ROME—Pope Francis doesn’t give judgements about people and politicians. At least, this is what he answered when he was asked about the United States’ President-elect Donald Trump.
“I do not give judgements on people or politicians, I simply want to understand what are the sufferings that their approach causes to the poor and the excluded,” Francis told Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari.
The 92-year-old atheist founder of Italy’s left-leaning La Repubblica has spoken a number of times to Pope Francis before, writing up their conversations afterwards despite not recording them or taking notes.
Francis has spoken about Trump once before, during his flight back from the border city of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, in February.
Although the pope did not mention Trump by name, a journalist on that occasion asked him if a Catholic could vote for him, given his intention to build a wall more than 1,550 miles long along the US-Mexico border and to deport undocumented immigrants.
“A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and does not focus on building bridges is not a Christian, this is not the Gospel” Francis answered.
Yet in that in-flight press conference he refused to get involved in the election, saying he wouldn’t tell people who to vote for. “I’m just saying that a man that is saying this is not a Christian, if he has really said all of these things,” Francis said. “Until then, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.”
During the years he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was known for his sharp homilies against corruption, but he only once criticized a politician by name — the former mayor of Buenos Aires and now president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, over his failure to intervene over a judge allowing a same-sex wedding.
During their conversation, Scalfari asked Francis about his “main concern” right now, to which the pontiff responded that it was refugees and migrants.
“A small portion of them are Christians, but this doesn’t change the situation regarding their suffering and distress. The causes are plenty and we do what we can to end them,” he said.
Yet, Francis continued, many times the measures are opposed by people who’re afraid of losing their jobs or having their salaries reduced: “Money is against the poor besides being against immigrants and refugees. But there are also poor people in rich countries who fear welcoming those like them who come from poor countries.”
“This is a vicious cycle and it must be interrupted,” Francis said, adding: “We must bring down the walls that divide.”
The pope went on to urge for policies that increase welfare, “building bridges” that aim to decrease inequalities and increase rights and freedoms.
Scalfari also quotes a previous conversation the two had in which the pope allegedly suggested changing the commandment of “Love your neighbor as yourself” to “Love your neighbor more than yourself.”
According to the journalist, this must mean the pope wants a society dominated by equality, the program of Marxist socialism and communism. “Do you think of a Marxist-like society?” Scalfari asked.
“If anything, it’s the Communist who think like Christians,” Francis replied. “Christ spoke of a society where the poor, the weak, the marginalized, have the right to decide. Not the demagogues, not Barabbas, but the people, the poor, who have faith in a transcendent God, or not. It is they who must help to achieve equality and freedom.”
The conversation between the two came soon after Francis’s address to the Meeting of Popular Movements, held in Rome last week, and which closed with a 4,500-word speech from the Argentine pope.
He has long supported these movements, for instance helping an Argentine group of cardboard collectors, the cartoneros, to become a recycling co-operative. Through it, thousands of men and women who had lost their jobs during Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis found work, and today represent one of the country’s most important recycling forces.
Regarding “opposition” to Francis within the Church, the pope said he wouldn’t call them opponents because “faith unifies us all.”
“Of course, all of us as individuals see the same things in a different way. The picture is the same objectively, but subjectively is different,” he said.
Scalfari closes his piece with the parting greeting the two shared, with the journalist urging the pope to rest every now and then.
“You too should rest, because a non-believer like you should be as far from ‘bodily death’ as possible,” Francis told him.