In a recent interview, Pope Francis shared a mystical experience he had shortly before accepting the role as Bishop of Rome and also touched on several issues surrounding Church reform.
The Pope recounted his experience during a Sept. 24 interview with Eugenio Scalfari of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica which was published on Oct.1.
When asked if he considered himself a mystic, the Pope replied “What do you think?”
Scalfari replied that no, he did not believe Pope Francis was the type. When he asked the Holy Father if he had ever had a mystical experience, the pontiff replied that he “rarely” has, but that one such experience did take place during the conclave shortly before he accepted his election as Pope.
“Before the acceptance, I asked to be able to retire for some minutes in the room next to that with the balcony on the square. My head was completely empty and a great anxiety invaded me,” he said.
“To make it pass and to relax, I close my eyes and every thought disappeared, also that of refusing to accept the charge, as after all the liturgical procedure consents.”
Pope Francis shared that once he closed his eyes, he did not feel anymore “anxiety or emotion,” but that at “a certain point a great light invaded me, it lasted for a second but it seemed really long.”
“Then the light dissipated and I stood straight up and headed to the room where the cardinals were waiting for me and the table on which rested the act of acceptance. I signed it...and then on the balcony came the 'Habemus Papam.'”
Also brought up in the interview was the topic of Church leaders, who, according to the Holy Father, “have often been narcissistic.” Although the curia's main job is to manage “the services that serve the Holy See,” said the Pope, “its has a defect: it is Vatican-centric.”
“This Vatican-centric vision neglects the world that surrounds it. I do not share this vision and I will do everything (I can) to change it,” he said, emphasizing the need for a more communal dynamic in which the leaders of the Church “are at the service of the people of God.”
Referencing St. Francis of Assisi’s vision of the Church, Pope Francis urged that “the ideal of a missionary and poor Church remains more than valid...this is still the Church that Jesus and his disciples preached.”
When pressed by comments stating that a love for power strongly exists in the Vatican, and that the institution predominates the poor, missionary Church he envisions, the Pontiff stated that “Things are in fact like this.”
“On this subject no miracles are made,” he said, recalling how during his life, St. Francis also had to “negotiate at length with the Roman hierarchy” for the recognition of the rules of his order, which he eventually obtained, “but with profound changes and compromises.”
When asked if he would follow the same path as his patron, the Pope said that although he does not have the “strength and holiness” of the saint, he has appointed the council of eight Cardinals to assist him in building a Church that is “not only vertical, but horizontal.”
Although the road will be “long and difficult,” he said, such a Church is possible with “prudence, but firmness and tenacity.”
Being asked about the fact that Christians are a minority in the world, the Successor of Peter stated that “we always have been,” but that he personally thinks that “being a minority is actually a strength.”
Elaborating this point, the Pope explained that “we have to be a yeast of life and love and the yeast is a quantity infinitely less than the mass of fruits.”
He also spoke of the need to return to the Second Vatican Council’s call to open to modern culture through dialogue with non-believers, saying that although little has been done in this direction, “I have the humility and ambition to want to do it.”
In speaking to the Church’s role in politics, Pope Francis said that “the Church won’t occupy herself with politics,” explaining that when he urges Catholics to commit themselves politically, he is referring not just to them, but to “all men of good will.”
“Politics is the first of the civil activities and it has its own field of action that is not that of religion,” he said, emphasizing that political institutions are lay institutions by definition, and that they operate independently.
“I believe that Catholics working in politics have within them the values of religion,” he said, “but a mature conscience and competency to act on them.”
“The Church will never go beyond the task of expressing and spreading her values, at least as long as I’m here.”