ROME – Just days ahead of the fourth anniversary of his pontificate on March 13, the pope acknowledged he had “spiritual dark moments” in his life during periods of crisis.

In a wide-ranging interview published Thursday (March 9) in Germany’s Die Zeit weekly, the pontiff acknowledged: “I too know moments of emptiness.

“One cannot grow without crises: in human life, the same thing happens. Even biological growth is a crisis, no? The crisis of a child who becomes an adult. And faith is the same.”

Despite criticism from conservative opponents who question his approach to church doctrine and his reform of the Vatican Curia, the pope said he had never lost his peace of mind.

“I understand that someone might not like (my) way of acting, and I even justify it: there are so many ways of thinking,” he said. “It is licit, it is human and it even has a richness.”

He warned about the dangers of political populism sweeping Western democracies, saying there was a risk of “messianism.”

“Populism is evil and ends badly as the past century showed,” he said.

Finally, the pontiff  suggested the Catholic Church should look at ordaining married men to minister in remote communities where there are priest shortages.

The pope said “optional celibacy” was not the solution and the church should consider the option of “viri probati” – referring to married men – to supplement shortages.

“Then we must consider what tasks they can perform, for example, in isolated communities,” the pope said.

Francis has been particularly open to hearing proposals for the ordination of married men and in Rome last November, as his Year of Mercy drew to an end, he also met with men who had left the priesthood to marry and have their own families.

The pope confirmed his plans to visit India, Bangladesh and Colombia as well as Fatima in Portugal, but he said his trip to South Sudan may not go ahead.