In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais Jan. 20, the same day as the U.S. presidential inauguration, Pope Francis said he doesn’t like to get ahead of himself “or judge people prematurely.”
“We will see how he acts, what he does, and then I will have an opinion. But being afraid or rejoicing beforehand because of something that might happen is, in my view, quite unwise. It would be like prophets predicting calamities or windfalls that will not be either,” he said.
“We will see. We will see what he does and will judge.” The world is so upside down, that it needs a fixed point, grounded firmly in reality: “what did you do, what did you decide, how do you move. That is what I prefer to wait and see.”
Asked if he wasn’t worried about things he had heard about Trump, Francis responded again that he is waiting. “God waited so long for me, with all my sins…” he said.
In the wide-ranging interview, the Pope was questioned about issues ranging from immigration to economics to Vatican diplomacy to the Gospel, among other things.
On the issue of immigration Francis was clear about his position, that “everyone does what they can or what they want. It is a very hard judgment.”
The most important thing is that those in dire need are helped and rescued, he said. After that we should welcome migrants and refugees and help them to integrate into their new country.
In the context of 1930s Germany, where the people were “in crisis” and looking for a charismatic leader, someone who could give them a clear identity, “we all know what happened,” he said. But what is important is that people did not talk to one another, there was no conversation.
“Yes,” borders can be controlled, he said. Countries have a right to control “who comes and who goes, and those countries at risk – from terrorism or such things – have even more the right to control them more, but no country has the right to deprive its citizens of the possibility to talk with their neighbors.”
Asked about Vatican diplomacy and its image, including the public thanks of Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on the one hand, and the parties that criticize the Vatican’s interference, on the other, the Pope said that he asks the Lord “that he give me the grace of not taking any measure for the sake of image.”
“Honesty, service, those are the criteria.” Mistakes are sometimes made, your image suffers, “but it doesn’t matter if there was goodwill. History will judge afterwards,” he said.
For him, he said, the clear, guiding principle for both pastoral action and Vatican diplomacy is that they are “mediators, rather than intermediaries.”
“We build bridges, not walls. What is the difference between a mediator and an intermediary?” he said. An intermediary is someone who enters a business agreement, renders a service and then is compensated, “and rightly so, because it is his job.”
The mediator, on the other hand, “is the one who wants to serve both parties and wants both parties to win even if he loses,” the Pope said. “Vatican diplomacy must be a mediator, not an intermediary. If, throughout history, it has sometimes maneuvered or managed a meeting that filled its pockets, that was a very serious sin.”
“The mediator builds bridges that are not for him, but rather for others to cross.”
Asked if his changes to the Vatican, sometimes criticized both by the more traditional sectors of the church and by the more progressive, are a “revolution of normalcy,” or already contained in the “Gospel’s essence,” as he has said, Pope Francis responded simply that he is a “sinner and not always successful.”
“I try – I don’t know if I succeed – to do what the Gospel says. That is what I try,” he said.
“The true heroes of the Church are the saints. That is, those men and women that devoted their lives to make the Gospel a reality,” he said. “The saints are the specific examples of the Gospel in daily life!”
With the emphasis on going out to the peripheries, how would Francis respond to those Catholics that feel that he ignores the people who have remained faithful to the Church and her teachings, was also questioned.
“I know that those who feel comfortable within a Church structure that doesn’t ask too much of them or who have attitudes that protect them from too much contact are going to feel uneasy with any change, with any proposal coming from the Gospel,” he said.
“The novelty of the Gospel however astonishes because it is essentially scandalous,” he continued. “Saint Paul tells us about the scandal of the cross, the scandal of the Son of God become man. But the evangelical essence is scandalous by those days’ criteria. By any worldly criteria, it is an outrageous essence.”
Once questioned by a German journalist about why he never talks about the middle class, “those who pay their taxes…” Francis said he thinks that maybe he is always talking about the middle class, just without calling it that.
“I use a term coined by the French novelist Malègue, who talks about ‘the middle class of sanctity,’” he said.
“I am always talking about parents, grandparents, nurses, the people who live to serve others, who raise their kids, who work… Those people are tremendously saintly!” he said.
“And they are also the ones who carry the Church onward: the ones that earn their living with dignity, that raise their children, that bury their dead, that care for their elders, instead of putting them into an old people’s home: that is our saintly middle class.”
From an economic point of view, the middle class is vanishing more and more, he said. But “the father, the mother, who celebrate their family, with their sins and their virtues, the grandfather, the grandmother,” he continued. “The family. At the center. That is ‘the middle class of sanctity.’”
A final comment reflected that Francis seems to be a very happy Pope. “The Lord is good and hasn’t taken away my good humor,” he said.