He continued: “What has been achieved so far in China was at least dialogue ... some concrete things like the appointment of new bishops, slowly ... But these are also steps that can be questionable and the results on one side or the other.”
The pope added that Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican Secretary of State for the first 10 years of John Paul II’s pontificate, was a model of Vatican diplomacy and spoke highly of his book “The Martyrdom of Patience.”
“Today, somehow we have to follow these paths of dialogue step by step in the most conflictive situations. My experience in dialogue with Islam, for example, with the Grand Imam Al-Tayyeb was very positive in this, and I am very grateful to him,” he said, referring to the Grand Imam of al-Azhar in Egypt, with whom the pope signed a declaration on human fraternity in 2019.
Euthanasia and abortion
In the interview, the pope also strongly defended the Church’s opposition to euthanasia and abortion.
“We are living in a throwaway culture. What is useless is discarded. Old people are disposable material: they are a nuisance. Not all of them, but in the collective unconscious of the throwaway culture, the old... the most terminally ill, too; the unwanted children, too, and they are sent to the sender before they are born,” he commented.
“What the Church asks is to help people to die with dignity. This has always been done,” he said.
“And with regard to the case of abortion … I say this: any embryology manual given to a medical student in medical school says that by the third week of conception, sometimes before the mother realizes [that she is pregnant], all the organs in the embryo are already outlined, even the DNA. It is a life. A human life. Some say, ‘It's not a person.’ It is a human life.”
The pope then posed a question: “Is it licit to eliminate a human life to solve a problem, is it fair to eliminate a human life to solve a problem?”
Asked about the devil, a theme that the pope has often addressed since his election in 2013, Francis highlighted the danger of what he called “polite devils.”
“The devil runs around everywhere, but I’m most afraid of the polite devils. Those who ring your doorbell, who ask your permission, who enter your house, who make friends,” Francis said.
“But Jesus never talked about that? Yes, he did … when he says this: when the unclean spirit comes out of a man, when someone is converted or changes his life, he goes and starts to walk around, in arid places, he gets bored, and after a while he says ‘I’m going back to see how it is,’ and he sees the house all tidy, all changed. Then he looks for seven people worse than him and enters with a different attitude,” he said.
“That is why I say that the worst are the polite devils, those who ring the doorbell. The naivety of this person lets him in and the end of that man is worse than the beginning, says the Lord. I dread the polite devils. They are the worst, and one is very much fooled.”
Not watching television
Pope Francis also told the story behind why he has not watched much television in the past 30 years.
“I made a promise on July 16, 1990. I felt that the Lord was asking me to do so, because we were in community watching something that ended up tawdry, unpleasant, bad. I felt bad,” he said.
“It was the night of July 15. And the next day, in prayer, I promised the Lord not to watch it.”
The pope added that he does still tune in for important events, such as when a president takes office or when there is a plane crash.
“But I am not addicted to it,” he said.
His recent colon surgery
Pope Francis said that life had returned to normal since he underwent a colon surgery on July 4 that required him to remain hospitalized for 11 days.
“It is the second time in my life that a nurse has saved my life,” the pope said.
“He saved my life. He told me: ‘You have to have surgery.’ There were other opinions: ‘Better with antibiotics…’ but the nurse explained it to me very well. He is a nurse from here, from our health service, from the Vatican hospital. He has been here for 30 years, a very experienced man,” he said.
Italian media identified the nurse as Massimiliano Strappetti, who has worked in the Vatican since 2002, after eight years serving in the intensive care unit at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital.
The pope explained that his surgery had been pre-scheduled and that he has been eating regularly now after some weeks of recovery.
“Now I can eat everything, which was not possible before with the diverticula. I can eat everything. I still have the post-operative medications, because the brain has to register that it has 33 centimeters [12 inches] less intestine,” he observed.
The pope also addressed the recent rumors about his resignation, saying that he had no idea about the rumors until someone told him.
“I read only one newspaper here in the morning, the newspaper of Rome … I read it quickly and that’s it … And I do receive the report about some of the news of the day, but I found out much later, a few days later, that there was something about me resigning,” he said.
“Whenever a pope is ill, there is always a breeze, or a hurricane, of conclave.”
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.