Pope Francis spoke to journalists on his flight back to Rome from Iraq. He emphasized, "Fraternity is the way forward."
During an on-board interview with journalists on the papal flight bringing him back to Rome after his historic visit to Iraq, Pope Francis reflected on his 33rd Apostolic Journey.
FULL TEXT Transcript below the video:
APOSTOLIC JOURNEY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
[5-8 MARCH 2021]
PRESS CONFERENCE OF THE HOLY FATHER
DURING THE RETURN FLIGHT
Papal flight - Monday, March 8, 2021
Good morning, Your Holiness. Good morning to all of you. Thank you for this extraordinary journey that has touched the history of this country, many places and also the hearts of many Iraqis and many who have been able to follow these days, also thanks to the work of fellow journalists. Here is also Mons. Dieudonné Datonou, who worked for the realization of this trip… “the new sheriff”! We also thank him for his work, knowing that he was able to count on the experience of the Travel Office of the Secretariat of State and also on the experience of many pieces of the structure of the Holy See who participate in the organization of the trip. And now, if you like, a word of greeting and then there are a few questions from journalists about these days.
First of all, thank you for your work and your company… and for your tiredness!
Then, today is women's day: congratulations to women. Women's day… We said: because there is no men's day… Even in the meeting with the Lady of the President [of the Republic of Iraq], I said: “Because we men are always celebrating, we!”. We need a party for women. The President's wife spoke well of women, she told me beautiful things today: that strength that women have in carrying on life, history, the family… many things.
And congratulations to all!
And third: today is the Cope journalist's birthday, not the other day! Best wishes! And we have to celebrate it ... Then we'll see how ... Now the word is yours.
The first question, Holy Father, comes from the Arab world, from Imad Atrach, journalist of Sky News Arabia.
Imad Abdul Karim Atrach (Sky News Arabia) :
Your Holiness, two years ago in Abu Dhabi there was a meeting with Imam al-Tayyeb of al-Azhar and the signing of the Declaration on brotherhood . Three days ago you met with al-Sistani: can you think of something similar also with the Shiite side of Islam? And then a second thing: Lebanon, which Saint John Paul II said is more than a country, it is a message. Unfortunately, I, as a Lebanese, tell you this message is disappearing. Are we thinking of a future, imminent visit to Lebanon? Thank you.
The Abu Dhabi document of February 4  was prepared with the Grand Imam in secret, for six months, by praying, reflecting, correcting the text. It was, I will say - it is a bit presumptuous, take it as a presumption - a first step of what you ask me. We can say that this [with al-Sistani] would be the second. And there will be others. The path of brotherhood is important. Then, the two documents: that of Abu Dhabi left in me the restlessness of brotherhood, and [the Encyclical] Brothers all came out . Both documents must be studied because they go in the same direction, they seek ... on brotherhood. Ayatollah al-Sistani has a phrase that I try to remember well: men are either brothers by religion or equal by creation. Brotherhood and equality, but we cannot go below equality. I believe it is also a cultural path. Let's think of us Christians, of the Thirty Years War, of St. Bartholomew's night, for example. Let's think about this. How mentality changes between us. Because our faith makes us discover that it is this, the revelation of Jesus is love and charity leads us to this. But how many centuries to implement it!
This is an important thing, human brotherhood, that as men we are all brothers, and we must move forward with other religions. The Second Vatican Council made a big step in this; then also the institutions, the Council for Christian Unity and the Council for Interreligious Dialogue: Cardinal Ayuso accompanies us today. You are human, you are a child of God, you are my brother, period. This would be the greatest indication, and many times one has to take risks to take this step. You know that there are some criticisms: that the Pope is not courageous, he is unconscious, that he is taking steps against Catholic doctrine, that he is one step away from heresy ... There are risks. But these decisions are always made in prayer, in dialogue, asking for advice, in reflection. They are not a whim, and they are also the line that the Council has taught. This about your first question.
The second: Lebanon is a message. Lebanon suffers, Lebanon is more than a balance, it has the weakness of diversity, some still not reconciled, but it has the strength of the great reconciled people, like the fortress of cedars. Patriarch Raï asked me please, on this trip, to make a stop in Beirut, but it seemed a bit too little. A crumb in front of a problem, a country that suffers like Lebanon. I wrote him a letter, made a promise to go on a trip. But Lebanon is in crisis right now, but in crisis - I don't want to offend - in a crisis of life. Lebanon is so generous in welcoming refugees… This is the second trip.
Thank you, Holiness. The second question comes from Johannes Neudecker of the German news agency Dpa:
Johannes Claus Neudecker (German news agency Dpa):
Thank you, Holy Father. My question is also about the meeting with al-Sistani. To what extent was the meeting with al-Sistani a message also to the religious leaders of Iran?
I believe it was a universal message. I felt the duty, in this pilgrimage of faith and penance, to go and find a great, a wise man, a man of God. And only by listening to him can this be perceived. Speaking of messages, I would say: it is a message for everyone, it is a message for everyone. And he's a person who has that wisdom ... and prudence too. He said to me: "For ten years - I think, he told me this way - I have not received people who come to visit me with other purposes, political and cultural, no, only religious". And he was very respectful, very respectful in the meeting, and I felt honored. Even in the greeting: he never gets up, and he got up, to greet me, twice. He is a humble and wise man. This meeting did my soul good. It is a light. And these sages are everywhere, because God's wisdom has been spread all over the world. The same also happens with the saints, who are not only those who stand on the altars. They are the saints of every day, those I call "next door", the saints - men and women - who live their faith, whatever it is, with coherence, who live human values with coherence, brotherhood with coherence. I believe that we should discover these people, highlight them, because there are many examples ... When there are scandals, even in the Church, many, and this does not help ... But we show people who are looking for the path of brotherhood, the saints next door, and we will find people from our family, for sure: some grandfathers, some grandmothers… Definitely! They are the saints of every day, those I call "next door", the saints - men and women - who live their faith, whatever it is, with coherence, who live human values with coherence, brotherhood with coherence. I believe that we should discover these people, highlight them, because there are many examples ... When there are scandals, even in the Church, many, and this does not help ... But we show people who are looking for the path of brotherhood, the saints next door, and we will find people from our family, for sure: some grandfathers, some grandmothers… Definitely! They are the saints of every day, those I call "next door", the saints - men and women - who live their faith, whatever it is, with coherence, who live human values with coherence, brotherhood with coherence. I believe that we should discover these people, highlight them, because there are many examples ... When there are scandals, even in the Church, many, and this does not help ... But we show people who are looking for the path of brotherhood, the saints next door, and we will find people from our family, for sure: some grandfathers, some grandmothers… Definitely!
The third question comes from Eva Maria Fernández Huescar, of Cope, to whom we still wish.
Eva Maria Fernández Huescar (Cadena Cope 31H):
Holy Father, how nice it is to resume press conferences! It is too good!
These days, his trip to Iraq has had huge repercussions around the world. Do you think this could be the journey of your Pontificate? It has also been said that it was the most risky: were you afraid at some point during the trip? And now that we are back on the road and you are about to complete the eighth year of your pontificate, do you still think it will be short? And then, the great question of all time, Holy Father, the great question: will you ever return to Argentina? And since I am here, I am Spanish: will the day ever come when the Pope comes to Spain? Thank you, Holy Father!
Thanks, Eva. I made you celebrate your birthday twice: one early and another late.
I start with the last one, which is a question ..., I understand it ..., because there is that book by my journalist friend Nelson Castro, a doctor: he had made a book on the illness of presidents and I once told him, [when I was] already in Rome: you must do one on the illness of the Popes, because it will be interesting to know the diseases of the Popes, at least of some of recent times. He started doing it; gave me an interview; the book is out. They tell me it's good, I haven't seen it. He asked me a question: "If you resign - if I die or if I resign -, if you resign, will you return to Argentina or will you stay here?" - “I will not return to Argentina - so I said - but I will stay here, in my diocese”. But on that hypothesis - this goes together with the question of when I go to Argentina or why I don't go there - I always answer a little ironically:
But there is one thing that, I don't know why, is not said: a trip to Argentina was planned in November 2017. Work began: we did Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. But then - it would have been by the end of November - but then, at that time Chile was in the electoral campaign, because in those days, in December, Michelle Bachelet's successor was elected, and I had to go before the government changed. , I couldn't go any further. But going to Chile in January and then to Argentina and Uruguay in January was not possible, because January is like our August, July-August, for the two countries. In retrospect, the suggestion was made: why not take Peru? Because Peru had been bypassed on the Ecuador-Bolivia-Paraguay voyage, it was left aside. And from there the January trip to Chile and Peru was born. This I want to say, so as not to have fantasies of "patriaphobia". When there is an opportunity it will have to be done, because there is Argentina, Uruguay and the south of Brazil, which is a very large cultural compound.
Also, about travel: to make a decision about travel, I listen; the invitations are many. I listen to the advice of the councilors and also of the people. Sometimes someone comes and I say: what do you think, do I have to go to that place? It is good for me to listen, this helps me make decisions later. I listen to the counselors and in the end I pray, pray, I reflect a lot, on some trips I have reflected a lot. And then the decision comes from within: face it! Almost spontaneous, but like a ripe fruit. It is a long way. Some are more difficult, others easier.
The decision on this trip comes first: the first invitation from the previous Ambassador, a pediatrician who was Ambassador of Iraq: good, good, she insisted. Then came the Ambassador to Italy, who is a woman of struggle. Then came the new Ambassador to the Vatican, who fought. First, the President had come. All these things remained inside. But there is one thing above, which I would like to mention: one of you gave me the Spanish edition of The Last Girl[by Nadia Mourad]. I read it in Italian. Then he gave it to Elizabeth Piqué to read. Have you read it? More or less… There is the story of the Yazidis. And Nadia Mourad there tells that terrifying, terrifying thing ... I recommend you read it. In some places, as it is biographical, it may seem a bit heavy, but for me this is the tarpaulin [the reason] behind my decision. That book worked inside, inside ... And even when I listened to Nadia, who came here to tell me things ... Terrible! Then, with the book, all these things together made the decision, thinking about them all, all the problems, many… But in the end the decision came and I made it.
Then, the eighth year of the pontificate. I don't know if the trips will slow down or not, I just confess that on this trip I got tired much more than in the others. 84 [years] don't come alone! It's a consequence ... But we'll see. Now [in September] I will have to go to Hungary for the final Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress. Not a visit to the country, to Mass. But Budapest is a two-hour drive from Bratislava: why not pay a visit to the Slovaks? I don't know ... And so things begin ...
Aaron Patrick Harlan (The Washington Post):
Thank you, Holy Father! This trip obviously had an extraordinary significance for the people who were able to see her, but it was the occasion of events that created the conditions for a spread of the virus, in particular towards unvaccinated people, crowded together, while they were singing. When you considered the trip and what it would entail, did you also worry that the people who came to see you might get sick and even die? Can you explain your reflections and forecasts?
As I said recently, travels "cook" over time in my conscience, and this is one of the things that made me strong, come on [I was anxious] ... I thought a lot, I prayed a lot about this and in the end I made the decision, freely, that it came from within. And I said: He who gives me to decide, take care of the people. And so I made the decision, like this, but after prayer and after awareness of the risks. After all.
Thank you. The next question comes from Philippine De Saint Pierre, MC KTO.
Philippine de Saint Pierre (MC KTO):
Your Holiness, we have seen the courage, the dynamism of Iraqi Christians, we have also seen the challenges they face, the threat of Islamist violence, the exodus and the witness of faith in their environment. These are the challenges facing Christians throughout the region. We talked about Lebanon, but also Syria, the Holy Land ... A synod for the Middle East was held ten years ago, but its development was interrupted by the attack on the Baghdad cathedral. Do you plan to do something for the whole Middle East, a regional synod or any other initiative?
I am not thinking of a Synod. The initiatives yes, I am open to many, but a Synod did not come to me. She threw the first seed, let's see, let's see what happens.
The life of Christians in Iraq is a troubled life, but not only that of Christians ... I just talked about the Yazidis ..., and other religions that did not submit to the power of Daesh. And this, I don't know why, but it gave them a very big force. There is the problem you say about migration. Yesterday as we drove from Qaraqosh to Erbil, [there were] a lot of people, young people, the age is very very low. Lots of young people. And the question someone asked me: what is the future for these young people? Where will they go? Many will have to leave the country, many. Before leaving for the trip, the other day, Friday, twelve Iraqi refugees came to greet me: one had a prosthesis in his leg because he had escaped under the trucks and had an accident ... Escaped, many, many. Migration is a double right: right not to migrate and right to migrate. These people have neither of them, because they can't not migrate, they don't know how to do it. And they cannot migrate because the world has not yet become aware that migration is a human right.
An Italian sociologist told me, speaking of the demographic winter in Italy: "Within forty years we will have to 'import' foreigners to work and pay the taxes on our pensions". You French have been smarter, you have gone on for ten years with the law in support of the family, your level of growth is very great. But migration is experienced as an invasion. Yesterday I wanted - because he asked for it - to receive, after Mass, Alan Kurdi's father, that child ... He is a symbol, Alan Kurdi is a symbol; that's why I gave the sculpture to FAO. It is a symbol that goes beyond a child who died in migration: a symbol of dead civilizations, of dying civilizations that cannot survive, a symbol of humanity. Urgent measures are needed for people to have work in their own country and not need to migrate. And also measures to safeguard the right of migration. It is true that every country must study well the ability to receive. Because it is not just receiving them and leaving them on the beach; it is receiving them, accompanying them, making them progress and integrating them. Integration of migrants is the key. Two anecdotes: in Zaventem, Belgium, the terrorists were Belgians, born in Belgium but ghettoized, non-integrated Islamic immigrants. The other example, when I went to Sweden, to take leave of the country was the minister: she was very young and had a special physiognomy, not typical of the Swedes. She was the daughter of a migrant and a Swede: so integrated that she became a minister! Let's look at these two things, they will make us think a lot, a lot, a lot. To integrate. On migration, which I believe is the tragedy of the region. I would also like to thank the generous countries, the countries that receive migrants: Lebanon, Lebanon has been generous with migrants, two million Syrians there, I think ... [one and a half million Syrians plus 400,000 Palestinians]; Jordan - unfortunately we will not pass [with the flight] over Jordan - the King is so kind, King Abdullah, he wanted to pay us a tribute with the planes as we passed, I thank him now; Jordan is very generous: more than one and a half million migrants. And many other countries, to mention just two. Thanks to these generous countries! Thank you, thank you very much! he wanted to pay us a tribute with the planes as we passed, I thank him now; Jordan is very generous: more than one and a half million migrants. And many other countries, to mention just two. Thanks to these generous countries! Thank you, thank you very much! he wanted to pay us a tribute with the planes as we passed, I thank him now; Jordan is very generous: more than one and a half million migrants. And many other countries, to mention just two. Thanks to these generous countries! Thank you, thank you very much!
Thanks Holiness. The next question is in Italian from the journalist Stefania Falasca, of Avvenire.
Stefania Falasca (Future):
In three days, in this country, which is a key country in the Middle East, you have done what the powerful of the earth have been discussing for thirty years. You have already explained what is the interesting genesis of your travels, how the choices of your travels are born, but now in this contingency, also thinking about the Middle East, can you also consider a trip to Syria? What could be the objectives in the next year of other places where his presence is required?
On the Middle East, the only hypothesis, and also the promise, is Lebanon. I didn't think about a trip to Syria, I didn't think about it because I didn't get the inspiration. But I am so close to the tormented and beloved Syria, as I call it. I remember at the beginning of the pontificate that afternoon of prayer in St. Peter's Square, there was the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the rosary was prayed ... stop the bombing, at that moment when it was said that there would be a fierce bombing. I carry Syria to my heart. But thinking about a trip didn't occur to me right now. Thank you.
The next question comes from Sylwia Wysocka PAP - POLSKA AGENCJA PRASOWA.
Sylwia Wysocka (PAP - Polska Agencja Prasowa):
Your Holiness, in these very difficult 12 months your activity has also been very limited. Yesterday he had his first very close direct contact with the people in Qaraqosh: how did he feel? My first question. And then, the second. In your opinion, now, with the whole health system, can general audiences be restarted with the people, with the faithful, as they were before?
I feel different when I am away from people in hearings. I would like to resume the general hearings as soon as possible. We hope that the conditions are right, in this I follow the rules of the authorities. They are in charge and they have the grace of God to help us in this. Those responsible are the ones who set the rules. We like it or not, but they are responsible and must do so. Now I have started the Angelus again in the square, with distances it can be done. There is a proposal for small general hearings, but I have not decided until the development of the situation becomes clear. But after these months in prison, because I really felt a bit imprisoned, this is for me to relive. To live again because it is to touch the Church, to touch the holy people of God, to touch all peoples. A priest becomes a priest to serve, in the service of God's people, not for careerism, not for the money. This morning in the Mass there was the [reading] of the healing of Naaman the Syrian, and it says that this Naaman wanted to give gifts after the healing, but the prophet Elisha refused. The Bible continues: and the assistant of the prophet Elisha, then, when they were gone, he arranged the prophet well and ran after Naaman and asked him for gifts. And God said: "The leprosy that Naaman had will now be with you" (cf.2 King5.1-27). I am afraid that we, men and women of the Church, especially that we priests, do not have this free closeness to the people of God, which is what saves us, and we do like the servant of Naaman: yes, help, but then go behind ... Of that leprosy I am afraid. And the only one who saves us from the leprosy of greed, of pride is the holy people of God. The one of which God said to David: "I have taken you out of the flock, do not forget the flock". What Paul said to Timothy: "Remember your mother and grandmother who 'nursed' your faith." That is, do not lose belonging to the people of God and become a privileged caste of consecrated persons, clerics, whatever. For this, contact with the people saves us, helps us, we give the people the Eucharist, preaching, our function. But they give us membership.
She began like this: what I encountered in Iraq, in Qaraqosh ... I did not imagine the ruins of Mosul, of Qaraqosh, I did not really imagine ... Yes, I had seen things, I had read the book, but this touches, it is touching. And then, what touched me most is the testimony of a mother in Qaraqosh. A priest who truly knows poverty, service, penance gave his testimony; and a woman who lost her son in the first bombings of Daesh. You said one word: forgiveness. I was moved. A mother [who says]: I forgive and ask for forgiveness for them. And the trip to Colombia came to my memory, that meeting in Villavicencio, where many people, especially women, mothers and wives, spoke of their experience of the murder of their children and husbands and said: “I forgive, I forgive”. But we have lost this word, we know how to insult great, we know how to condemn great, I for one, we know this well. But forgive! Forgiving enemies: this is pure Gospel. This is what struck me most in Qaraqosh.
The latest is from Catherine Laurence Marciano, AFP:
Catherine Laurence Marciano (AFP):
Your Holiness, I wanted to know what you felt from the helicopter seeing the destroyed city of Mosul and then praying in the ruins of a church. If I may, since it is Women's Day, I also wanted to ask a little question about women. You have supported the women in Qaraqosh with very nice words, but what do you think about the fact that a Muslim woman in love cannot marry a Christian without being discarded by the family or even worse? The first question was about Mosul. Thanks Holiness.
About Mosul I said a little en passant what I heard when I stopped in front of the destroyed church, I had no words. Not to be believed, not to be believed ... Not only that church but also the other churches, even a destroyed mosque. You can see that he did not agree with the people ... Our human cruelty is not to be believed. At this moment, I do not want to say the word, we start again: let's look at Africa, let's look at Africa! And with our experience of Mosul, these destroyed churches and all, enmity is created, war is created, and the so-called Islamic State is starting to act again. This is a bad thing, a very bad thing.
Before moving on to the other question. A question that came to my mind in the church was this: who is selling weapons to these destroyers? Because they don't make weapons at home. Yes, some bombs will do it ... But who sells the weapons? Who is responsible? At least I would ask those who sell the weapons that they have the sincerity to say: we sell the weapons. They don't say it. It's ugly.
Women. Women are braver than men, that's true, that's how I feel. But the woman is humiliated even today. Let's go to that extreme: I don't know who, one of you showed me the women's price list ... I couldn't believe: if the woman is like that, it costs a lot, it costs ... to sell them. Women sell themselves, women enslave themselves. Even in the center of Rome. Work against trafficking is an everyday job. During the Jubilee [of Mercy] I went to visit one of the many houses of Don Benzi's Opera: redeemed girls, one with her ear cut off because she didn't bring the right money that day; the other, brought from Bratislava in the trunk of the car, a slave, kidnapped. This happens among us, the "educated", the trafficking of people. In these countries, some, especially the part of Africa, there is mutilation, there is mutilation as a ritual that must be done. But women are still slaves and we must fight, fight, for the dignity of women. They are the ones who carry the story forward, this is not an exaggeration: women carry the story forward. And it's not a compliment today, on women's day, but it's true. This is slavery, the refusal of the woman ... To think that in a place "x" there has been a discussion as to whether the repudiation of the wife should be in writing or only oral. Not even the right to have the act of divorce! This happens today. But in order not to go away, let's think of the center of Rome, of the girls who are kidnapped and exploited. I think I have said all about this. this is not an exaggeration: women carry the story forward. And it's not a compliment today, on women's day, but it's true. This is slavery, the refusal of the woman ... To think that in a place "x" there has been a discussion as to whether the repudiation of the wife should be in writing or only oral. Not even the right to have the act of divorce! This happens today. But in order not to go away, let's think of the center of Rome, of the girls who are kidnapped and exploited. I think I have said all about this. this is not an exaggeration: women carry the story forward. And it's not a compliment today, on women's day, but it's true. This is slavery, the refusal of the woman ... To think that in a place "x" there has been a discussion as to whether the repudiation of the wife should be in writing or only oral. Not even the right to have the act of divorce! This happens today. But in order not to go away, let's think of the center of Rome, of the girls who are kidnapped and exploited. I think I have said all about this. This happens today. But in order not to go away, let's think of the center of Rome, of the girls who are kidnapped and exploited. I think I have said all about this. This happens today. But in order not to go away, let's think of the center of Rome, of the girls who are kidnapped and exploited. I think I have said all about this.
Thank you, Holy Father.
I wish you a good end of your trip and I ask you to pray for me because I need it! Thank you!
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