Pope Francis aboard the plane during his trip back from World Youth Day. (AP)
An extraordinary moment in journalism. That’s the only way to describe the September 30 issue of America Magazine, completely given over to an interview with Pope Francis. It can be accessed online here: www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview
How the Jesuits sat on this interview, done over three days in August, is amazing in the nothing’s-a-secret-world of Wikileaks. As I read the interview, I kept saying, “Wow! This is incredible.” I wanted to call someone to tell them what I was reading. I saw an ad for the National Religious Retirement Collection in the pages and thought, “Lucky them. Here’s an issue to advertise in!” This is a best seller and award-winner. I hope America editor Father Matt Malone, SJ, and his colleagues did a serious print overrun.
Today’s leaders often say they want to speak without a filter. Well, Pope Francis has done it in this 12,000-word interview. We read the questions posed by the editor of “Civilt Cattolica,” an Italian Jesuit publication that carries Vatican approval. The interview is a joint venture by the two periodicals.A palpable profundity and humanness come through the interview. It also is comprehensible, especially for something that borders on a papal document. We glimpse the man Jorge Bergolio who likes writers we’ve also read: Dostoevsky and Gerard Manley Hopkins, and seen movies we’ve seen like Fellini’s “La Strada.”
He needs community, being with people. It’s why he joined the Jesuits and why he lives in a Vatican residence instead of the Apostolic Palace.Pope Francis describes himself as a sinner loved by a merciful God. He thinks he might be na ve. He’s made mistakes: said he was too autocratic as a Jesuit provincial superior when he was only 36 and when he couldn’t be bothered to consult. People thought he was right-wing. He’s not, he says. He’s learned. “It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that caused problems.” Now he wants to change the way consistories of cardinals and synods bishops work.
He uses metaphor to present the church’s mission of mercy and healing. “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle.”
He shows the passion of pastor. “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is in a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”
And there’s more.
“Pope Francis: The Exclusive Interview” is a journalistic gold mine. It may stand as “America Magazine’s greatest moment in its 104 years of publishing, a tribute to the Jesuits and the Catholic press and journalism overall.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh is Director of Media Relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.