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

Pope Francis aboard the flight from Rabat to Rome March 31 2019 Credit Alan Holdren CNA Pope Francis speaks aboard the flight from Rabat to Rome, March 31, 2019. | Alan Holdren/CNA.

Please read below for CNA's full transcript of the pope's March 31 in-flight press conference from Rabat to Rome:

Pope Francis: I am thankful for your company, the trip, your work. It was challenging because one day and a half and so many things, right? And thank you for your work and now I am at your service.

Alessandro Gisotti: Clearly, as always, as is tradition, we start with the local media. Siham Toufiki, do you want to ask the question in English, as you like.

Siham Toufiki, MAP: I will ask in French … There were very powerful moments. This visit was exceptional, historic for the Moroccan people. What are the consequences of this visit for the future, for world peace, for coexistence in the dialogue between cultures?

Pope Francis: I will say that now there are flowers, the fruits will come later, but the flowers are promising. I am happy because in these two journeys I have been able to talk much about what is in my heart -- peace, unity, fraternity. With Muslim brothers and sisters, we sealed this fraternity in the Abu Dhabi document, and here in Morocco, with this we have all seen a freedom, a welcome, all brothers with such great respect, and this beautiful flower of coexistence, a beautiful flower that is promising to bear fruit.  

We must not give up. It is true that there will be still be difficulties. There will be many difficulties because unfortunately there are fundamentalist groups. This too, I would like to say clearly: in every religion there are always fundamentalist groups, who do not want to go forward and [who] live with bitter memories of past struggles and seek more war and also sow fear; and we have seen that it is more beautiful to sow hope. Sowing hope is holding hands, always forward.

We have seen, even in the dialogue with you here in Morocco that bridges are needed, and we feel pain when we see people who prefer to build walls. Why do we feel sad? Because those who build walls will end up being prisoners of the walls they build. Instead, those who build bridges will go forward. Building bridges, for me, is something that goes almost beyond human because it takes great effort.

I was very touched by a sentence in the novel, "The Bridge on the Drina," by Ivo Andrić. He says that the bridge is made by God with the wings of angels so that men can communicate … so that men can communicate. The bridge is for human communication. And this is beautiful and I saw it here in Morocco. It is beautiful. Instead of walls that are against communication -- they are for isolation and those that build them will become prisoners of those walls. So, a summary: the fruits are not seen, but we see so many flowers that will bear fruit. Let's move forward like this.

Gisotti: Holy Father, Nicolas Seneze from La Croix will now ask his question, perhaps Cristina Cabrejas can get closer so that we save time.

Nicolas Seneze, La Croix: Good evening, Holy Father. Yesterday the King of Morocco said he will protect Jewish Moroccans, and Christians from other countries who live in Morocco. This begs the question: what about the Muslims who convert to Christianity? I wanted to know if you are concerned about these men and women, who risk prison, or death in some Muslim countries, like the Emirates, which you visited. And also a question that is a bit sneaky, which is about Cardinal Barbarin, who was born in Rabat, which you visited for two days.

Pope Francis: And a question?

Seneze: It is a bit tricky, I know, but this week the councils of the Diocese of Lyon voted almost unanimously that a lasting solution be found to his retirement (leave of absence). Setting aside {inaudible} of the cardinal, I wanted to know if it is possible for you, who are very attached to the synodality of the Church, to hear this appeal of a diocese that has such a difficult situation? Thank you.

Pope Francis: The first was what?

Seneze: Muslims who convert to Christianity.
Pope Francis: I can say that in Morocco there is freedom of worship, there is religious liberty, there's liberty of belonging to a religious creed. Then, freedom always develops, it grows. Think of us Christians 300 years ago, if there was this freedom that we have today. The faith grows in the awareness, the ability to understand itself. A monk from among you, a Frenchman, Vincent of Lérins, in the 9th or 8th century [Ed. 5th century] coined a beautiful expression to explain how you can grow in the faith, better explain things, grow also in morality, but also remaining faithful to your roots. He said three words that precisely mark the way. He said that growing in explication and in understanding of the faith and morality must be "annis scilicet consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate," that is, it must be strengthened in years, enlarged in time, but it is the same faith, and sublimated in years.
So, we understand, for example, that today we in the Church have removed the death penalty from the Catechesim of the Catholic Church. Three hundred years ago, heretics were burned alive. Because the Church has grown in moral conscience, respect for the person, and freedom of worship. We too must continue to grow. There are people, Catholics, who do not accept what the Second Vatican Council said about freedom of worship, freedom of conscience. There are people who don't accept it. Catholics. Also we have this problem. But, the Muslim brothers also grow in conscience. In some countries, they don't understand well or they don't grow like in others.
In Morocco, there is this growth. In this frame, there is the problem of conversion, some countries still don't see it. I don't know if it's prohibited, but the practice is prohibited. Some countries like Morocco don't make problems - they're more open, more respectful, they seek a certain way of proceeding with discretion. Other countries with whom I've spoken say, "We have no problem, but we prefer they do the baptism outside of the country and they return Christians." But, there are ways of progressing in the freedom of religion and the freedom of worship.
But something else is concerning to me: the regression of us Christians when we take away freedom of conscience. Think of the Christian doctors and hospital institutions that do not have the right of conscientious objection, for example, for euthanasia. How? The Church has moved on and you Christian countries go backwards? Think of this because it is a truth. Today, we Christians have the danger that some governments will take away our freedom of conscience, which is the first step toward freedom of worship. The response isn't easy. But, let's not accuse Muslims. Let's accuse ourselves also in these countries where this happens. It is a shame.
Then, on Cardinal Barbarin. He, a man of the Church, has submitted his resignation, but morally I cannot accept it because juridically, but also in the classic global jurisprudence, there is a presumption of innocence during the time the cause is open. He made an appeal and the cause is still open. Then, when the second tribunal gives its verdict, we'll see what happens. But, he always is to have the presumption of innocence. This is important because it goes against the superficial media condemnation. What does the global jurisprudence say? "He did this." But look, what does the judge say, what does the global jurisprudence say? That if a case is open, there is the presumption of innocence. Maybe he is not innocent, but there is the presumption.
Many times… Once I talked about this problem referring to Spain, how the media condemnation ruined the lives of some priests who were then judged innocent. Before making a media condemnation, think twice. I don't know if I answered. And, [Barbarin] preferred, honestly… "I will retire away, take a voluntary leave and let the vicar general manage the diocese until the moment the tribunal makes a final decision." Understood? Thank you.
Gisotti: Okay, I ask you all for brevity and just one question to respect all of the language groups. There is Cristina Cabrejas of EFE that asks her question, meanwhile Michael Schram of ARD if he can prepare. Please, Cristina.

Cristina Cabrejas, EFE: Good evening, Pope Francis. I will ask the question in Italian. In yesterday's speech to the authorities, you said that the migration phenomenon is not resolved with physical barriers, but here in Morocco, Spain has built two barriers with sharp blades to cut those who want to overcome it. You met some of them in a few meetings and President Trump these days said he wants to completely close the borders and suspend aid to three Central American countries.

Pope Francis: First of all, what I said a moment ago, the builders of walls, whether made of barbed wire that cuts with knives or bricks, will become prisoners of the walls they make. First. History will show this.  
Secondly, Jordi Evole, when he interviewed me, he showed me a piece of that wire with the knives. I'll tell you sincerely, I was moved. Then, when he left I cried. I cried because so much cruelty doesn't enter into my heart and my head. Watching people drown in the Mediterranean doesn't enter into my heart and my head, blocking ports doesn't enter. This isn't the way to solve the grave problem of immigration. I understand, a government with this problem has a "hot potato" that needs to be resolved in another way.

When I saw that wire, with knives, It seemed like I couldn't believe it. Then, once I had the chance to see a video of the prison of refugees that return, that are sent back. Unofficial prisons, prisons among many traffickers. If you want, I can send [the video] to you. But they make suffering, they make suffering. They sell women and children there, the men remain. And the tortures that are seen filmed there are unbelievable. It was a film made in secret, with services. Here I do not let enter: It is right because I have no place, but there are other countries, there is the humanity of the European Union. We must talk about the whole European Union. I do not let them in, or let them drown there, or send them away knowing that so many of them will fall into the hands of these traffickers who will sell women and children, kill or torture to enslave men. This video is at your disposal.

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I once spoke to a politician, a man that I respect and I will say the name: Alexis Tsipras. And speaking of this and the accords not to let [migrants] in, he explained the difficulties to me, but in the end, he spoke to me from the heart and said this phrase: 'human rights are before accords.' This sentence deserves the Nobel Prize.

Gisotti: Here, the question is now addressed by Michael Schramm of the German ARD, and Cristiana Caricato is preparing, thank you.  

Michael Schramm, ARD Roma: Your Holiness, I have to apologize, my Italian is not good. Sorry. My question: You have been fighting or many years to protect and help migrants, as you did in the last few days in Morocco. European politics goes exactly in the opposite direction. Europe becomes like a rod against migrants. This policy reflects the opinion of voters. The majority of these voters are Catholic Christians. How do you feel about this sad situation?

Pope Francis: I see that many people of good will, not only Catholics, but good people, of good will, are a little gripped by the fear that is the usual sermon of populism: fear. Sowing fear and then making decisions. Fear is the beginning of dictatorships. Let's go to the last century, to the fall of the Weimar empire [Republic]. I repeat this a lot. Germany needed an exit and, with promises and fears, Hitler went ahead. We know the result. We learn from history, this is not new: To sow fear is to make a harvest of cruelty, closures, and even sterility. Think of the demographic winter of Europe. Even we who live in Italy: under zero. Think of the lack of historical memory: Europe was made by migration and this is its riches. We think of the generosity of so many countries, which today are knocking at the door of Europe, with European migrants from '84 onwards, the two post-war periods, en masse, North America, Central America, South America. My  father went there in the post-war period, in welcome. Even Europe could have a little gratitude, it is true. true. To be understanding I will say two things. It is true that the first work we should make is to try to ensure that people who migrate for war or for hunger do not have this need. But if Europe, so generous, sells arms to Yemen [used] to kill children, how can Europe be coherent? I say: this is an example, but Europe sells weapons. Then there is the problem of hunger, thirst. Europe, if it wants to be the mother Europe and not the grandmother Europe, must invest, must try intelligently to help to lift up [people] with education, with investments, (this is not mine, Chancellor Merkel said it). It is something that she carries forward well enough.

To prevent immigration not by force, but by generosity, educational investments, economic investments, etc. This is very important. Second thing about this: how to act. It is true that a country cannot receive everyone, but there is all of Europe to distribute migrants to, there is all of Europe. Because hospitality must be open-hearted, then accompany, promote, and integrate. If a country cannot integrate [migrants] it must immediately think of speaking with other countries: how much you can integrate to give a dignified life to the people.

Another example that I lived in my flesh in the time of dictatorships, the Condor operation in Buenos Aires, Latin America, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. It was Sweden that received people, with an impressive generosity.

They immediately learned the language at the expense of the state, they found work, a home. Now Switzerland feels a little difficulty to integrate [migrants], but she says it and asks for help.

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When I was in Lund last year, or the other year, I do not remember, the prime minister welcomed me, but in the farewell ceremony it was a minister, a young minister, I believe in education. She was a bit brunette, because she is the daughter of a Swede and an African migrant. Thus is how a country I put as an example, Sweden, integrates [migrants]. But this takes generosity, the desire to move forward. With fear we will not move forward, with walls we will remain closed in these walls. I am giving a sermon, sorry.

Gisotti: There is now the question of Cristiana Caricato of TV2000 and we'll see if we can then ask the last question.

Cristiana Caricato, TV2000: Holy Father, you have just noted fears and the risk of dictatorships that these fears can generate. Just today, an Italian minister, referring to the Verona conference, said that more than the family, one must be afraid of Islam. You have been saying something else for years now. In your opinion, are we at risk of dictatorship in our country [Italy]? According to you, it is the result of prejudice, of not knowing, what do you think? And then a curiosity: you often denounce the action of the devil, you did so also at the recent [Vatican summit on abuse]. It seems to me that in the last period he is very active, the devil has given himself much to do lately, also in the Church. In your opinion, what should be done to counter him, especially with regard to pedophilia scandals? Are laws enough? Why is the devil so active right now?

Pope Francis: Very good. Thank you for the question. A newspaper said, after my speech at the end of the summit of presidents [of bishops' conferences]: The pope was sneaky. First he said that pedophilia is a global problem, then he said something about the Church, in the end he washed his hands and blamed the devil. A bit 'simplistic' isn't it? That speech is clear. A French philosopher, in the '70s, had made a distinction that gave me a lot of light. He was called [unclear recording]. He gave me a hermeneutical light. He said: to understand a situation you have to give all the explanations and then look for the meanings. What does it mean socially? What does it mean personally or religiously?

I try to give you all the explanations and also the limits of the explanations. But there is a point that cannot be understood without the mystery of evil. Think of this: virtual child pornography. There were two heavy meetings [on this topic], one in Rome and the other in Abu Dhabi. I wonder: Why did this become a daily thing? Why, I'm talking about serious statistics, how come if I wanted to see child sexual abuse, live, you can connect with virtual child pornography, they make it. Look, I'm not telling lies. It is in the statistics. I wonder: Cannot the people responsible for public order do anything? We in the Church will do everything to finish with this plague, we will do it all. And in that speech I gave concrete measures. And they already were, before the summit, when the conference presidents gave me that list I gave to all of you [Ed. 21 'reflection points']. But are the perpetrators of this filth innocent? Those who earn money from this? In Buenos Aires, with two parliamentarians from the city, not from the national government, we made an order, it is not a law, but a non-binding provision for luxury hotels, where it was said 'put in the reception: in this hotel amusement (relationships) with minors is not allowed.' No one wanted to put it. 'No, but you know, you cannot, it looks like we are dirty, we do not allow it, but without the sign.' A government, for example, cannot identify where the video of this [abuse] is [taking place], where are these things done with children? All filmed live. This is to say that the global scourge is great, but also to say that this is not understood without the spirit of evil. It is a concrete problem. We must solve it concretely, but say that it is the spirit of evil.

And to solve this there are two publications that I recommend: one that is an article by Gianni Valente in Vatican Insider where he talks about the Donatists. The danger of the Church today of becoming Donatist by doing all [with] human provisions, that which must be done, but only these, forgetting the other dimensions: prayer, penance, the accusation of one's self, which we are not used to doing. Both! Because to overcome the spirit of evil is not 'washing one's hands,' saying 'the devil does it,' no. We too must struggle with the devil, as we must struggle with human things.

The other publication is one that they did... you, La Civilta Cattolica. I wrote a book in 1987, "The Letters of Tribulation", they were letters from the Jesuit fathers general of that time, when the society was going to be dissolved, and I wrote a prologue. And these [people] studied this and they found a study on the letters that I wrote to the Chilean episcopate and to the people of Chile, how to act in this, the two parts, the human, scientific part to go ahead and against, the legal part as well, and then the spiritual part.

The same thing I did with the bishops of the United States, because the proposals were too much of an organization, of methodologies, a bit without meaning to, but it had neglected this second spiritual dimension, with the laity, with everyone.

I want to tell you, the Church isn't a congregationalist church, it's a Catholic Church where the bishop takes this into hand as a shepherd, "the Pope has to take this in hand," but how does he take it in hand? With disciplinary measures, with prayer, penance, the accusation of one's self. In that letter that I wrote them before they began their spiritual exercises, there was also this dimension well explained. I would be grateful if you were to study both things: the human part and also the part of the spiritual fight.

Gisotti: No, we have truly exceeded the time, I'm sorry, but it is a press conference that has become longer than that...

Caricato: The question is whether even in Italy we are at risk of dictatorship.

Pope Francis: Really, I do not understand Italian politics. I do not understand. Yesterday, I passed [on the plane] Franca [Giansoldati]. I had read in Espresso about this Family Day. I said [to Giansoldati] you didn't write it? What do you think of Family Day? I don't know what it is, really I know it's one of the many days that [Italians] have. I also know, I said to her, that I read the letter sent by Cardinal Parolin and I agree. A pastoral, polite letter from a pastor's heart. But don't ask me about Italian politics, I don't understand.

Gisotti: I'm sorry, as I told you, we are really, absolutely, out of time. There is only really a minute for a little surprise for two colleagues who had birthdays yesterday: Phil Pulella and Gerry O'Connell, two great colleagues and this is a small gift from the community of your colleagues and all of us.

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