As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio rarely gave interviews, preferring to maintain a low profile. Now Pope Francis, he has chosen to face the press early on to get his message across and has emerged as a superstar communicator.
This was evident from his headline-grabbing press conference with international media travelling with him July 28 on the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome after World Youth Day.
The pope did not have a press conference on the outbound flight, thereby avoiding the risk of saying something that might eclipse or complicate his visit. Instead, he briefed the media on the scope of his visit and promised a question-and-answer session on the homebound journey. He then greeted each of the 71 media professionals on the plane, establishing a strong bond between him and them.
On the return journey, he amazed reporters during the 80-minute press conference as he responded with transparency, sincerity and authenticity. He spoke in a soft, friendly, humorous and often witty way, and simply told things as they are, as is his style.
Focus on reform
While his comments on homosexuality and the role of women in the Church have received the bulk of media coverage — sometimes thoughtful and accurate, sometimes shallow and misleading — the pontiff spoke of many other issues of great interest that have largely gone unreported.
He explained that he decided to live in the Vatican’s guesthouse rather than in the papal apartment because he wants to remain close to people, and not be isolated.
Pope Francis confirmed that, as requested by cardinals in the pre-conclave meetings, he is working on a reform of the Roman Curia. In addition to appointing a council of eight cardinals to assist him in this task, he intends to develop further the relationship between “the primacy” (of the pope) and “synodality” in the Church, and to reform the Synod of Bishops.
Significantly, too, he said he wants the Council of Cardinals and the next Synod of Bishops to discuss the Church’s pastoral approach to marriage, including the question of annulment and Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
“This is the time for mercy!” he stated, one of the many times he used “mercy” to describe the mission of the Church.
The pontiff revealed that he’s not yet decided what to do about the Institute for the Works of Religion, better known as the Vatican bank. He will listen to the commission he set up to look at this and then will decide. One thing is clear, however, “it must have transparency and honesty.” The same is true for all the other Vatican economic operations, which he is also reviewing.
Asked why he had not spoken out on abortion or same-sex marriage in Brazil, he said that the Church’s teaching is already well known, so it was not necessary to focus on that. But it was important to focus on “the positive things that open the way to young people!”
Pope Francis hasn’t yet decided on other foreign trips. He won’t go to his native Argentina for some time, but will go to Asia. He’s received invitations from the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has invited him to Jerusalem for the 50th anniversary of the historic 1964 encounter between Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople and Pope Paul VI. The Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have invited him, too, so this trip is possible.
He revealed that the canonization date for Popes John XXIII and John Paul II has not been decided, but it could be the feast of Christ the King (Nov. 24) or Divine Mercy Sunday (April 27, 2014).
Pope Francis told reporters that he was returning to Rome “tired” but with “happiness in my heart.”
He has reason to be happy, having not only won the hearts of the more than 3 million young people from 178 countries at World Youth Day and the Brazilian people, but also those of the world’s media.
Gerard O’Connell writes from Rome