ON BOARD THE PAPAL PLANE – Pope Francis wants to go to Iraq, has confirmed he’s travelling to Japan in November, and described the wall being built at the United States-Mexico border as the result of fear that makes people act irrationally.
Francis is on his way to Panama, and although he typically doesn’t give official interviews or press conferences during his outbound flights, on Wednesday he offered several soundbites to the journalists travelling with him as he greeted each one of them personally.
Speaking with an Italian journalist who was recently in Tijuana, Mexico, and who told the pope that the Trump administration’s proposed wall is projected to extend all the way into the ocean, describing it as “crazy,” the pope responded: “Fear makes us crazy.”
Crux delivered to Francis a message from the newly ordained archbishop of Mosul, Iraq, who wanted to ask the pontiff to visit the war-torn country.
“Yes, but it’s them who tell me now is not the moment,” he said, adding with a smile: “Surely, they had a fight amongst themselves. But that’s why I sent the Secretary of State … I want to go, and in the meantime, I follow the situation closely.”
[Francis was referring to a Christmastime trip to Iraq by Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State and his top diplomatic aide.]
One of the members of his entourage told Crux soon after that to deliver a “sign of peace, the pope would even go to the moon.”
Archbishop Michael Najeeb Mousa was ordained by Cardinal Patriarch Raphael Sako last Friday, and his appointment is widely seen as a sign of hope. However, 95 percent of the city was destroyed by ISIS, which means that Mousa has nowhere to live and there are no churches left standing. He told Crux that he’s planning to live in nearby Karamles until he can get a “room” ready.
Talking with a Japanese journalist, Francis confirmed what’s long been rumored: his intention to visit Japan in November. However, he made no comments about a possible stop in North Korea, much like he did in Cuba on his way to Mexico in February 2016 to hold a historic meeting with Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
It’s well known that the pope is concerned about the situation in the Korean peninsula, and when he visited South Korea in August 2014, it was also rumored that he might approach the border dividing both nations.
Cristina Cabrejas, a Spanish journalist from news agency EFE, gave Francis a comic portraying a 14-year old boy from Mali who drowned in 2015, during one of the worse shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea. Francis has long been concerned with the fate of migrants, as his first trip was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, the port of entry to Europe for many of those fleeing Africa and the Middle East. It took place soon after a ship sunk in 2013, moving the pope to the core.
Though it may be apocryphal, it’s said that Francis asked the Secretary of State to organize that trip and was told that it was complicated, as he was headed to Brazil for World Youth Day soon after. Yet the pontiff allegedly refused to take no for an answer and booked himself a plane ticket to Lampedusa under his given name, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Alitalia, the airline that historically takes the pope on foreign trips, gave a heads up to the Vatican, and the trip became uncomplicated.
The boy in the picture presented to the pope, recently identified by a forensic Italian doctor who’s been working on identifying the bodies of the accidents that occurred, had sown his school grades to his pant pockets, thinking that, since they were good, they would serve him as a passport and open for him the doors to a new life.
Cabrejas gave the pope a book by the forensic doctor, and when he handed it to a person helping him, Francis asked him to “keep it at hand, because I want to talk about this on the way back.”
The pope was visibly relaxed and in a good mood, taking his time with each journalist, even signing a postcard for the son of one reporter who will receive his confirmation on Saturday while his father is away.
Another sign of his good mood were the many jokes he told along the almost one hour he spent greeting people. One of them was to American photojournalist Scott King of Fox, who told the pope “We’re praying for you,” to which the pope delivered his standard wry response: “For me or against me?”
Asked by Crux to avoid travelling in January next year and instead do so in February, as his tradition to travel early in the new year interrupts family vacation time, Francis laughed, apologized and said “I’m not sure I’ll be alive next year,” something he’s said many times before.