite (Bernardinai.lt): Holy Father, thank you for this moment and for all of this trip. When you spoke in Vilnius about the Lithuanian soul, you said that we must be a bridge between East and West. But, it’s not easy to be a bridge. You’re always crossed by others. Some say our tragedy is that we are a bridge. Perhaps, one says, it’s decidedly better to go to the part of the West, with its values. But for you, what did you mean, what does it mean to be a bridge?
Pope Francis: Evidently, you are part today politically of the West, of the European Union. You have done much to enter into the European Union, after independence, you immediately did all of your homework, which isn’t easy, and you were able to enter into the European Union, that is, a belonging to the West. But, you also have relations with NATO. You belong to NATO, which speaks of the West. If you look to the East, there is your history- a tough history.
Also, a part of the tragic history came from the West, no? From the Germans, from the Poles, but especially from Nazism, no? It was that which came from the West. From the East, from the Russian Empire. Making bridges means – demands – strength. Strength not only of belonging – that gives you strength – but of one’s own identity. I am aware that the situation of the three Baltic countries is always in danger, always. The fear of invasion, because history itself reminds you of that. You are right when you say it’s not easy, but this is a game that is played every day, step after step, with culture, with dialogue. But, it’s not easy and I believe that the obligation of all of us is to help you in this – not to help you but to be close to you with our hearts.

Greg Burke: The next question comes from Gints Amolins from the radio of Latvia.
Gints Amolins (Latvijas Radio): Good day, Holiness! In the Baltic countries, you spoke often of the importance of roots and identity. From Latvia and also Lithuania and Estonia, there were so many people who left for more prosperous nations, so many already are putting their roots elsewhere and then there is also (inaudible) general demographic problems, of birth rate. So in this situation, what can and must our nations, the leaders of our nations and also everyone personally do? How must we evaluate this problem? Thanks.
Pope Francis: I, in my homeland, I didn’t know people from Estonia and from Latvia, but yes it is very strong, but relatively strong the Lithuanian migration. In Argentina, there are so many of them. And they bring their culture and history there. And they are proud in the double effort of inserting themselves in the new nation and also conserving their identity, in their festivals. There are traditional costumes, traditional songs, and they can always return to their homeland to visit.
I think that the fight for maintaining identity is very strong, and you have that, you have a very strong identity, an identity that was made in suffering, in defense, in work, and in culture. What can be done to defend identity? The recourse to the roots. This is important. It’s an ancient thing, but it is a thing that must be transmitted. Identity is inserted in the belonging to a people. And the belonging to a people must be transmitted. Roots must be transmitted to the new generations and this with education and with dialogue, especially between the old and the young. And, you can transmit this and you must do it because your identity is a treasure. So, every identity is a treasure, but conceived as a belonging to a people. This is what comes to me. I don’t know if you wanted to pose that question.

Greg Burke: And, now Evelyn Kaldoja from Estonia
Evelyn Kaldoja (Postimees): I would like to ask in English so I have to wait for the question. At today’s homily, you mentioned that there are some who shout and hurl threats about using weapons and deploying troops and so on and so on. And, considering where we were, on that very square, there were some NATO soldiers who were deployed to Estonia just to offer assurance and many people there thought probably on the situation on the Eastern border of Europe. How concerned are you about the tensions there and also the Catholics who live there across the border from Europe?
Pope Francis: Violence from weapons and, today, the world costs of weapons are scandalous. I was told that with what is spent on weapons in a month, you could feed the hungry of the world for a year. I don’t know if it’s true. It’s terrible. The industry, the commerce of weapons, also contraband sales of weapons is one of the greatest corruptions. And in the face of this, there is the logic of defense. David was able to defeat with a sling and 5 rocks. But today there are no Davids. And I think that to organize a nation, it must have a reasonable and non-aggressive army of defense. Reasonable and non-aggressive. In this way defense is licit. It’s also an honor to defend the homeland. The problem comes when it becomes aggressive, not reasonable and border wars are waged. On borders wars we have so many examples, not only in Europe. Towards the East, but also in other continents. They fight for power, to colonize a nation. This is my perspective and the answer to your question. The weapons industry is scandalous today before a hungry world. Second, it is licit, reasonable to have an army to defend borders. And this is honorable as it is licit to have the keys to the doors of your home -to defend from attack.

Greg Burke: Thanks, Holy Father. Stefanie Stahlhofen from the Austrian Radio station CIC
Stefanie Stahlhofen (CIC): Holy Father, at the ecumenical encounter in Tallinn, you said that the young people before the sexual scandals don’t see a net condemnation by the Catholic Church. In Germany, precisely today a new investigation came out on the sex abuses and about how the Church treated so many cases.
Pope Francis: About this, I’ll speak after [I speak about] the trip. I will respond, but first questions about the trip. This is the rule. But, it will be the first question after the trip.

(Editor’s note: Discussion ensues about whether or not there are further questions about the trip. Pope Francis insists that the trip receive more attention.)

Pope Francis: People expect information about this trip. Afterwards, other questions.

Greg Burke: A Lithuanian is arriving to ask about the trip. Pugagiauskas from Lithuanian television.
Vykintas Pugagiauskas (Lithuanian Radio Television): I would like to speak in English… In all Baltic countries, you professed openness. Openness towards migrants, openness toward the others, but for example, in Lithuania already there was a discussion about a girl that greeted you at the plane and she did not look exactly Lithuanian. She was partly Italian, a bit more black skinned. So, my question is, do the peoples in the Baltic countries only hear what they want to hear from you rather than what you are trying to tell them? Do they hear your message about the openness?
Pope Francis: The message on openness to migrants is rather advanced in your nation. There are no strongly populist views, no… in Estonia and Lithuania are open people that they have the desire to integrate migrants, but not massively because they cannot. To integrate them with prudence of the government. We have spoken with two of the three heads of state on this and they made this argument, not me. And, in the presidents’ speeches you will see that the word welcome, openness is frequent… This shows a desire for universality in the measure that they can take… the measure that they are integrated, this is very important, and the measure that is not a threat against their own identity. There are three things that I understood about the migration of the people, and this has touched me a lot: prudent and well-thought openness. I do not know if you were thinking of another thing.
Pugagiauskas: My question is about the reception of your message.
Pope Francis: I think so. In this gift that I say, because today the problem of migrants in all the world, and not only the external migration, but also internal in the continents is a grave problem. It is not easy to study it. In every place, it has different connotations.

Greg Burke: Holy Father, the questions about the trip are finished…

Pope Francis went on to comment further about what he saw, heard and experienced in the three Baltic nations and then spoke of his meeting Tuesday with young people in Estonia:

“Young people are scandalized, I introduce in this way the first question that was outside the theme of the trip. The young people are scandalized by the hypocrisy of adults. They are scandalized of… They are scandalized by incoherence, they are scandalized by corruption, and into this [scandal] of corruption enters that which you were under-lining: sexual abuse. It is true that it is an accusation against the Church, and we all know, we are all aware of the statistics, I will not say them. But even if it was just one priest who abused a boy or a girl, this is atrocious, because that man was chosen by God to bring… I know that young people are scandalized by such great corruption….”

He further commented on clerical sex abuse, mentioning the Pennsylvania report and the Viganò letter, though he did name the former nuncio explicitly. He also spoke at length about the just-signed Agreement with China on naming of bishops, the work leading up to it, etc.

On China, Francis said, “I was responsible for signing the case of the bishops. … I signed the agreement. At least, the plenipotentiary letters for signing that agreement that I had signed. I am responsible. The others that I appointed in all have worked for more than 10 years. It’s not an improvisation. It’s a path, a true path.”

He began his comments by saying: This is a process of years, a dialogue between the Vatican commission and the Chinese commission to put the appointment of bishops in order. The Vatican team worked a lot…..This went ahead two steps and back one, two ahead and back one. Then, months passed without speaking to each other and then the time of God, which appears to be [the time of the] Chinese. Slowly. This is wisdom, the wisdom of the Chinese. And the bishops who were in difficulty were studied case by case and in the case of the bishops, in the end dossiers came on to my desk about each oneThen, the case of the agreement returned, the drafts on my desk. They were spoken about. I gave my ideas. The other discussed and went ahead. I think of the resistance, the Catholics who have suffered. It’s true. And, they will suffer. Always, in an agreement, there is suffering….”

To read the entire lengthy script, click here: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/full-text-of-pope-francis-in-flight-press-conference-from-estonia-33293?utm_source=CNA&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=daily_newsletter

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CARDINAL O’MALLEY; POPE’S WORDS ‘A SOURCE OF GREAT PAIN FOR ABUSE VICTIMS’ – VATICAN NEWS TWITTER, JANUARY 20, 2018 – POPE APOLOGIZES TO SEX ABUSE VICTIMS, DEFENDS ACCUSED CHILEAN BISHOP

Today the United States observes National Sanctity of Human Life Day! As President Trump’s proclamation for this day says, we mark this “to affirm the truth that all life is sacred, that every person has inherent dignity and worth, and that no class of people should ever be discarded as ‘non-human’.”

That proclamation goes on to say, “Reverence for every human life, one of the values for which our Founding Fathers fought, defines the character of our Nation. Today, it moves us to promote the health of pregnant mothers and their unborn children. It animates our concern for single moms; the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled; and orphan and foster children. It compels us to address the opioid epidemic and to bring aid to those who struggle with mental illness. It gives us the courage to stand up for the weak and the powerless. And it dispels the notion that our worth depends on the extent to which we are planned for or wanted.”

On another matter: In answer to a journalist’s question at the end of his time in Chile, some words pronounced by Pope Francis caused quite a bit of consternation for victims of clerical sex abuse.

In this regard, Cardinal O’Malley, archbishop of Boston and a key papal advisor (one of the C9, that is, the Council of Cardinals that advises the Holy Father) released a statement that appeared in the online version of thebostonpilot.com. The cardinal was in Peru for another event but did concelebrate at Pope Francis’ final Mass in that nation.

The last story is again from thebostonpilot.com: it was reported by a CNS correspondent aboard the papal flight from Lima, Peru to Rome. The Pope landed about 2:15 this afternoon in Rome.

CARDINAL O’MALLEY; POPE’S WORDS ‘A SOURCE OF GREAT PAIN FOR ABUSE VICTIMS’

From The Boston Pilot, January 20, 2018:

(Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley released the following statement Jan. 20 after Pope Francis’s response to a journalist in which he defended the 2015 appointment of Bishop Juan Barros to lead the Osnoro Diocese in Chile. Bishop Barros had been accused by abuse advocates of covering up abuse perpetrated his friend Father Fernando Karadima. — Ed.)

It is understandable that Pope Francis’ statements yesterday in Santiago, Chile were a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy or any other perpetrator. Words that convey the message “if you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed” abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile.

Not having been personally involved in the cases that were the subject of yesterday’s interview I cannot address why the Holy Father chose the particular words he used at that time. What I do know, however, is that Pope Francis fully recognizes the egregious failures of the Church and its clergy who abused children and the devastating impact those crimes have had on survivors and their loved ones.

Accompanying the Holy Father at numerous meetings with survivors I have witnessed his pain of knowing the depth and breadth of the wounds inflicted on those who were abused and that the process of recovery can take a lifetime. The Pope’s statements that there is no place in the life of the Church for those who would abuse children and that we must adhere to zero tolerance for these crimes are genuine and they are his commitment.

My prayers and concern will always be with the survivors and their loved ones. We can never undo the suffering they experienced or fully heal their pain. In some cases we must accept that even our efforts to offer assistance can be a source of distress for survivors and that we must quietly pray for them while providing support in fulfilment of our moral obligation. I remain dedicated to work for the healing of all who have been so harmed and for vigilance in doing all that is possible to ensure the safety of children in the community of the Church so that these crimes never happen again.

VATICAN NEWS TWITTER, JANUARY 20, 2018

In a statement, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, says, “Pope Francis fully recognizes the egregious failures of the Church and its clergy who abused children.”

POPE APOLOGIZES TO SEX ABUSE VICTIMS, DEFENDS ACCUSED CHILEAN BISHOP

(From BostonPilot.com) ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM PERU (CNS) — Pope Francis apologized to victims of clergy sex abuse, saying he unknowingly wounded them by the way he defended a Chilean bishop accused of covering up abuse by his mentor.

Speaking with journalists on his flight to Rome from Lima, Peru, Jan. 21, the pope said he only realized later that his words erroneously implied that victims’ accusations are credible only with concrete proof.  (CNA photo)

“To hear that the pope says to their face, ‘Bring me a letter with proof,’ is a slap in the face,” the pope said.

Pope Francis was referring to a response he gave in Iquique, Chile, Jan. 18 when local reporters asked about his support for Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, given accusations that the bishop may have been aware of abuse perpetrated by his former mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. The priest was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.

“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny. Is that clear?” the pope had told the reporters in Iquique.

His response provoked further outrage, especially from Father Karadima’s victims who said the pope’s response made his earlier apologies for the church’s failure to protect sex abuse victims seem hollow.

Asked about the incident during the flight back to Rome, Pope Francis said he meant to use the word “evidence,” not “proof.” The way he phrased his response, he said, caused confusion and was “not the best word to use to approach a wounded heart.”

“Of course, I know that there are many abused people who cannot bring proof (or) they don’t have it,” he said. “Or at times they have it but they are ashamed and cover it up and suffer in silence. The tragedy of the abused is tremendous.”
However, the pope told reporters on the papal flight he still stood firmly behind his defense of Bishop Barros, because he was “personally convinced” of the bishop’s innocence after the case was investigated twice with no evidence emerging.

Pope Francis said that while “covering up abuse is an abuse in itself,” if he punished Bishop Barros without moral certainty, “I would be committing the crime of a bad judge.”

During the inflight news conference, Pope Francis answered eight questions over the course of an hour, although the conference was interrupted by turbulence, which forced the pope to sit for about five minutes.

As he did in November on his return from Bangladesh, he said he only wanted to respond to questions related to the trip.

Pope Francis told reporters he appreciated the statement made Jan. 20 by Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, acknowledging the pain survivors of abuse felt because of the pope’s statement about Bishop Barros.

“Words that convey the message ‘If you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed’ abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile,” the cardinal wrote.

He also said, “Pope Francis fully recognizes the egregious failures of the church and its clergy who abused children and the devastating impact those crimes have had on survivors and their loved ones.”

The pope said he was grateful for Cardinal O’Malley’s statement because it struck the right balance between listing what he has done to show his support for sex abuse victims and the pain experienced by victims because of the pope’s remarks.

Pope Francis also spoke about the scandal-plagued Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a Catholic movement based in Peru.

The movement’s founder, Luis Fernando Figari, has been accused of the sexual and psychological abuse of members; he has been ordered by the Vatican to remain in Rome and not have any contact with the movement.

“He declared himself innocent of the charges against him,” Pope Francis told reporters, and he has appealed his cause to the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s supreme court. According to the information the pope has received, he said, “the verdict will be released in less than a month.”

Pope Francis also was asked about the status of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he set up in 2014. The three-year terms of its members expired in December and some have questioned whether child protection really is a priority when the commission’s membership was allowed to lapse.

Before the terms ended, he said, the members decided to recommend who should serve a second term and offering the names of possible new members.
The final list, he said, arrived on his desk a week before the trip began “and now it is going through the normal channels in the Curia.”

POPE FRANCIS IN CHILE – A WEDDING ON THE PENULTIMATE DAY

POPE FRANCIS IN CHILE – A WEDDING ON THE PENULTIMATE DAY

150,000 ATTEND PAPAL MASS IN TEMUCO, CHILE

Pope Francis traveled to the heart of Chile’s centuries-old conflict with indigenous peoples Wednesday, celebrating Mass at a former military base that not only lies on contested Mapuche land but also was a former detention center used during Chile’s brutal dictatorship. Leading around 150,000 people in a moment of silent prayer, Francis said the fertile green fields and snow-capped mountains of Araucania were both blessed by God and cursed by man, the site of “grave human rights violations” during the 1973-1990 dictatorship. “We offer this Mass for all those who suffered and died, and for those who daily bear the burden of those many injustices,” he said.

Francis also referred to recent violence that has flared in southern Araucania as radical Mapuche factions press for the return of their lands He said violence isn’t the answer to their grievances. “You cannot assert yourselves by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division,” he admonished in his homily. “Violence begets violence, destruction increases fragmentation and separation. Violence eventually makes a most just cause into a lie.”

FRANCIS MEETS WITH YOUTH – Wednesday, at the National Shrine of Maipu dedicated to Our Lady of Carmel in Santiago, the Pope urged young Chileans to be “protagonists of change” in the nation and in the Church by staying “connected” to Christ and doing what He would do in their place. Using the analogy of a mobile phone, the Pope explained the importance of always ‎staying “connected” to Christ and charging the batteries of their hearts. ‎He improvised amply in his native Spanish, underscoring the importance and experience of young people, saying he wants them to help the Church “to be more faithful to the Gospel,” and “draw closer to Jesus.” Speaking of a mobile phone with battery running down and losing internet connection, his message was how to stay connected to Christ when faith begins to waver. “Without a connection, a connection to Jesus,” the Pope said, “we end up drowning our thoughts and ideas, our dreams and our faith, and so we get frustrated and annoyed,” and our hearts begin to falter. But the Pope cautioned, “Never think that you have nothing to offer or that nobody cares about you.” Citing Chilean St. Albert Hurtado, he said it is the devil who makes us feel worthless.

Concluding his second full day in Chile on Wednesday, Pope Francis addressed over 1,000 staff and prominent Chilean intellectuals and academics at the PONTIFICAL CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF CHILE IN SANTIAGO,urging them to take up the challenge of generating a new culture of dialogue and social cohesion. He also urged them to sensitize the nation as to the importance of showing special care and respect for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. Francis underscored the responsibility of educators in creating the conditions for peaceful coexistence in the country. At the conclusion of a day spent mostly in the southern Araucania region, the contested homeland of the indigenous Mapuche peoples where centuries-old conflicts have resulted in grave human rights violations and abuse, Pope Francis said indigenous peoples are “not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed”. The accelerated pace and sense of disorientation before new processes and changes in societies call for new educational processes that are transformative, inclusive and that favour encounter and coexistence.

THURSDAY – PAPAL MASS IN IQUIQUE, northern Chile:
Full text HERE: http://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2018-01/chile-journey-mass-at-iquique-pope-francis0.html

HOLY FATHER MARRIES COUPLE ON PAPAL FLIGHT

Vatican News: Pope Francis performs the first-ever papal marriage ceremony aboard a plane, during his trip to Iquique on Thursday, the final day of his Apostolic Visit to Chile. The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke, says the wedding Pope Francis performed aboard the papal plane bound for Iquique on Thursday was “totally legit” and “doctrinally OK”. The newly-weds – Paula Podest Ruiz and Carlos Ciuffardi Elorriaga – are flight attendants for LATAM and met 8 years ago aboard a plane.  (CNA photo)

They were married civilly in 2010. However, they were unable to follow up with a Sacramental marriage because their church was destroyed before the ceremony by an earthquake, which hit Chile that year. Greg Burke said, “Doctrinally it’s OK, because to be married the actual ministers are the people themselves. You just need a witness. There are a couple other things, normally there are publications. And there were things that had to passed over, but it’s totally legit, and everyone’s happy!” He said it “was not the Pope’s idea; it was their idea, but the Pope was happy to do it.”

The official marriage certificate reads: “On 18 January 2018, aboard the papal plane from Santiago to Iquique, Mr. Carlos Ciuffardi Elorriaga and Ms. Paula Podest Ruiz contracted marriage, in the presence of the witness, Ignacio Cueto. The Holy Father Pope Francis received their consent.

SHORT TAKES…..

Pope Francis tweeted this today, May 1: “May Saint Joseph give young people the ability to dream, to take risks for big tasks, the things that God dreams for us.”

Today is May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker and the celebration throughout Italy and much of the world of Labor Day, a public holiday and this year a three-day weekend. Rome is extraordinarily quiet today, with most stores and all offices closing, and fewer busses and taxis running. In fact, on Sundays and holidays the number of busses and taxis are cut in half, so that taxis on those days number 4,000, not 8,000. You do not need a newspaper article to tell you this – just try waiting for a bus. The waiting time is longer than usual (and on some routes that can be quite long) and many bus routes simply do not function on those days. Tourist monuents and the Vatican, however, always have high numbers of visitors on holidays.

A huge rock concert takes place on this day every year on the grounds surrounding St. John Lateran basilica. The crowd has traditionally been really huge – several hundred thousand over the hours of the concert that ends around midnight. It may be larger than usual today simply by the fact that Italians had a long three-day weekend with the May 1 holiday.

It was a long weekend for Pope Francis – he was in Egypt for 27 hours Friday and Saturday and on Sunday, back in Rome, he addressed a massive crowd of members of Italian Catholic Action as they celebrated the 150th anniversary of this organization. He prayed the noon Regina Coeli prayer with all the faithful that spilled over into Via della Conciliazione.

Francis was in Egypt to attend the International Peace Conference at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Friday, after his arrival, he paid a courtesy visit to Egyptian President Al-Sisi. Afterwards, he went to Al Azhar University, the summit of Sunni Islam teaching where he heard an opening address by the Grand Imam, Sheik Ahmad Al-Tayeb. Francis told the conference that religious leaders must denounce violations of human rights and expose attempts to justify violence and hatred in the name of God.

Later, in a meeting with Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox leader Pope Tawadros II Pope Francis said the two communities must oppose violence and work more closely together to witness to Christ in the world.  Both agreed they must try to fix a common date for Easter among Christians.  Friday evening, an impromptu meeting took place when a group of  around 300 young people gathered in front of the apostolic nunciature in Cairo, where the Pope spent the night. He had brief remarks for the young people, blessed them, prayed the Our Father with them and said several words in Arabic.

Saturday at the seminary in Cairo, Francis told priests, religious and seminarians to be “sowers of hope, builders of bridges and agents of dialogue,” despite the many difficulties they face. At Mass at Cairo’s “Air Defense Stadium,” he spoke of the need to “proclaim our faith in the Resurrection precisely by living in a way that conveys our conviction.” He said, “the only fanaticism that believers can have is that of charity – any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him.” He returned to Rome Saturday evening.

SHORT TAKES…..

FRANCIS AND THE MEDIA ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (CNA/EWTN News) – In his conversation with journalists on the way back from Egypt, Pope Francis touched on an array of topics, including North Korea, populism and a possible visit from President Donald Trump. Click here to read full text of papal in-flight presser: (photos: news.va)  http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/full-text-of-pope-francis-in-flight-presser-from-egypt-24826/

POPE FRANCIS APPEALS FOR END TO VIOLENCE IN VENEZUELA – (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has appealed for an end to violence in Venezuela and for respect of human rights in the country where nearly 30 people have been killed in unrest this month. His appeal came on Sunday before the recitation of the Regina Coeli prayer in St. Peter’s Square. “I make a heartfelt appeal to the government and all components of Venezuelan society to avoid any more forms of violence, to respect human rights and to seek a negotiated solution.” Decrying the “grave humanitarian, social, political and economic crisis that is exhausting the population,” the Holy Father said we are continuing to receive dramatic news of people being killed, injured, and detained. http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-appeals-for-an-end-to-violence-in-ven

FRATERNITY CAN GENERATE A JUST SOCIETY WITH DIGNITY FOR ALL -(Vatican Radio) On May 1st the Church  remembers Saint Joseph the Worker, a day marked across the globe as International Labor Day. Pope Francis’ thoughts in these days go especially towards young people as expressed in his May 1st tweet: “May Saint Joseph give young people the ability to dream, to take risks for big tasks, the things that God dreams for us,” many of whom are faced with unprecedented high rates of unemployment and socio-financial difficulties. And, in a message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as it holds its Plenary Assembly in the Vatican on the theme “Towards a Participatory Society: New Roads to Social and Cultural Integration,” the Pope recalls the “hard battles” of workers during the 19th and 20th centuries which took place “in the name of solidarity and rights.”       http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-fraternity-can-generate-a-just-society-with-d

HOLY SEE EXPRESSES POSITIVE VIEW OF NUCLEAR AGREEMENT – POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT XVI RETURNS TO VATICAN – POPE FRANCIS ON HIS LATIN AMERICAN TRIP: I HAVE NEVER SEEN SO MANY KIDS!

As he does before he leaves on every trip and upon his return from a pilgrimage, Pope Francis yesterday visited Saint Mary Major to pray before the image so beloved by Romans, “Salus Populi romanus.”

-S.S. Francesco -  Omaggio Salus Populi Romani  13-07-2015  - (Copyright L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO - Servizio Fotografico - photo@ossrom.va)

-S.S. Francesco – Omaggio Salus Populi Romani 13-07-2015
– (Copyright L’OSSERVATORE ROMANO – Servizio Fotografico – photo@ossrom.va)

HOLY SEE EXPRESSES POSITIVE VIEW OF NUCLEAR AGREEMENT

The director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., made the following statement this morning regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran:

“The agreement on the Iranian nuclear program is viewed in a positive light by the Holy See. It constitutes an important outcome of the negotiations carried out so far, although continued efforts and commitment on the part of all involved will be necessary in order for it to bear fruit. It is hoped that those fruits will not be limited to the field of nuclear program, but may indeed extend further.”

POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT XVI RETURNS TO VATICAN

(Vatican Radio) Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI returned to the Vatican on Tuesday after spending two-weeks at the papal residence in Castelgandolfo.

The Pope sent a letter of thanks to the mayor of the town, Milvia Monaschesi, along with a book as a gift. The Pope-emeritus thanked the mayor for her “warm welcome”, and mentioned the “natural beauty” and “hospitality of the people” of Castel Gandolfo, which is about 25 kilometres southeast of Rome.

“As a concrete sign of my gratitude, please accept this book on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of my election to the Chair of St. Peter,” the Pope-emeritus wrote.

Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI arrived at the town on June 30, after a brief meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican’s “Mater Ecclesia” Residence.

POPE FRANCIS ON HIS LATIN AMERICAN TRIP: “I’VE NEVER SEEN SO MANY KIDS!”

Sean-Patrick Lovett of Vatican Radio noted in a summary of the Pope’s in-flight press conference that, “as often happens, the in-flight papal press conference en route from Asunciòn to Rome, was both a synthesis of the trip to Latin America as a whole – and an insight into the mind and heart of Pope Francis.”

He said, “looking back over the 8-day visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, journalists asked the Pope to summarize his ‘message’ to the Latin American Church. He did so by recalling the thing that struck him most in all three countries: the children. ‘I’ve never seen so many kids,’ he said. ‘This is a Church of life…I wanted to encourage this young Church…which I believe can teach us a lot.”

Lovett then summarized part of the press conference, and Vatican Radio later provided a full transcript of the papal interview. This is lenghy but covers many interesting topics in depth and it is, as Lovett said, “an insight into the mind and heart of Pope Francis.”

Question: Why does Paraguay not have a cardinal? What sin has Paraguay committed, so as not to have a cardinal?

Answer: Well, not having a cardinal isn’t a sin. The majority of countries in the world do not have a cardinal. The nationalities of the cardinals … are a minority compared to the whole. … At times, for the election of cardinals, an evaluation is made, the files are studied one by one, you see the person, the charism especially, of the cardinal who will have to advise and assist the Pope in the universal government of the Church. The cardinal, though he belongs to a particular Church, is incardinated in the Church of Rome, and needs to have a universal vision. This does not mean that there is not a bishop in Paraguay who has it, but you always have to elect up to a number, there is a limit of 120 cardinal electors. … I ask another question: Does Paraguay deserve a cardinal, if we look at the Church of Paraguay? I’d say that yes, they deserve two, but it has nothing to do with merits. It is a lively Church, a joyful Church, a fighting Church with a glorious history.

Question: We would like to know whether you consider (as) just the Bolivians wish to have sovereign access to the sea, to return to having a sovereign access to the Pacific, and by what criteria. And, Holy Father, should Chile and Bolivia ask for your mediation, would you accept?

Answer: The issue of mediation is very delicate, and it would be a last step. That is, Argentina experienced this with Chile, and it was truly to stop a war. It was a very extreme situation, and dealt with very well by those appointed by the Holy See, always backed by John Paul II who was very interested. … At the moment, I have to be very respectful about this because Bolivia has made an appeal to an international court. So at present if I make a comment, as a head of State, it could be interpreted as involvement or pressure on my part. It is necessary to be very disrespectful of the decision of the Bolivian people who made this appeal. … There is another thing I want to make very clear. In the Cathedral of Bolivia, I touched on this issue in a very delicate way, taking into account the situation of the appeal to the international court. I remember the context perfectly – brothers have to engage in dialogue, the Latin American peoples need to engage in dialogue. I stopped, I was silent a moment, and then said, “I’m thinking of the sea”. I continued, “dialogue and dialogue.” I think it was clear that my comment referred to this problem, with respect for the situation as it is at present. It is in an international tribunal, so it is not possible to speak about mediation or facilitation. We have to wait.

Follow-up question: Is the Bolivians’ wish just or not?

Answer: There is always a base of justice when there is a change in the territorial borders, particularly after a war. So this is under continuous revision. I would say that it is not unfair to present something like this, this wish. I remember that in the year 1961, during my first year of philosophy, we were given a documentary about Bolivia … called “The Ten Stars”. And it presented each one of the nine provinces and then, at the end, for the tenth, there was the sea, without a word. That stayed in my mind. It was the year 1961. In other words, it is clear that there is a desire.

Question: Ecuador was in a state of unrest before your visit, and after you left the country those who oppose the government returned to the streets. It seems that they would like to use your presence in Ecuador for political ends, especially because of the phrase you used, “the people of Ecuador have stood up with dignity”. I would like to ask you, if possible, what did you mean by this phrase?

Answer: Evidently there were some political problems and strikes. I don’t know the details of politics in Ecuador and it would be foolish of me to give an opinion. Afterwards I was told that there was a type of hiatus during my visit, which I am grateful for, as it is the gesture of a people on their feet, of respect for the visit of a Pope. … But if these problems resume, clearly, the problems and political debates continue. With regard to the phrase you mentioned: I refer to the greater awareness of their courage that the people of Ecuador have been gaining. There was a border war with Peru not long ago. There is a history of war. Then, there’s been a greater awareness of Ecuador’s ethnic diversity and dignity. Ecuador is not a throwaway country. Or rather, it refers to the people as a whole and to all of the dignity of the people who, after the border war, stood up with ever greater awareness of its dignity and the wealth it has in its diversity and variety. In other words, it cannot be attributed to one concrete political situation. That phrase – I was told, I did not see it myself – was manipulated to suggest that the government had put Ecuador on her feet, or that she had been raised to her feet by those opposing the government. One comment can be manipulated, and I believe that in this we must be very careful.

Question: In your address to popular movements in Bolivia you spoke about the new colonialism and the idolatry of money that subjugates the economy, and the imposition of austerity measures that continually “tighten the belt” of the poor. For some weeks now in Europe there is the situation in Greece, which risks leaving the Euro zone. What do you think about what is happening in Greece, and which also affects all of Europe?

Answer: I am near to this situation, as it is a phenomenon present throughout the world, all over the world. Also in the East, in the Philippines, in India, in Thailand. There are movements that are organised among themselves not as a form of protest but in order to keep going and to be able to live. And they are movements that have momentum, and these people – there are many of them – do not feel represented by union, as they say that the unions are now corporations and do not fight – I am simplifying somewhat – for the rights of the poor. And the Church cannot be indifferent to this. The Church has a social doctrine and is in dialogue with these this movement, and does so well. You have seen the enthusiasm of feeling that the Church – they say – is not distant from us, the Church has a doctrine that helps us to fight for this. It is a dialogue. The Church does not choose an anarchic path. No, we are not anarchists. These people work, they try to work hard even with waste, with what is left over; they are real workers.

Then, regarding Greece and the international system, I do not understand it well … but it would certainly be all too simple to say that the blame lies only on one side. If the Greek government has advanced this situation of international debt, it too bears responsibility. With the new Greek government, there have been steps in the right direction, towards revision. I hope, and it is the only thing I can say to you, as I do not know the situation well, that a way will be found to solve the Greek problem, and also a path of supervision so that other countries do not experience the same problem, and that this may help us to go ahead, as the path of loans and debts never ends. I was told, about a year or so ago, that there was a United Nations project … whereby a Country can declare itself bankrupt – which is not the same as being in default – but it is a project I heard about and I do not know how it ended or whether or not it was true. If a company can declare bankruptcy why can’t a country do it, so that we can then go to the aid of others?

Then, with regard to the new colonialisms, evidently these are a question of values. The colonialism of consumerism, for example. The habit of consumerism is the result of a process of colonisation, as it leads to a habit that is not one’s own and causes a personality imbalance. Consumerism also upsets the balance of the domestic economy and of social justice, as well as physical and mental health, for instance.

Question: Holy Father, what did you think when you received the hammer and sickle with Christ on it, offered by President Morales? And what became of the object?

Answer: I didn’t know about it, and I was not aware that Fr. Espinal was a sculptor and also a poet. I found out in these days. I saw it and it was a surprise to me. It can be qualified as belonging to the genre of protest art. For example, in Buenos Aires a few years ago there was an exhibition of protest art by a good, creative Argentine sculptor – he is dead now – and I remember a work which was a crucified Christ on a bomber that was falling down. It was a critique of Christianity allied with imperialism, in the form of the bomber. Firstly, then, I did not know about it and secondly, I would qualify it as protest art that can in some cases be offensive; in some cases. Thirdly, in this specific case: Fr. Espinal was killed in the year 1980. It was a time in which liberation theology had many different threads, one of which was the Marxist analysis of reality, and Fr. Espinal subscribed to this. … In the same year, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arrupe, sent a letter to the whole Society regarding the Marxist analysis of reality in theology, stopping this to some extent, saying no, this doesn’t work, they are different things, it is not right. And four years later, in 1984, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith published its first short volume, its first declaration on liberation theology, which it criticised. Then there was the second, that opens up more Christian perspectives.

… Let us consider the hermeneutics of that period. Espinal was an enthusiast of the Marxist analysis of reality, but also of theology. That work came from this. Espinal’s poetry also belongs to the protest genre: it was his life, his thought. He was a special man, with great human geniality, who fought in good faith. Through a hermeneutics of this type I understand the work. To me it was not offensive. But I had to apply this hermeneutics and I say this to you, so that there are not any mistaken opinions. I now carry the object with me, it is coming with me. You perhaps heard that President Morales wished to bestow two honours on me: one is the most important in Bolivia and the other is of the Order of Fr. Espinal, a new Order. I have never accepted honours, but he did this with such good will and with the wish to please. And I thought that this comes from the people of Bolivia – I prayed about this and thought about it – and if I take them to the Vatican they will end up in a museum where nobody will see them. So, I decided to leave them to Our Lady of Copacabana, the Mother of Bolivia, and these two honours will go to the Shrine of Copacabana, to Our Lady. However, I am taking the the sculpture of Christ with me.

Question: During the Mass in Guayaquil, you said that the Synod will have to develop true discernment to find concrete solutions to the difficulties faced by families. And then you asked the people to pray because even that which may seem impure to us, which may seem scandalous or frightening, can be transformed into a miracle by God. Can you clarify what “impure”, “scandalous” or “frightening” situations you were referring to?

Answer: Here again there is a need for a hermeneutics of the text. I was talking about the miracle of the wine during the wedding at Cana and I said that the jars of water were full, but they were intended for purification. Or rather, every person who entered the feast carried out a rite of cleansing, leaving behind their spiritual impurities. It is a purification rite performed before entering a house or a temple. A rite that we have in holy water, which is what remains to us of the Jewish ritual. I said that Jesus made good wine with the impure water, the worst water. In general, I thought about making this comment: the family is in crisis, we all know this. … I was referring to all of this, in general: that the Lord may purify us of these crises, of the many things that are described in the Instrumentum laboris. It is a general issue, not referring to any particular point.

Question: Seeing how well the mediation went between Cuba and the U.S., do you think it would it be possible to do something similar between other delicate situations in other countries on the Latin American continent? I’m thinking of Venezuela and Colombia.

Answer: The process between Cuba and the United States was not mediation. It did not have the character of mediation. There was a wish that came … And then, to tell you the truth, three months went by, and I only prayed about the matter … what could I do with these two who had been like this for more than 50 years. Then the Lord made me think of a cardinal. He went there and talked; then knew nothing more and months went by. One day the secretary of State, who is here, told me, “Tomorrow we will have the second meeting with the two teams.” … “Yes, yes, they are talking, the two groups are talking …”. It happened by itself. It was not a mediation. It was the goodwill of the two countries, and the merit is theirs, the merit is theirs for doing this. We did hardly anything, only small things. And in mid-December, it was announced. … Now, I am concerned that the peace process in Colombia must not come to a halt. I have to say this, and I hope that the process goes ahead. In this sense, we are always willing to help, in many ways. It would be a bad thing if it did not go ahead. In Venezuela, the Episcopal Conference is working to make peace there, too. But there too, there is no mediation.

Question: One thing we have heard very little of is a message for the middle class, that is, people who work, who pay their taxes, normal people. My questions is: why are there so few messages for the middle class in the Holy Father’s teaching?

Answer: Thank you, it is a good correction? You are right, it is an error on my part. The world is polarised. The middle class is becoming smaller. The polarisation between rich and poor is great, this is true, and perhaps this has led me not to take account of it. Some nations are doing very well, but in the world in general polarisation is very evident. And the number of poor is large. And why do I speak of the poor? Because they are at the heart of the Gospel. … Then with regard to the middle class, I have said a few words, but somewhat “in passing”. But the common people, the simple people, the worker, that is a great value. But I think you are telling me about something I need to do: I need to deepen the magisterium on this.

Question: Now that Cuba will have a greater role in the international community, do you think that Havana will have to improve its reputation with regard to human rights and religious freedom? And do you think that Cuba risks losing something in its new relationship with the most powerful country in the world?

Answer: Human rights are for all, and are not to be respected only in one or two countries. I would say that in many countries throughout the world human rights are not respected. … What will Cuba or the U.S. lose? Both will gain something and lose something, because this happens in negotiations. Both will gain, this is sure: peace, encounter, friendship, collaboration. These they will gain … but what will they lose, I cannot imagine. They may be concrete things. But in negotiations one always [both] wins and loses. But returning to human rights, and religious freedom: just think that in the world there are some countries, even in Europe, where you cannot make a religious sign, for different reasons. The same applies to other continents. Religious freedom is not respected in all the world: there are many places where it is not respected.

Question: Holy Father, in summary, what message did you want to give to the Latin American Church in these days? And what role can the Latin American Church have, also as a sign to the world?

Answer: The Latin American Church has a great asset: it is a young Church … with a certain freshness, also some informalities, it is not very formal. In addition it has a rich body of theological research. I wanted to encourage this young Church and I believe that this Church can offer us much. One thing that really struck me was that in all three countries, in the streets, there were many fathers and mothers with their children. … I have never seen so many children! It is a people – and also a Church – that has a lesson for us, for Europe, where the declining birthrate is worrying, and there are few policies for helping large families. France has a good policy for helping large families and it has achieved a birthrate of more than two per cent, but in others it remains at zero percent. … The greatest asset of this people and of this Church is that it is a living Church. I believe we can learn from this and correct it as otherwise, if we no longer have children … It is what touches me most about this tendency to cast aside: children are discarded, the elderly are discarded, and through the lack of work, the young too are discarded. These new nations of young people give us greater strength. For the Church, I would say that a young Church – with many problems, because it has problems – I think that this is the message I find: do not be afraid of this youth and this freshness of the Church. It can also be a somewhat undisciplined Church, but with time it will become disciplined, and it offers us much that is good.

 

CARDINAL PAROLIN, SECRETARY OF STATE, ON PAPAL TRIP TO SRI LANKA – COLORFUL CEREMONY WELCOMES POPE FRANCIS TO SRI LANKA – TALES OF TRAVELS ON THE PAPAL PLANE

CARDINAL PAROLIN, SECRETARY OF STATE, ON PAPAL TRIP TO SRI LANKA

Ahead of this week’s papal visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin told L’Osservatore Romano, Vatican Radio and CTV (Vatican television) that, if there is any place where the role of a bridge is most apt, it is in Sri Lanka, and it is the Church in the ‎country.  ‎After visiting the island nation, January ‎‎13-15, the Holy Father will fly to the Philippines from where he will return to the Vatican, January 19.

The Sinhalese, who are mostly Budddhist, make up over 74% of Sri Lanka’s ‎over 21 million population; whereas the Tamils, who are largely Hindu, form some 13 percent at just over 1.5 million.  Sri Lanka was wracked by a 26-year ‎civil war between Tamil rebels and the predominantly Sinhalese government that ended in May 2009 ‎with the defeat of the Tamils.

Cardinal Parolin explained that the Catholic Church with members on both sides of the ‎nation’s ethnic divide has the duty of bringing about national dialogue, reconciliation and collaboration.  He ‎observed that the island nation has a tradition of inter-religious harmony, but regretted that some ‎extremist groups manipulate public opinion and create tension.  He said he hoped that the nation’s authorities ‎will be able to maintain the tradition of religious coexistence, and that Pope Francis’ visit will ‎help the nation to look forward rather than reopen old wounds. (source: Vatican Radio)

COLORFUL CEREMONY WELCOMES POPE FRANCIS TO SRI LANKA

With all the local color, sights and sounds that the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo could muster – and then some! – Pope Francis was greeted by crowds of well-wishers, most wearing native dress, by children’s choirs and 40 brilliantly dressed elephants at the airport and en route to Colombo, a 20-mile trip that took over an hour with the usual stops by Pope Francis to greet people. That delay caused the Pope to re-schedule a visit with the bishops of Sri Lanka that was on the agenda for this morning.

In his remarks in English upon arrival, Pope Francis, thanked the organizers of his visit and all Sir Lankans, noting that, “Sri Lanka is known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean for its natural beauty. Even more importantly, this island is known for the warmth of its people and the rich diversity of their cultural and religious traditions.”

He said, “My visit to Sri Lanka is primarily pastoral. As the universal pastor of the Catholic Church, I have come to meet, encourage and pray with the Catholic people of this island. A highlight of this visit will be the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz, whose example of Christian charity and respect for all people, regardless of ethnicity or religion, continues to inspire and teach us today.”

A decades-old civil war in Sri Lanka ended with a wary truce in 2009. The Pope made reference to this and other civil strife and wars throughout the world, saying, “It is a continuing tragedy in our world that so many communities are at war with themselves. The inability to reconcile differences and disagreements, whether old or new, has given rise to ethnic and religious tensions, frequently accompanied by outbreaks of violence. Sri Lanka for many years knew the horrors of civil strife, and is now seeking to consolidate peace and to heal the scars of those years. It is no easy task to overcome the bitter legacy of injustices, hostility and mistrust left by the conflict. It can only be done by overcoming evil with good and by cultivating those virtues that foster reconciliation, solidarity and peace. The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening old wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity.”

Francis also said he was “convinced that the followers of the various religious traditions have an essential role to play in the delicate process of reconciliation and rebuilding that is taking place in this country. For that process to succeed, all members of society must work together; all must have a voice. All must be free to express their concerns, their needs, their aspirations and their fears. Most importantly, they must be prepared to accept one another, to respect legitimate diversities, and learn to live as one family.”

The Holy Father said “the great work of rebuilding” must promote “human dignity, respect for human rights, and the full inclusion of each member of society.”

TALES OF TRAVELS ON THE PAPAL PLANE

Stories from journalists aboard the papal plane to Sri Lanka and the Philippines:

1. EWTN’s Alan Holdren of CNA/EWTN news is on twitter.com/alanholdren

2 .A Filipino journalist tells his story – also video of Pope’s arrival: https://ph.news.yahoo.com/what-s-it-s-like-to-be-on-the-papal-plane–filipino-journalist-tells-his-story-122731086.html

3. BBC religious affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt writes about travelling with the Pope: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-30794391

Flying on the Vatican plane with the Pope is a slightly surreal experience. For a start, many of the journalists travelling with Pope Francis, the VAMPs – Vatican Media Accredited Personnel – are just that.

Well-dressed, elegant, and displaying a distinctly Italian sense of style – the female correspondents are in high heels, and even the cameramen are in smart suits and shiny shoes. This is not your average press pack.

It’s a comfortable flight from Rome to Colombo on an Alitalia A330, decked out in tasteful muted grey. The only touches of colour on the plane are the papal coat of arms on every single headrest. I am told they sometimes disappear as souvenirs. I make a mental note to self: do not steal from the Vatican or Alitalia.

JOURNALIST NUMBER 69

We are travelling to Sri Lanka for the first day of the Pope’s six-day tour of Asia, which starts in Colombo and will end on Sunday in Manila with a Mass for five million people.

On the way to the plane, each journalist is handed a thick press pack, with a preview of speeches under strict embargo. I am journalist number 69, a number I shall now have to wear around my neck for the rest of this week-long trip.

It’s dark by 18:00 as the journalists walk up the stairs at the back of the plane, chatting, gossiping and exchanging thoughts about the trip ahead as they file into economy. The Pope enters at the front of the plane and – one assumes – turns left.

There’s a smooth take-off. Then, as the flight gets underway, the curtains at the front of our section open.

Suddenly, almost every journalist on board is holding a camera aloft, from the crews with their large video cameras, to a host of iPhones glowing like fireflies, their cameras held up in wobbly-vision to gather personal souvenirs and even selfies of this encounter.

LIKE WATCHING ROYALTY

Just as suddenly, the Pope is in front of us in person, his image mirrored row by row on a dozen screens held up on either side of the aisles. He is in his Papal robes, immaculately ironed, and exuding that unmistakeable aura of power that is conferred on those at the very top of their organisations.

His press spokesman Father Federico Lombardi gives a brief summary of where we are heading, and hands the microphone to Pope Francis. He is taller than I expect, and gives a megawatt smile as he starts to walk down the aisle to say “Hello” to as many journalists and crews as he can.

It is like watching royalty or a rock star in action. He spends just long enough to make everyone he speaks to feel special. With those he knows well, he sometimes exchanges a joke and roars with laughter, before moving on.

He works his way down the plane row by row, shaking hands with some, blessing the rosaries proffered by others, having his hand kissed by some of the more devout journalists, or nodding as he is asked for a prayer by others, chatting happily with those he knows by sight.

PAPAL HANDSHAKES

The Vatican camera crews walk backwards as he advances; they too wear smart suits, and have neat haircuts and pressed shirts. Father Lombardi walks behind the Pope.

Then suddenly, Pope Francis is in front of me, looking at me, and I introduce myself in faltering Italian. His hand is warm, and he offers a firm grip.

He is a commanding presence, and utterly unfazed by being filmed by so many cameras surrounding him. It must be something you get used to as pontiff.

What does he expect from this trip, I ask him. He bends down closer to offer an ear as he tries to decipher my appalling accent, and gives a big smile – “We’ll see,” he says, raising an eyebrow, and then “onwards!” He gives my arm a warm pat as he goes on to the next row, never hurrying, but spending just long enough to make as many people on the plane feel they have had their time close-up with the Pope.

VATICAN BUBBLE

On this trip, the VAMPs number 76, and range from those who have covered nothing but the papacy for several decades, to others who cover the Vatican as well as all other Italian stories.

I am the newest VAMP, and having seen a papal visit from the outside once, in Istanbul in December, I am keen to see what it’s like travelling within the Vatican bubble.

This is an institution that has endured for thousands of years, and it shows.

The media operation is practised, professional and well-prepared.

The booklet that the Vatican has produced for us in several languages outlining the trip has the papal movements planned down to the minute. It doesn’t allow for much delay en route, though there are clearly plans already laid anticipating how to deal with delays or any security threats.

BLESSINGS

As I read through my Vatican press pack, it is striking the degree to which the Pope is not only the leader of an ancient global Church but also a practiced flying diplomat, his connections unparalleled by many secular heads of state, apart from perhaps the Queen.

He is at the head of an organisation with representatives in almost every country, and in return, the diplomats of most countries at the Holy See.

Rome is the place they can all meet, overtly or covertly, while Vatican diplomacy has in recent weeks helped thaw the long deep-frozen relationship between the US and Cuba.

And as we fly overhead, the Pope’s blessings, prayers and warm wishes are telegrammed to the heads of state of each country as we pass above, from Albania to Greece, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and India, the time we pass over each logged on a map in an embossed folder that each journalist receives.

Every head of state we pass over is offered prayers and blessings, as the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics flies through the night skies above.