Speaking to journalists aboard Tuesday’s flight from Cuba to Joint Base Andrews, outside Washington, D.C., Pope Francis discussed his time in Cuba; the Church’s social teaching, and personal freedoms in Cuba, as well as Cuba-United States relations.
Below is a full transcript of the discussion between Pope Francis and journalists during the Sept. 22 flight:
Rosa Miriam: Your Holiness, it’s been a true honor and pleasure to accompany you on this trip. (What are) your thoughts on the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and are you going to speak about it before the U.S. Congress?
Pope Francis: The question of the embargo is part of the negotiations. This is public, right? Both presidents have referred to that. So it’s a public thing that is on the path, on the path of good relations, for which they are searching, no? And my wish is that we reach a good conclusion in this, that there might be an agreement that satisfies both sides. An agreement, yes? With respect to the position of the Holy See regarding embargoes: previous Popes have spoken about this. Not just this one. There are other cases of embargoes. There is the social doctrine of the Church on embargoes. I’m speaking about that. It’s very precise, very just. And, about the Congress of the United States, the speech is finished so I can’t say; or better put, I’m thinking well about what I might say about it. Specifically on that theme, the theme of bilateral or multi-national agreements as signs of progress in co-existence. That’s the sense. But that issue concretely… I’m remembering … because I don’t want to say something wrong. But this theme concretely isn’t mentioned. I’m sure it’s not. Ok?
Rosa Flores, CNN: Good afternoon, Holy Father. I am Rosa Flores of CNN. We understand that more than 50 dissidents were arrested outside the nunciature [in Cuba] as they were trying to have a meeting with you. First, would you like to have a meeting with the dissidents, and if you had that meeting, what would you say?
Pope Francis: Look, I don’t have any news that that has happened. I don’t have any news. Some yes, yes, no, I don’t know. I don’t know, directly. The two questions are about reading the future. Would I like this to happen? … I like to meet with all people. I consider that all people are children of God and the law. And secondly, a relationship with another person always enriches. Even though it was soothsaying, that’s my reply. I would like to meet with everyone. If you want me to speak more about the dissidents, you can ask me something more concrete. For the nunciature, first, it was very clear that I was not going to give audiences because not only the dissidents asked for audiences, but also audiences (were requested) from other sectors, including from the chief of state. And, no, I am on a visit to a nation, and just that. I know that I hadn’t planned any audience with the dissidents or the others. And secondly from the nunciature, some people made some calls to some people who are in these groups of dissidents, where the responsibility was given to the nuncio to call them and tell them that I would greet them with pleasure outside the catedral for the meeting with the consecrated (religious). I would greet them when I was there, no? That did exist. Now, as no one identified themselves in their greetings, I don’t know if they were there. I said hello to the sick who were in wheelchairs. … Oops, I’m speaking Spanish. I greeted those who were in wheelchairs, but no one identified themselves as dissidents; but from the nunciature calls were made by some for a quick greeting.
(Follow up from Flores on what he would tell them if he met with them.)
Pope Francis: Oh, my daughter, I don’t know what I would say. (laughs) I would wish everyone well, but what one says comes in that moment and … You’ve got the Nobel Prize for being a reader of the future, eh? (laughs)
Silvia Poggioli, NPR: I would like to ask you, in the decades of the power of the state of Fidel Castro, the Church in Cuba has suffered much. In your meeting with Fidel, did you get the impression that [he] may be a bit regretful?
Pope Francis: Regret is a very intimate thing, and it’s a thing of conscience. I, in the meeting with Fidel, I spoke of the stories of known Jesuits, because in the meeting I brought a gift of a book, from Fr. Llorente, also a good friend of his, who is also a Jesuit. And also a CD with the conferences of Fr. Llorente and I also gave him two books from Fr. Pronzato [sic] which I’m sure he’ll also appreciate. And we talked about these things. We spoke a lot about the encyclical, Laudato si’. He’s very interested in the issue of ecology. It was a not-so-formal, rather spontaneous meeting. Also his family was present there. Also those who accompanied me, my driver, were present there. But, we were a bit separated from his wife. They couldn’t hear, but they were in the same place. But we spoke a lot on the encyclical because he is very concerned about this. About the past, we didn’t speak.
(inaudible question from Poggioli)
Pope Francis: Yes! About the past, the Jesuit college. And how the Jesuits were and how they made him work. All of that, yes.
Gian Guido Vecchi, Corriere della Sera: Holiness, your reflections, also your denouncements of the inequity of the world economic system, the risk of self-destruction of the planet are also very uncomfortable, in the sense that they touch the powerful interests of arms trafficking, etc. Before this trip, there were some bizarre manifestations that came out. Also, very important world media picked them up and and sectors of North American society were even asking themselves if the Pope was Catholic. There have already been discussions about a communist Pope, now there are event those who speak of a Pope who isn’t Catholic. In the face of these considerations, what do you think?
Pope Francis: A cardinal friend of mine told me that a very concerned woman, very Catholic, went to him. A bit rigid, but Catholic. And she asked him if it was true that in the Bible, they spoke of an antichrist, and she explained it to him. And also in the Apocalypse, no? And, then, if it was true that an anti-pope, who is the antichrist, the anti-Pope. But why is she asking me this question, this cardinal asked me? “Because I’m sure that Pope Francis is the anti-pope," she said. And why does she ask this, why does she have this idea? “It’s because he doesn’t wear red shoes." The reason for thinking if one is communist or isn’t communist. I’m sure that I haven’t said anything more than what’s written in the social doctrine of the Church. On another flight, a colleague asked me if I had reached out a hand to the popular movements and asked me, “But is the Church going to follow you?" I told him, “I’m the one following the Church." And in this it seems that I’m not wrong. I believe that I never said a thing that wasn’t the social doctrine of the Church. Things can be explained, possibly an explanation gave an impression of being a little “to the left", but it would be an error of explanation. No, my doctrine on this, in Laudato si’, on economic imperialism, all of this, is the social doctrine of the Church. And it if necessary, I’ll recite the creed. I am available to do that, eh.
Jean Louis de la Vaissiere, AFP: In the last trip to Latin America, you harshly criticized the capitalist liberal system. In Cuba, it appears that your critiques of the communist system weren’t very strong, but “soft." Why these differences?
Pope Francis: In the speeches that I made in Cuba, I always put the accent on the social doctrine of the Church. But the things that must be corrected I said clearly, not “perfumed," or soft. But, also the first part of your question, more than what I have written – and harshly – in the encyclical, also in Evangelii gaudium, about wild, liberal capitalism – I didn’t say it. All that is written there. I don’t remember having said anything more than that. If you remember, let me know. I’ve said what I’ve written, which is enough, enough.
Nelson Castro, Radio Continental: The question has to do with the dissidents, in two aspects. Why did you decide not to receive them? After having a prisoner come up to you, who was arrested. The question is, is there going to be a place for the Catholic Church in search an opening for political liberties, seeing the role that it played in the re-establishment of relations between Cuba and the United States? This theme of liberties is a problem for those who think differently in Cuba. Will this be a role that the Holy See is thinking of for the Catholic Church in Cuba?
Pope Francis: First the “them." Not receiving “them." No, I didn’t receive any private audience. That is for everyone, and there was a head of state; I told them “no." And that I didn’t have anything to do with the dissidents. The contact with the dissidents was what I explained. The Church here, the Church in Cuba, made a list of (prisoners) for the pardon; more than three thousand were given the pardon, the president of the bishops’ conference told me.
Fr. Federico Lombardi: There were more than 3,000…
Pope Francis: There were more than 3,000 and other cases are being studied. The Church here in Cuba is commited to this work of the pardons. And, for example, someone said to me, “It would be really good if there could be an end to life imprisonment. Speaking clearly, life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty, it is like being there dying every day, without the hope of liberation. But that is just one hypothesis: another hypothesis that they grant a general pardon of one or two years, but the Church is working, and has worked. I do not say that all those 3,000 who were released were taken from the lists of the Church. No. The Church made lists, I don’t know how many, and it continues to do so.
Rogelio Mora-Tagle, Telemundo: [Explains that Popes have visited Cuba often in a short period of time.] Is Cuba suffering from something, Holy Father? Is it sick?
Pope Francis: No, no. First, John Paul II went on his historic visit, which was normal. He visited so many countries, including nations that were aggressive against the Church, but that wouldn’t be it. The second was that of Pope Benedict, as well. That would be within the norm. And mine was a bit by chance, because I thought of going to the US by way of Mexico in the beginning – that was the first idea. Ciudad Juarez, the border, no? But going through Mexico without going to Our Lady of Guadalupe would have been a slap (in the face). But this happened, it’s something that happened. So, it went ahead and this is what came out. And last December 17, it was announced that everything was more or less organized, a process of almost a year, and then I said, ‘No, I’m going to the United States by way of Cuba’. And, I chose it for this reason; not because it has a particular sickness that other nations don’t have. I wouldn’t interpret the three visits, more so if there are some countries which the previous Popes have visited, including myself. Brazil, for example, and others have been visited more. John Paul II visited Brazil three or four times: it wasn’t particularly sick. I am happy for having met the Cuban people, the Cuban Christian communities. Today, the meeting with families was very nice, very beautiful. I am sorry if it came to me in Spanish. I hope that you have understood. Thank you very much.