ROME – In a new interview, Pope Francis said he is in good health and denied any plans to resign, saying he has several foreign trips planned for this year, including a summer stop in Polynesia and a potential return trip to Argentina.
Speaking of his health, Francis in the interview jested that “I’m still alive” despite several health challenges last year, including two hospital stays and a recent bout of bronchitis that forced him to cancel a planned trip to Dubai in early December for the COP28 United Nations climate summit.
Asked whether he was considering resignation, the pope said, “it’s neither a thought nor a concern nor even a desire.”
“It’s a possibility open to all popes, but for the moment, it’s not at the center of my thoughts, worries and feelings,” he said, adding, “as long as I have the ability to serve, I go forward; when I can’t take it anymore, it will be time to think about it.”
Pope Francis spoke to Italian journalist Fabio Fazio on the popular television program, Che Tempo Che Fa, which was broadcast Sunday night. It was his second appearance on the program since his election in 2013.
In the roughly 50-minute interview, Francis touched on a variety of issues in addition to his health, including war, migration, future travel plans, and the recent controversy over his decision to allow non-liturgical blessings for same-sex couples.
He also spoke of international travel plans for 2024, announcing that he intends to travel to Polynesia in August and that a potential return trip to Argentina is being discussed for later in the fall. Francis in a previous interview said he will also visit Belgium this year.
On Argentina, a trip that would mark his first return visit since his election, he said, “I want to go, it’s been ten years. I would like to go.”
The pope also touched on the recent controversy caused by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Declaration “Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings,” published Dec. 18 and which authorizes pastors to give spontaneous, non-liturgical blessings to couples in irregular situations, including divorced and remarried couples and those in same-sex unions.
After the declaration’s publication, there was an explosion of backlash from critics, who accused the pope of heresy, while supporters hailed the move as a significant step forward in the pastoral outreach to the LGBTQ+ community.
Some bishops conferences welcomed the move, while others, notably the entirety of Africa, have refused to give blessings to same-sex couples, as a pair or as individuals, citing cultural sensitivities and the possibility of creating confusion.
In his interview, Pope Francis said that at times, “decisions are not accepted,” and that people don’t really understand what they are criticizing.
“The danger, the thing I don’t like, is to arrive at ugly conclusions,” he said, referring to accusations of heresy, instead of “talking, expressing doubts, and carrying forward a fraternal discussion.”
He said this is what happened with Fiducia Supplicans, and insisted as he often has that “the Lord blesses everyone, everyone, everyone, those who come. Every person.”
“Then people must see what path the Lord proposes to them, but we must take them by the hand and help them go down that path, not condemn them from the beginning. This is the pastoral action of the Church,” he said.
Francis insisted on the need to be generous in forgiving, telling confessors in particular to “forgive everything,” and that “in 54 years as a priest, only once have I denied forgiveness, due to the hypocrisy of the person.”
If God punishes, he said, it is “to correct, out of love.”
He also spoke of his ongoing reform efforts, saying the most urgent reform of all is “the reform of hearts, for all Christians.”
Structures and institutions are changed, adapted and updated every few years at a mechanical level so they can meet modern needs, “but hearts must be reformed every day. This is a daily task,” he said, saying, “We must renew our hearts all the time, every day.”
Pope Francis also touched on the issue of war, specifically citing the ongoing wars in Gaza and in Ukraine, saying he is afraid of further escalation of all global conflicts.
“How will it end? Like Noah’s Ark? This scares me, the capacity for self-destruction that humanity has today,” he said, and again condemned the global arms trade.
In reference to Ukraine, he lamented that there are many children “who don’t smile,” saying that “for a child to forget their smile is criminal, this makes war.” He also pointed to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, saying the two people, “called to be brothers, destroy one another.”
On the issue of migration, he condemned the “cruelty” with which they are treated and noted that there is a “mafia that takes them and exploits them” along their journey.
He recalled a recent case in which traffickers had tortured a migrant and asked for a large sum of money in exchange for the person’s freedom, saying, “Thanks be to God we found a benefactor and he was freed.”
“Everyone has the right to remain home and to migrate,” he said, noting that the countries of Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Italy and Spain bear the brunt of the migrant crisis, and pleaded with these nations to, “Please, don’t close borders.”
Pope Francis noted that some of these countries “don’t have children, they need a workforce. Some of these countries have empty villages,” and advocated for a balanced European migration policy that is fair to all sides.
“We must take the issue of migration in hand, take out all of these mafias that exploit migrants and go forward in resolving problems both of the people in the country and of migration,” he said, saying, “To migrate is a right, and to stay in one’s homeland is also a right. Both must be respected.”
Francis also explained his frequent appeals for prayer, saying he makes the request because “I am a sinner and I need God’s help to stay faithful to the vocation he gave me.”
“Each person has their own vocation that they must carry forward,” he said, saying that he as a bishop has “a very big responsibility toward the church. I know my weaknesses and because of this I must ask for prayer, that everyone prays for me, so that I remain faithful in the work of the Lord and that I don’t end up in the attitude of a mediocre pastor.”
A pastor must be with his people and know their needs, he said, and asked viewers again to pray for him, “that I always go forward, that I do not fail in my duty,” and jokingly added, “please, pray in favor, not against!”
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