Full text of Pope Francis' in-flight press conference from Panama

Pope Francis aboard the papal plane from Panama to Rome Jan 28 2019 Credit Vatican Media CNA Pope Francis aboard the papal plane from Panama to Rome Jan. 28, 2019. | Vatican Media.

Please read below for CNA's full transcript of the Pope's July 28 in-flight press conference from Panama City to Rome:

Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Holy See Press Office: Good evening! Holy Father, we can still hear in our ears the cry of "La Juventud del Papa" [Ed. note: a chant in Spanish translated to "The Young People of the Pope"], the Youth of Jesus Christ, as Monsignor Ulloa said, this great joy, these intense days, which nevertheless gave you so much energy. And, I believe that we have all seen in your face so much joy, the joy of this meeting, as well as the joy of the youth.

I brought something that I think many of the journalists here know about. This will not be a document that enters the magisterium of the Pope, but it is a document that you care so much about. This here is a song written by a girl from Honduras, Marta Avila, whose image I gave you yesterday, and this song is practically a song against bullying, which was a bit like the meeting with Scholas Occurrentes. This is to say that there was also the element of pain of these young people, as well as that of joy that we have seen on many occasions. I just want to say one image that struck me a lot, Holy Father, when you passed with the popemobile and said goodbye, I saw so many young people, perhaps for a single moment, embraced each other after greeting you. This touched me, the sharing of joy: that is, young people who hugged each other after seeing you even just for a moment, and this is perhaps a lesson for us adults. When young people are happy, they share joy, they don't keep it to themselves. This is something I wanted to share with you and the journalists. Here, Holy Father, you also had - among the many surprises that you had in these days - a meeting with UNICEF in the nunciature, just in the last moments before your departure. I don't know if you want to say a few words before giving the floor to the journalists for questions and before greeting them.
Pope Francis: Good evening, and then rest well because certainly everyone is tired after such an intense trip. Thank you for your work. Also for me, there were things I did not imagine, surprises, like this one that Gisotti said of the 16-year-old girl from Honduras, a victim of bullying, who sang with a beautiful voice and who wrote this song. Then the meeting before leaving the nunciature with people from the UNICEF of Central America, some testimonies of two young people and then those who work there. I heard things that touch the heart...It was an intense trip! You have the floor!

Gisotti: This is a trip that has many journeys within it, so please stay within the theme of this great voyage that has represented the world through the young people who were present. Obviously, the first word goes to the local press from Panama. Edwin Cabrera Uribe of Radio Panama will ask you two questions on behalf of the whole group of journalists from Panama. He will ask you one question, then after your answer another question. Thank you, Edwin.

Edwin Cabrera Uribe, Radio Panama: On behalf of the six Panamanian colleagues, the journey you gave to the Panamanian people is very big. You spoke to the volunteers about the fact that they have lived a mission. They know how the heart beats when you live a mission. What was your mission for the Central American WYD?

Pope Francis: My mission in a World Youth Day is the mission of Peter, which is to confirm in our faith. And this is not done with cold commands and orders but by letting oneself be touched by the heart and responding to what comes to you. I do not conceive, because I live it like this in me, I find it hard to think that someone can accomplish a mission only with the head. To fulfill a mission you have to feel it, and when you feel it, it strikes you. Life strikes you. Thoughts strike you.

At the airport, I was greeting the president and they brought me a child, a nice little boy... such a child... They told me that [when] this boy was crossing the Colombian border his mother died and he was left alone. He must be about 5 years old. He is from Africa but they don't know what country, because he doesn't speak English, Portuguese or French, but only his tribal language. They adopted him. He was a very lively child, he moved very well. It's the abuse of a boy abandoned by life because his mother died there, the policeman handed him over to the authorities to be taken care of. This is like a slap in the face and makes the mission take on color. The mission involves me. Maybe because I am... and it comes from inside me. I tell young people what they have to do in life they have to do by walking and using the three languages: head, heart and hands. Three harmonious languages, so that they do what they feel and what they think, think what they feel and what they do, feel what they think and what they do.

I don't know how to take stock of the mission. With all this I go to prayer and stay there before the Lord, sometimes I fall asleep, but I entrust him with the things I have lived in the mission and ask him to confirm in faith through me. This is how I conceive the pope's mission and how I live it.

There have been cases in which difficulties of the dogmatic type have been presented and I do not have to respond only with reason but in another way.

Cabrerà: Were the expectations of the WYD of Panama fulfilled?

Pope Francis: Evidently, the thermometer to understand it is tiredness. And, I am destroyed.

Cabrerà: There is a problem throughout Central America, Panama and much of Latin America: girls get pregnant early. Only in Panama have there been [unintelligible] Detractors of the Church say that it is the responsibility of the Church because it opposes sex education. The Catholic Church has many schools in Latin America and in universities. I would like to know the opinion of Pope Francis on sex education…

Pope Francis: I believe that in schools we must give sex education. Sex is a gift from God, it is not a monster, it is a gift from God to love. That some people use it to earn money or exploit is another problem. But we need to give an objective sexual education, that is without ideological colonization. If you start by giving sexual education full of ideological colonization you destroy the person. But sex as a gift from God must be taught. To educate is to educate, to make the best of people emerge and to accompany them along the way.

The problem is with those responsible for education, whether at the national, provincial or unit level (...), which teachers are chosen for this task and which textbooks, etc.. I have seen some books that are a little dirty. There are things that mature and things that do harm. I don't know if it's objective or not, that you don't have sex education in Panama. I say this without putting myself in the political problem of Panama. We need to have sex education for children. The ideal is to start from home, with the parents. It is not always possible because there are so many different situations in families, and because they do not know how to do it. And so the school makes up for this, because otherwise it will remain a void that will then be filled by any ideology.

Javier Martinez Brocal, Rome Reports: Holy Father, first of all I would like to congratulate you because you have set the record; in just four days you've become a Panamanian. It was just four days to fill your heart with Panama. And I would like to ask you a question in Italian.

These days, you have spoken with many young people. Surely, you have also spoken with young people who are fallen away from the Church or who have difficulties. In your opinion, where do young people find these difficulties, what are the reasons that drive them away from the Church? Thank you!

Pope Francis: There's a lot! Some are personal, but most general. I believe that first, it is the lack of Christian witnesses, priests, bishops. I'm not saying that of the popes because that's too much... but it is also! The lack of witness! If a pastor is an entrepreneur or an organizer of a pastoral program, or if a pastor is not close to the people, this pastor does not give witness of a true pastor. The pastor must be with the people, shepherd and flock we say. The shepherd must be ahead of the flock, to show the way in the midst of the herd, to smell the people, and to understand what they feel, what they need, how they feel, and to guard the flock from behind. But if a shepherd does not live with passion, people feel abandoned or in a certain sense feel despised [Ed. ignored], or when one feels orphaned and where orphanhood exists, I believe this...

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I emphasized pastors, but also Christians, the hypocritical Catholics, right? Hypocritical Catholics, you know? They go to mass every Sunday but they don't pay a bonus and they pay you under the table, using people, then they go to the Caribbean on vacation all through the exploitation of people. "But I'm a Catholic, I go to mass every Sunday." If you do that, you give a counter-witness. This, in my opinion, alienates people from the Church the most. Even the laity, all of them. But I would say: don't say that you're a Catholic if you don't bear witness. Say 'I am from a Catholic upbringing, but I'm lukewarm, I'm worldly, forgive me, don't look at me as a model,' this must be said.

I'm afraid of Catholics like that, huh? That they believe themselves to be perfect! But history repeats itself. The same with Jesus and the doctors of the law, no? "I thank you Lord because I am not like this poor sinner..." This is the lack of a witness. There are others, like personal difficulties, but this is the most general.

Gisotti: Holy Father, now Caroline Pigozzi of Paris Match will ask you a question.

Pope Francis: First of all I want to thank you, I tracked down Father Benoist de Sinety, he concelebrated with me, good man, and with also 200 young people from Paris.  

Caroline Pigozzi, Paris Match: There is another letter for you, Holiness, I will give it to you next week because he must write it.

Pope Francis: Very good.

Pigozzi: For four days, we have seen many young people praying with such intensity. Among them there is maybe a certain number that intend to embrace the religious life, you can think that a certain number have a vocation. But maybe someone is hesitating because he thinks that it will be a difficult path not being able to marry. Is it possible to think that in the Catholic Church, following the Eastern rite, you will permit married men to become priests?  

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Pope Francis: In the Eastern rite of the Catholic Church they may do it. The celibate option is given before diaconate [ordination].

Pigozzi: But now, with the Catholic Church of the Latin rite, do you think that you will reconsider the decision [of priestly celibacy]?

Pope Francis: For the Latin rite, I am reminded of a phrase of St. Paul VI: "I prefer to give my life before changing the law of celibacy." This came to me and I want to say it because it is a courageous phrase. In a moment more difficult than this -- it was in the years 1968-1970. Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift to the Church. Secondly, I would say that I do not agree with permitting optional celibacy, no. There remains only some possibility for very far places. I think of the Pacific islands, when there is a pastoral necessity, the pastor should think of the faithful.

There is an interesting book by Fr. Lobinger [Ed. note: Fritz Lobinger, bishop emeritus of Aliwal, South Africa] [on this topic] -- this is an issue of discussion between theologians, it is not yet my decision -- my decision is: optional celibacy before the diaconate, no. It is my thought, personally, but I would not do it. And this remains clear. It is only my personal thought. Am I narrow-minded, maybe? I do not want to put myself before God with this decision.

Fr. Lobinger says that the Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church. But where there is not the Eucharist, do you think Caroline, in the Pacific islands, maybe there... In many places, says Lobinger, who does the Eucharist? The directors, the organizers of those communities are deacons or sisters, or directly, the laity. And Lobinger says: you can ordain an older married man, it is his thesis, but only that exercise the munus santificandi, that is, that celebrate the Mass, that administer the sacrament of reconciliation and of unction.

Priestly ordination gives three munera [functions]: regendi [governing], that that commands; docendi [teaching], that that teaches, and santificandi [sanctifying]. This comes with ordination. But the bishop gives them [the viri probati] only the license of santificandi. The book [of Lobinger] is interesting. And maybe it could help to think about the problem. I believe that the problem should be open in this sense: where there is a pastoral problem due to the lack of priests. I do not say that it should be done, because I have not reflected, I have not prayed sufficiently on this. But the theology should be studied.

For example, Fr. Lobinger is an example, is a fidei donum of South Africa. [The potential candidate for priesthood] is already a mature man. I make this example to show the places where it should be done. I was speaking with an official of the Secretary of State, a bishop, that had worked in a communist country at the beginning of the revolution. When he had seen the crisis of the Revolution arrive it was the 1950s. The bishops secretly ordained peasants, of good religious faith. The crisis passed and 30 years later the thing was resolved. And he told me the emotion that he had when during a concelebration of the Mass he saw these farmers with their farmer hands put on their shirts to concelebrate with the bishops. This has been given in the history of the Church. It is something to study, think, rethink, and pray about.

Pigozzi: But there are also married Protestant clergy that have become Catholic?

Pope Francis: You ask me a question about that which Benedict did, that it is true, I had forgotten this. Benedict XVI made the "Anglicanorum coetibus" [Ed. creating personal ordinariates for the reception of former anglicans]. Anglican priests that have become Catholic and maintain the life an Eastern priest would. I remember in a Wednesday audience that I saw many men with a collar, but many women and children with them, in the hands of the priests, and they explained it to me... it's true, thank you for reminding me of this.

Gisotti: She will now ask you a question, Lena Klimkeit of the DPA.

Lena Klimkeit, DPA: Holy Father, during the Stations of the Cross on Friday a young man spoke very strong words about abortion. I want to repeat them for a moment. [Ed. note: The reporter repeats the comment in Spanish] 'There is a tomb that cries out to heaven and denounces the terrible cruelty of humanity. It is the tomb that opens in the womb of the mothers from which innocent life is plucked. May God grant us to truly humanize ourselves, to defend life fervently, to make the laws that kill life not feel erased forever.' This is a very radical position, in my opinion. I wonder and would like to ask you if this position also respects the suffering of women in this situation and if it corresponds to your message of mercy.
Pope Francis: The message of mercy is for everyone. Also for the human person who is in gestation. It is for everyone. After this failure, there is mercy as well. But a difficult mercy because the problem is not in giving forgiveness. The problem is to accompany a woman who has become aware of [what it means to have had] an abortion. These are terrible tragedies. Once I heard a doctor talking about a theory that a cell of the newly conceived fetus goes to the marrow of the mother and there is also a physical memory. This is a theory, but to say, a woman when she thinks about what she did... but I tell you the truth, you have to be in the confessional and you have to give comfort there, you can't say anything. That is why I have opened up the power [for priests] to absolve abortion out of mercy, because many times, but always, they have to meet with their child. I advise many times when they call, they have this anguish: "Your child is in heaven, talk to him. Sing to him the lullaby that you have not sung... you have not been able to sing to him". And there is a way for the mother to reconcile with her child. With God there is already forgiveness, God always forgives. But mercy also, that you elaborate this. The tragedy of abortion, to understand it well, one must be in a confessional. Terrible.

Gisotti: Thanks, Holy Father. The next question is from Valentina Alazraki of Televisa. Valentina, come. Valentina is coming up. If I remember well, it's her 150th Apostolic Trip. I believe.

Valentina Alazraki, Televisa: Pope Francis, you have said these days here in Panama that you were very close to Venezuela, that you felt very close to the Venezuelans and today you asked for a just, peaceful solution, in respect of the human rights of all. The Venezuelans want to know what this means. They await your word. They want to know if this solution passes through the recognition of Juan Guaido, who has been backed by many countries. Others are asking for elections in the short term, free elections so the people can vote. They feel that you are a Latin American Pope and they want to hear your support, your help, your counsel. Thanks.

Pope Francis: I support in this moment all of the Venezuelan people - it is a people that is suffering - including those who are one side and the other. All of the people are suffering. If I entered to say, "listen to these countries," or "listen to these others who say this," I would be putting myself in a role I don't know. It would be a pastoral imprudence on my side, and it would do damage. The words. I thought about them and thought about them again. And I think with this I expressed my closeness, what I feel. I suffer for what is happening in Venezuela right now. And for this I desire that they come to an agreement. I don't know, not even saying to come to an agreement is okay. A just and peaceful solution. What is it that scares me? The shedding of blood. And there I also ask greatness to help, to those who can help and resolve the problem.
The problem of violence terrifies me. After all the effort made in Colombia, what happened in the cadets' school the other day was terrifying. Blood is not the solution. That why I have to be… I don't like the word "balanced." I have to be a shepherd, to all. And if they need help, from a mutual agreement, may they ask for it. That's it, to help. Thanks.

Gisotti: Thank you, Holy Father. It is the turn of Junno Arocho Estevez of Catholic News Service. Junno.

Junno Arocho Estevez, CNS: Good evening, Holiness. During her lunch with a group of young pilgrims, a young American girl told us that she had been asked about the pain and indignation of so many Catholics, particularly of the United States, for the crisis of abuse. Many American Catholics pray for the Church, but many feel betrayed and downcast after recent reports of abuse and cover-up by some bishops and have lost faith in them. Holiness, what are your expectations or hopes for the meeting in February so that the church can begin to rebuild trust between the faithful and their bishops?

Pope Francis: He is clever, he starts with the WYD [trip] and he ends up here [on another issue]. My compliments. No, but thank you for the question.

The idea of ​​this was born in the G9 [Ed. note: he means "C9"] because we saw that some bishops did not understand well or did not know what to do or did something good or wrong and we felt the responsibility to give a "catechesis," in quotation marks, on this problem to the episcopal conferences. That is why we called upon the presidents.

First, a catechesis: that we become aware of the tragedy, what is an abused boy, an abused girl. I regularly receive abused people [in audience]. I remember one... 40 years without being able to pray. It is terrible, the suffering is terrible. That first, [the bishops] become aware of this.

Second: that they know what must be done, the procedure, because sometimes the bishop does not know what to do. It is something that has grown very strong and has not arrived at all angles, so to speak. And then, let them make general programs, but they will come from all the episcopal conferences: what the bishop must do, what the archbishop who is the metropolitan must do, what the president of the episcopal conference must do. But it must be clear in that… that they are - let's say it in terms [that are] a little juridical - that there are protocols that are clear. This is the main thing. But, before [talking of] what must be done, is that which I said before, raising awareness.

Then, there we will pray. There will be testimonies to help to become aware and then a penitential liturgy to ask forgiveness for the whole Church. But they are working well in preparation for this. I permit myself to say that I've perceived a bit of an inflated expectation. We need to deflate the expectations to these points that I'm saying. Because the problem of abuse will continue. It's a human problem, but human everywhere. I read a statistic the other day, there are those statistics that say that 50 percent is reported, of this 50 percent, 20 percent is listened to… and it goes down, and it finished like this: five percent is condemned. Terrible. Terrible. It's a human tragedy and we need to become aware. Also us, resolving the problem in the Church, but becoming aware will help to resolve it in society, in the families where shame covers everything, and the victim… in so many others… or in so many other societies. But first, we must become aware, have the protocols [in place] and move forward. This is the thing.

Gisotti: So, I'm not sure there is time for another question. Maybe another quick question would be possible… Yes. Manuela Tulli. Please, if you could be brief because they are about to serve dinner. Thank you, Manuela.

Manuela Tulli, ANSA: Good evening, Holy Father. During this WYD, you said that it's absurd and irresponsible to consider migrants as bearers of social problems. In Italy the new immigration policies have led to the closing of the CARA facility at Castelnuovo di Porto, which you know well. That was an experiment where you could see seeds of integration, the children were attending school, and people are at risk of being evicted. You have chosen that precise facility to celebrate Holy Thursday Mass back in 2016. Therefore, I would like to ask you what your opinion about the closing of the CARA facility in Castelnuovo di Porto is.

Pope Francis: I did not understand the question. What was ultimately decided?

Tulli: to close the CARA facility of Castelnuovo di Porto, where you celebrated Holy Thursday Mass in 2016 and now there is the risk that the people involved in the experience will be sent away.

Pope Francis: I did hear rumors about what was happening in Italy, but I was immersed in the WYD preparations, so I am not well aware of the circumstances, but I can imagine what is going on, I can imagine. It is true that the issue regarding the arrival of migrants is a very complex situation, a problem that wants memory, to ask ourselves what would happen if my country was made of immigrants. We, the Argentinians, for instance, we are all migrants. The United States was all made of immigrants. It takes recalling and… Recently, one bishop, a cardinal actually, I can't remember his name, but he has written a beautiful article about the 'problem of our lack of memory,' that was the article's title.

Then, the words that I use to express myself… is to receive, to have a heart willing to receive, to welcome, to accompany, to help grow and integrate. And I also say: the ruler must use prudence because prudence is the ruler's most proper virtue. I said that in my last flight. With these words, yes. It is a tough equation. It comes to my mind the example of Sweden, a country that back in the 1970's has received many, many immigrants due to a situation of dictatorship in Latin American countries and managed to integrate all the people who migrated. It is what I see that the Sant'Egidio Community [in Rome] does: they integrate migrants very fast. But the Swedish have said a few years ago that they should take this process more slowly so they can finish it, and this is the prudence of the rulers. It is a problem of charity, of love, of solidarity, and I praise the nations that have been more generous to welcome migrants, but we have other countries that did not manage to do as much, nevertheless, we have the example of Italy and Greece, and Turkey on a lesser scale. Greece was extremely generous and so was Italy. When I went to Lampedusa, that was just the beginning…. But it is true that it's important to think realistically. Then there's another important aspect, something we should all consider: one way of helping migrants is to offer help to the countries where they come from. Migrants often flee because of famine or because of wars. It's necessary to invest where there's starvation. Europe is capable of doing it and it is a way of fostering growth. But, speaking again about the case of Africa, there is always that unconscious thought: Africa is to be exploited. This remains in our history and it causes a large damage. The migrants from the Middle East on the other hand, they have found another way out. In Lebanon, generosity is outstanding: there are over one million citizens from Syria living there. Jordan is the same thing, they are open, they do what they can, hoping to reintegrate everyone. And also, Turkey has received quite a few [migrants], right? And so did we in Italy. But it's a complex problem, that we must speak about without prejudice. Considering all these things that just came to my mind.

Gisotti: Thank you, Holy Father. So, have a good dinner and a good trip and within in a week we'll see you again for another very important trip, so…

Pope Francis: I thank you so much for you work. I would just like to say a thing about Panama. I felt a new feeling. I know Latin America but not Panama. And this word came to me: Panama is a noble nation. I found nobility. This I wish to say, and I want to say another thing that I said when I came back from Colombia, speaking of the experience in Cartagena and the other cities, a thing that we don't see in Europe, that is, the pride, in this case of the Panamanians. You lift up the children and they say to you, "this is my victory," "this is my future," "this is my pride." This in the midst of the demographic winter we're living in Europe. In Italy, below zero. It has to make us think. What is my pride? Tourism? The villa [home]? The dog? Or lifting up a child? Thanks! Pray for me, I need it.

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