ROME – In an interview to an Argentine news site, Pope Francis confirmed travel plans for the end of this year and spoke of several international gatherings of world leaders, including the upcoming G20 summit in Rome and the COP26 gathering in Glasgow.

Among other things, the pope confirmed rumors that he is planning to travel to Greece and Cyprus in December and urged world leaders preparing for the G20 and COP26 summits to be creative in how they approach global politics and economics in a post-pandemic world.

As he has done in the past, he also heaped praise on outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, calling her a leader who has made history and a model for women in leadership.

Papal travel

“In the first week of December I am going to Greece and Cyprus,” Pope Francis said in the interview with Vatican journalist Hernán Reyes Alcaide, correspondent in Rome for the Argentine news outlet Télam.

The Vatican, he said, “is working” on the final schedule for the trip, which could include a stop on the Greek island of Lesbos, which would mark his second visit to the island, following a daytrip in 2016 during which he visited a refugee camp and, on his flight back, brought with him 12 refugees, including three Syrian families.

In the interview, published Oct. 22, Francis said he also has ambitious travel aspirations for 2022, hoping to make trips to Africa, Europe, and Oceania.

“For the moment I have in my mind two trips that I have not started yet, and those are the Congo and Hungary,” he said.

Pope Francis just traveled the Hungarian capital of Budapest in September to preside over the closing Mass of the 52nd Eucharistic Congress. It was not a state visit, and he was only in the city for a few hours.

He most recently visited Africa in 2019, with a tour of Madagascar, Mozambique, and Mauritius.

“Also, I still have to pay back the bill for the trip to Papua New Guinea and East Timor,” he said, referring to a trip that was originally on his calendar for 2020 but suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Another trip the pope failed to make in 2020 was a day visit to Malta. Earlier this year, rumors abounded that a stop in Malta could be added onto the end of his trip to Greece and Cyprus, but it now appears that will not happen.

Climate and the G20

In the interview, which took place at Pope Francis’s residence in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse, he also talked at length about the G20 leaders’ summit to take place in Rome from Oct. 30-31, and the COP216 climate summit which will take place in Glasgow Oct. 31-Nov. 12.

The pope in an interview last month said he was planning to attend the COP26 pending his health status after having a portion of his colon removed over the summer. However, after a Vatican spokesman last month said that the Vatican Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, will lead the Holy See’s delegation to Glasgow, it is presumed that Pope Francis will not attend.

The Glasgow summit will bring together the world’s top economies, which collectively represent more than 80 percent of the world’s GDP, 75 percent of global trade, and 60 percent of the planet’s total population.

On COP26, the pope said stressed the importance of “passing from saying to doing” when it comes to climate change. “It is time we start doing things and see the results,” he said.

Speaking of the G20, which will also be attended by U.S. President Joe Biden – who he will meet with at the Vatican ahead of the summit, Pope Francis said the gathering “must seriously consider the relationship between developed and undeveloped countries.”

“This is key,” he said, insisting, as he has before, that “One does not come out of a crisis the same, but they leave better or worse, and this end of the pandemic has to be for the better. Otherwise, we will go backwards.”

“In the collective imagination there is an idea that it is possible to start over with a reconstruction of things as they were until now. But that does not work,” he said.

“We cannot leave this crisis that got inside of us, that involved us, without evolving toward the peripheries. We must seriously consider the exit to the peripheries, and we do this now or we don’t do it anymore,” he said, adding, “universal brotherhood is not a tango, it is a reality.”

The pandemic, he said, “is a challenge to change, it is a crisis that leads us to change. If not, we end up worse, even if we don’t feel it,” he said.

Pope Francis also voiced his desire that the G20 would help to “lower tensions worldwide” in the face of “escalations of violence that provoke more violence,” saying, “The path of violence is always a defeat for all.”

This meeting should not be limited to mere “good wishes,” but should lead to immediate concrete action, he said, because “The game is being played now.”

“I think it is difficult for everyone to become aware of this, but you have to talk, and you have to achieve it,” he said. “The pandemic temporarily regressed us, and we all have the desire, the urge, to get out, but you have to see how we universalize this: you can’t get out in the particular, you have to get out in the universal.”

As he has often done in the past, Francis insisted that “you don’t get out of a crisis alone. The key to rebuilding after the pandemic is universal, if not, we are fried.”

The G20, then, must “put a name and surname to the difficulties” that humanity faces in a post-pandemic world, he said, calling this one of the keys to reading his 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti on human fraternity and social friendship.

Francis said the first step is “seeing that there are problems that materialize here and there,” and then “you have to give them names and surnames to know where the limits are from which we have to get out.”

Praise for Merkel and Messi

Pope Francis in the interview also heaped praise on outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he has met seven times, calling her “one of the great leaders who will go down in history.”

After 16 years in office, Merkel will formally step down once Germany’s new coalition government is formed following last month’s elections, in which she didn’t run.

Francis, who met Merkel for perhaps the final time at the Vatican at the beginning of this month, said that “In her years of government, Merkel has given a good example of common sense, of the ability to see what is possible, what is feasible, and to always walk in that direction.”

“She is not a woman of fantasies, but a woman of ideals, because they are ideals that were concretely embodied,” he said, adding, “In Germany we have so many such leaders, like Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl, who was her teacher and discovered her.”

Merkel, he said, “is also important in terms of female leadership. Women have a special sensitivity to in capturing the moments of conflict more. Women are much more capable of piloting conflicts because they are realistic, they have the ability to invent and to process.”

“In politics women have always given a good contribution and more when they really carry it in their hearts,” the pope said, adding, “I think Angela Merkel’s management is an interesting milestone in world politics and a call to women who feel the political vocation.”

Pope Francis also voiced thanks to Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi for an autographed jersey with the number 30 that Messi sent him this week with a handwritten message saying, “with much affection.”

The jersey was given to the pope by French Prime Minister Jean Castex in a 35-minute private meeting with the pontiff earlier this week.

“I want to thank you for the jersey you sent me and the dedication, always with your simplicity,” the pope said to Messi, adding that, “the smoke never got to you,” meaning his fame never went to his head.

“Thank you for the closeness, thank you for your testimony, and that the fumes did not go to your head,” he said, adding, “may God bless you, and, in anything, you can count on me.”

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