ROME – In a private meeting with Pope Francis on Wednesday, Irish singer Paul David Hewson, better known by his stage name “Bono” of the rock band U2, said he found the pontiff not only to be creative in his solutions to poverty, but sincerely impacted by the ongoing clerical abuse crisis shattering both the Catholic Church and his papacy.
Noting how Francis returned from an overnight visit to Ireland just over three weeks ago, where he faced immense pressure over abuses perpetrated by the Catholic Church in that nation, Bono told journalists Sept. 19 that the topic of sexual abuse “inevitably” came up during their conversation earlier that day, which lasted just over 30 minutes.
“I explained how it looks to some people like the abusers are being more protected than the victims,” he said, explaining that “you could see the pain in his face. I felt he was sincere, and he’s an extraordinary man for extraordinary times.”
Bono met with Francis at his residence in the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence in a show of support for the Scholas Occurentes foundation, an organization backed by Francis, which is dedicated to building networks of schools around the world and has launched multiple educational initiatives, placing a strong emphasis on the use of technology and sports.
He came in his capacity as co-founder of the ONE organization, which lobbies governments to change policies in favor of education and eradicating poverty.
The singer has long been involved in activism dedicated to ending poverty. His previous meeting with John Paul II in 1999 led to the now globally famous photo of the Polish pope wearing the iconic sunglasses sported by the singer almost everywhere he goes.
The meeting between the two took place on the eve of the launch of the Great Jubilee of 2000. It was about the “Drop the Debt Campaign” encouraging debt-forgiveness for impoverished nations.
According to an interview with Vatican Radio in 2012, Bono said “we would never have gotten the debts of 23 countries completely cancelled without him,” referring to John Paul II, and that the Church deserves “credible credit” for securing debt-forgiveness.
In the meeting between Bono and Francis, an agreement was signed between Scholas and ONE, which has some 10 million members worldwide, 3 million of whom are in Africa, where some 130 million girls are not able to go to school simply because they are girls.
Bono referenced a campaign organized by ONE called “Poverty is Sexist,” which is aimed at promoting education for all children, no exceptions.
In his comments to journalists, Bono said the ONE organization is “interested in educationalists” and they are “intrigued” by the work Scholas is doing, calling it “very, very innovative stuff.”
“We haven’t figured out what we’re going to do together, but we sort of have a crush on each other,” he said, and called Francis “a radical thinker. I felt quite old-fashioned sitting next to him.”
Speaking of the goals of the ONE organization, Bono said their ultimate priority is to allow children to have the opportunity to spell, count, and have access to topics such as art and advanced math.
Francis, he said, urged the singer to begin with art and creative activities, arguing that “you’ll get a better result” if that is the starting point.
Bono said the pope was “incredibly gracious with his time and his concentration. We let the conversation go where it wanted to go.”
In addition to the abuse crisis, other major themes discussed were the topic of commerce and how it could help serve in meeting the global sustainable development goals, which is something he said Francis “is very committed to.”
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 were formally discussed for the first time at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development that was held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, and focus heavily on areas such as poverty, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, and environmental sustainability.
The two also discussed what global changes they think ought to be made at both a macro and micro level, as well as the need “to rethink the wild beast that is capitalism, and how, though it is not immoral, it is amoral and requires our instruction.” Francis, he said, “is very keen on that.”
Also present for the press briefing was José María del Corral, president of Scholas, who told journalists that he found the meeting “very moving,” and said the partnership with ONE is not only meant to help children in Africa, but “in the entire world.”
Youth, he said, need to “discover that there is meaning” in life, and voiced hope that future educational initiatives would help youth find their purpose in life.