No to “balkanisation”but we need a new European Union

Pope on Brexit:


In the pic: Pope during the in-flight interview on the way back from Armenia.

        (Note: What “isn't working in the EU?”, &  if Luther's intentions "were not wrong" what else was wrong with him? These are the types of counter questions one would like to ask Francis. It looks Pope Framcis likes to stand in a plane flight taking questions from journalists and answering them. This time it was a free for all and questions on all and  sudry. In fact he answered  9 questions in this flight at one stretch on topics like: Brixt, “Benedict and he, one or two popes?”, Luther right or wrong?, genocide in Armenia compared  to what Hitler and Stalin did, EU uniting or falling apart, colonial rule in Africa and Latin America, “balkanisation” of Europe,  joblessness in Italy, German cardinal Marx on apologizing to gay people, Pope’s trip to Sweeden for 500th anniversary of Lutheran reform, Yes or No on ordaining women deacons or putting it under carpet?, Armenian Orthodox church etc. As long as we keep talking, raising questions and answering them as Pope Francis does there is hope of finding solutions. This is the one thing that never happens in James Kottorthe church in India. Questions galore are constantly raised by the laity and Indian hierarchy puts up the façade of stony silence acting like the proverbial  monkeys  that see not, hear not and speak not. Can one hope that this  hopelessness will change in our life time?    james kottoor, editor)

In the interview the Pope gave on board the flight from Armenia to Rome, he said: "Something isn't working in the EU, it needs creativity." Regarding the genocide, he commented: "I never intended to offend anyone with that word." When asked about the idea of establishing a "shared" papal ministry, he said: "Benedict XVI is an Emeritus, but there is only one Pope." The commission that is  to study the possibility of ordaining women as deacons is ready but Francis puts the issue into perspective. Luther's intentions "were not wrong"

“For me, unity is always superior to conflict but there are different ways of being together. Something isn’t working in the European Union, it needs creativity. A new Union is needed.” Francis said this, in a conversation with journalists on the flight back from Armenia. The Pope explained why he used the word genocide, as he always had done in the past and explained that his intention was first and foremost to underline the fact that the great powers turned a blind eye to the extermination of the Armenians and to the crimes committed by Hitler and Stalin. But Bergoglio also dismissed the possibility of a papal “diarchy” due to the presence of an emeritus Pope.  

You seem to be a supporter of the European Union as John Paul II was. Are you worried that Brexit may lead to the disintegration of Europe and to war? 

“There is already a war going on in Europe. There is also a sense of division, not just in Europe. Think of Catalonia, Scotland last year… I’m not saying these divisions are dangerous but they need to be carefully examined before any steps are taken towards a split, there needs to be discussion and feasible solutions found. I have not looked into the reasons why Greta Britain took this decision. Some decisions are made in order to gain emancipation. For example, all our Latin American and African countries freed themselves from colonial rule. This is more understandable because there is a culture and a way of thinking behind this.

However, the secession of a country, think of Scotland for example, is something politicians refer to as “balkanisation”, no offense intended towards the Balkans. For me, unity is always superior to conflict but unity comes in different shapes and forms. Fraternity is better than distance. Bridges are better than walls. All this should make us reflect: can a country say: ’I am in the European Union, I want to keep certain elements that are in my culture’? The step the EU needs to take to rediscover the strength of its roots is a step towards creativity as well as towards healthy ’disunion’, in other words give more independence and freedom to countries in the Union, think of a different kind of union. Creativity is needed in terms of jobs and the economy: in Italy, 40% of under 25s is jobless. There’s something wrong in this massive Union, but let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater and let us try to recreate. Creativity and fertility are the two keywords for the European Union.”  

Why did you decide to add the word “genocide” in the speech you gave at the presidential palace? Given how painful this subject is, do you think it does much for peace?  

“In Argentina, when the subject of the Armenian genocide came up, the word genocide was always used and in Buenos Aires cathedral, we placed a stone cross on the third altar on the left, to remember the Armenian genocide. I didn’t know any other words for it. I come to Rome, I hear the word “Great Evil” and they tell me genocide is offensive. I have always spoken of the three genocides that took place last century: the Armenian one, Hitler’s one and Stalin’s one. There was another one in Africa but only those three took place in the context of the two great wars. Some say it is not true, that there was no genocide. A lawyer told me it is a technical word that is not synonymous with extermination. Declaring a genocide involves reparations. When I was preparing the speech for the celebration in St. Peter’s last year, I saw that John Paul II had used the word and I put what he said in quotation marks. It did not go down well, the Turkish government issued a statement and within days recalled its ambassador back to Ankara and he’s a good ambassador! He returned a few months ago. Everyone has the right to protest. My speech didn’t contain the word. But after hearing the tone of the Armenian president’s speech and given that I had used the word before, it would have sounded very strange had I not repeated the same thing I said last year. Last Friday, there was one other thing I wanted to underline: in the case of this genocide as well as in the other two that followed, the great international powers turned a blind eye. During World War II, some powers had the chance to bomb the railways that led to Auschwitz but they didn’t. In the context of the three genocides, this historical question needs to be asked: why didn’t you do anything? I don’t know if it’s true, but they say that when Hitler persecuted the Jews, he said: ’Who remembers the Armenians? let’s do the same with the Jews.’ In any case, I never intended to offend anyone with that word, I used it in an objective way”. 

Pope and a Pope Emeritus. The comments made by Prefect of the Papal Household, Georg Gänswein, sparked a debate and they seemed to suggest the idea of a “shared” Petrine ministry. So are there two Popes? 

“There was a time when there were three! I haven’t read those statements. Benedict XVI is Pope Emeritus, he made it very clear on that 11 February that he was resigning the following 28 February. He said he was withdrawing in order to help the Church through prayer. Benedict is living in that monastery, praying. I have been to see him a number of times, we speak to each other on the phone, the other day he sent me a little note wishing me well on this visit. I have already said it is a gift to have a wise grandfather around. I even said this to his face and he laughed. To me, he is the Pope Emeritus, he is a wise grandfather, the man who watches my back with his prayer. I will never forget that speech he gave to cardinals on 28 February, when he said: ’My successor is among you: I promise obedience to him’. And he did it! I also heard rumours, though I don’t know if this is true, about some who apparently went to him to complain about the new Pope and he sent them packing in that Bavarian style of his. If it isn’t true, it is conceivable because he is a man of his word, he is an honest man. He is the Pope Emeritus. I publicly thanked Benedict for opening the door to Popes Emeritus. Nowadays, what with us living longer, can we lead a Church once we get to a certain age with all those aches and pains? He opened this door. But there is only one Pope, the other one is a Pope Emeritus. Perhaps in the future there will be two or three, but they are Emeritus. The day after tomorrow is the 65th anniversary of Benedict’s priestly ordination. There will be a small event with heads of dicastery because he prefers to do something small, very modestly. I will address a few words to this great, prayerful and courageous man, who is a Pope Emeritus, not a “second Pope” and that he is true to his word and very wise.” 

You encouraged the pan-Orthodox Council in Crete. What is your assessment of it? 

“Positive! It marks a step forward, it was not 100%, but still a step forward. The reasons some Churches gave for their absence are sincere and they are things that can be resolved: the four primates that did not go wanted the Council to be held at a later stage. But you do what you can with your first step. Children, for example, move like cats when they take their first steps, then they walk. The sheer fact that these Churches held a meeting to look each other in the eye, pray together and talk, is very positive, I am grateful to the Lord. There will be more present at the next meeting.”  

Speaking in Dublin in recent days, Cardinal Marx said that the Catholic Church needs to apologise to the gay community for marginalising these people. 

“Let me repeat what the Catechism says: these people are not to be discriminated against, they must be respected and receive pastoral guidance. They can be condemned, not for ideological reasons but for their political behaviour, some demonstrations are too offensive for others. The problem is when a person in that situation is good willed and seeks God. Who are we to judge? We must offer good guidance, following what the catechism says. Some countries and cultures of course, have certain tradition that have a different mentality when it comes to this problem. I believe that the Church, or rather, Christians, because the Church is holy, must not only apologise as that “Marxist” cardinal said… but they must also apologise to the poor, to exploited women, they need to apologise for blessing arms and for not guiding so many families. I remember, as a child, the closed Catholic culture in Buenos Aires: one couldn’t enter the house of a divorced couple. I’m talking about 80 years ago. culture has changed thank God. As Christians we have many apologies we need to make, not just for this: forgiveness lord, is a word we tend to forget about. The priest as a “master” rather than the priest as a father, the priest who scolds rather than the priest who embraces and forgives us… there are so many holy chaplains in hospitals and prisons but they are not seen because holiness is modest. Immodesty on the other hand, is brazen and showy. There are so many organisations with good people and not so good people. We Christians also have so many Mother Teresas… We must not be shocked, this is what Church life is all about. All of us are saints because we have the Holy Spirit but we are all sinners, myself first and foremost.” 

Today you spoke about the gifts that Churches share. Seeing as though you are going to Sweden in October to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reform, do you think it is the right time not only to remember existing wounds on both sides but also to recognise those gifts and possibly even remove Luther’s excommunication?  

“I don’t think Luther’s intentions weren’t wrong, he was a reformer, maybe some methods he used were not right but back then, if we read the story of the Pastor – a German Lutheran who converted to Catholicism – we see that the Church was not exactly a model worth imitating: there was corruption, worldliness, an attachment to money and power. He protested against this, he was intelligent and took a step forward justifying why he did it. Today Protestants and Catholics agree on the doctrine of justification: he was not wrong on this very important point. he created a medicine for the Church, then this medicine consolidated itself as a state of things, as a discipline, as a way of doing things, of believing and then there was Zwingli, Calvino and behind them there were principles “cuius regio eius religio”. We need to understand the history of that time, it is not easy to understand. Then things moved along, that document on justification is one of the richest. Divisions do exist but they also depend on the Churches. There were two Lutheran churches in Buenos Aires and they thought differently, there isn’t unity in the Lutheran Church either. Difference is perhaps what harmed us so much and now we are trying to work out which path to take to meet again after 500 years. I think we first of all need to pray together. Secondly, we need to work to help the poor and refugees, so many who suffer and finally, may theologians study together looking… It’s a long journey. I once said, jokingly: I know when the day of full unity will be, they day after the coming of the Lord. We don’t know when the Holy Spirit will send this gift. Meanwhile, however, we must work together for peace.” 

A week or so ago you talked about a commission to study the possibility of ordaining women as deacons. Has it already been established? Sometimes commissions can be set up to sweep a problem under the carpet?  

“There was an Argentinian president who would tell other presidents: when you don’t want to solve a problem, set up a commission. I was the first to be shocked by this news because in the conversation I had with the religious superiors, they asked me: ’We heard there were deaconesses in the early centuries. Can this be looked into further?’ That is all they asked and I said I knew a Syrian theologian once who had said to me: ’Yes, they existed, but we do not know for sure whether they were ordained.’ They definitely existed and helped in three areas: women’s baptism, pre and post-baptismal anointment for women and in cases where a wife had gone to complain to the priest about her husband being violent: the bishop would call the deaconess to take a look at the bruises on the woman’s body. The next day, the press wrote: “Church opens up to deaconesses”. I asked to be given some names in order to form a commission and it’s over there on my desk right now, I’m about to create it. But there’s one other thing: a year and a half ago, I created a commission of female theologians who worked with Cardinal Rilko and they did a great job. For me, a woman’s function is not as important as a woman’s way of thinking. Women think differently from men and a good decision cannot be taken without consulting women, as I did back in Buenos Aires. Women see things in another light and the end solution is always very fruitful and beautiful. I wish to underline that the way of understanding, thinking and seeing is more important than the function they serve. I repeat, the Church is a woman and the Church is not a spinster, she is Jesus Christ’s bride.” 

What are your feelings, your state of mind and what are your prayers for the future of the Armenian people?  

“I wish these people justice and peace, I pray for this because they are a courageous people. I know that many are working to ensure this, I was very glad last week, to see a photo of Putin with the Armenian and Azeri presidents: at least they’re talking! And with Turkey too, in his welcome speech, the Armenian president had the courage to say: let’s find an agreement, let’s forgive one another and look ahead to the future. This is great courage, they are a people that has suffered a lot. Then there is the image of the Armenian people that came to mind as I was praying today: a life of stone and the tenderness of a mother. The Armenian nation has carried crosses, stone crosses, but it has not lost its tenderness, art or music. Only faith has kept a nation that has been through so much suffering on its feet. It was the first Christian nation because the Lord blessed it, it has had holy bishops, martyrs. All that resistance has given it a thick skin of stone but it has not lost the maternal heart of a mother land. I had a great deal of contact with Armenians in Buenos Aires; I often went to their masses. I had dinner with them…and you do eat heavy dinners eh! For you, what is even more important than you belonging to the Apostolic or Catholic Church, is your Armenity, the fact of being Armenian.”  

At the memorial in Yerevan you prayed in silence and didn’t give a speech. Will you be doing the same when you visit Auschwitz and Birkenau in July?

“I did the same thing when I commemorated the centenary of the War two years ago. I commemorated it with silence. I would like to go to Auschwitz, that place of horror, without any speeches, without many people, only the few who need to be there, although I’m sure there will be journalists as well. But without greeting this or that person. I want to go there alone, to enter and pray that the Lord will give me the grace to cry.” 

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