Pope grants interview about his safety, politics, virtual relationships

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A religious procession, a brainstorm session and a few glasses of wine led a group of residents gathered in a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to come up with a plan to interview Pope Francis.

It was a warm, Southern Hemisphere’s summer night in January when folks sitting in the church courtyard during a local feast day celebration felt inspired to consider “What if …?” according to a journalist living in Buenos Aires.

“To tell the truth, a few glasses of wine were also involved, which, in the right amount, inspires bold ideas,” said Alver Metalli, who was also the mastermind behind the shantytown launching its own community newspaper in December.

“An interview for a publication produced in a shantytown with questions formulated by the people who live there (seemed like) two good ideas that could lure the pope” into agreeing to do the interview, he wrote for the news site Vatican Insider March 10.

The local parish priest, Father Jose Maria “Pepe” di Paola, collated inquiries from hundreds of children and young adults and boiled them down to about a dozen questions, Metalli said.

He said when the priest visited the pope at his Vatican residence Feb. 7, he handed the written questions to the pope, who — to the priest’s surprise — said he would do the interview immediately.

Metalli said, “Father Pepe had no other choice than to take out his cell phone and start recording” as the pope spoke candidly about the role of big money in political campaigns, getting along with people who disagree with him, kids becoming “museums” of information and his awareness that his life is in God’s hands.

“I told the Lord, ‘You take care of me. But if your will is that I die or that they do something to me, I ask you just one favor: that it doesn’t hurt because I am a big wimp when it comes to physical pain,'” the pope said, when asked about people’s concerns for his safety.

When asked what advice he had for politicians during Argentina’s election year, the pope said that something “very healthy” would be for candidates to have “a clear electoral platform.” Candidates should express detailed and concrete plans of what they would do and what they thought about issues, that is, “honesty in the presentation of their position,” the pope said.

Ideally, he added, campaigning should have no strings attached and, therefore, be run for free, making it unnecessary to drum up financing, which “calls into play many special interests who then ‘ask for the bill,'” alluding to expectations big donors want something in exchange for their contributions.

“Obviously that is an ideal, because money is always needed for billboards, television,” in which case, he said, the flow of money should be “transparent and clean” so that citizens know who is financing which candidate and with how much.

The pope was asked if there were people around him who were not in agreement with what he says and does, and after he answered “Yes, of course,” he was asked how, then, does he interact with them.

“Listening to people, for me, never did me any harm. Every time I listened to them, it always went well. Those times that I didn’t listen, it went badly,” he said.

“Even if you do not agree with them, they always, always give you something or they put you in a situation that forces you to rethink your position, and this enriches you,” he said.

Dialogue and openness were the proper ways “to behave with those with whom we don’t agree,” he said, because if “I stop saying ‘hello,’ I shut the door in his face, I don’t let him talk and I don’t ask him the reasons for the disagreement, obviously I singlehandedly impoverish myself. Dialogue and listening enrich us.”

The pope was asked about young people’s attraction to “virtual relationships” and how to help them escape “their world of fantasy” and to experience “real relationships.”

The pope said there was a difference between fantasy and online interactions because “sometimes virtual relationships are not imaginary, but are concrete” and real.

However, he said, the best thing is for people to have real, physical interaction and contact with each other.

He said the big risk he sees is with people’s ability to gather such a huge amount of information that nothing is done with it and it has no impact on changing lives. He said this process turns young people into a sort of “youth museum.”

“A youth museum is very well-informed, but what does he or she do with all that knowledge?”

Having a rich fruitful life is not found in “the accumulation of information or just through virtual communication, but in changing the reality of existence. In the end, it means loving,” reaching out to people physically, touching the world and moving forward with one’s life.

The head, heart and hands must all work in harmony together where “you think what you feel and what you do; you feel what you think and what you do; and you do what you feel and what you think. This is concrete reality. To only be in the virtual world is like living in a head without a body,” he said.

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