Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga: The Church Needs “Fresh Air”
February 25, 2014, 8:36 pm ET
Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga is the archbishop of Tegucigalpa. Shortly after the conclave, he was asked by his friend, Pope Francis, to lead a group of cardinals tasked with reforming the Vatican bureaucracy. Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga told FRONTLINE that Pope Francis believes the Church can no longer afford to be distracted by the scandals of recent years. “It’s necessary to open the windows in the church because we need fresh air,” he said. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Feb. 4, 2014.
What direction is Pope Francis taking the church in? …
Well, it’s the same direction that the Catholic Church has been taking, especially in Latin America, since 1978, and then before since 1968.
And what effect?
When there was the Conference of [Latin American Bishops in] Medellin, [Colombia,] trying to make actual Vatican II regarding the situation in Latin America, and that was poverty and the lack of development. Those were the times of the encyclical letter of Paul VI, Populorum Progressio.
Since then there has been a constant appeal to work in favor of the poor, because it’s not just that Latin America is not a poor continent; it’s a rich continent that has been impoverished by corruption and by bad politics.
That’s why when Pope Francis, coming from this reality, and especially of one of the richest countries in Latin America — Argentina is very rich, during the Second World War was richer than many, many other countries — and now impoverished. Why?
This is why Pope Francis is very much concerned about social justice.
Why does Pope Francis think poverty matters so much? Why does it matter to the church? Why does it matter?
If you read the Gospel, you find that they are the favorite people of Christ. When he started his ministry he said, “The Holy Spirit is upon me because [it] has sent me to evangelize the poor, to alleviate them from suffering.” This has been the biggest commitment of the church in all these centuries, trying to help especially those who suffer, those who are ill, those who are sick, those who are far away or excluded from society, and this is why Pope Francis has decided to give new hope to the church calling back to the New Evangelization.
Do you think that message had got lost?
No, of course not, absolutely not. And it’s getting new enthusiasm under this new pope.
Do you think already in what he’s done, he’s managed to make a significant change?
Yes. From the very beginning, from the very first day. I was there in that balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica when he started saying, “Good evening.”
That was amazing. You can’t imagine the response of that huge crowd that was in St. Peter’s Square, because they expected a theological message, and they found somebody that is warm, that is near, that is one of us, they said. …
… What would it be like if he walked in here? Just for ordinary people explain. Is he very grand?
No, no, you can see him all the time so near, so friendly, and I would say so human.
And this was necessary. When he celebrated his first Mass in the parish of the Vatican, which is the Parish of St. Ann, in the main Gate of Sant’Anna, there he celebrated the first day of Sunday, and after the Mass, immediately he was running to the door. The guards were very much concerned. What’s going on? He just wanted to stand there and to greet each one of the faithful as we do every Sunday in our parishes.
That was amazing. People were not used to that. And then coming out with such a big crowd. I remember a lady telling me, “He speaks, and we understand him.” This is very interesting. Many times when we speak with a theological language, we think that the people are understanding, and many times they don’t.
Will the changes he’s making last?
Well, you know that it doesn’t depend only on him. And especially the changes come from the Holy Spirit. …
“You can’t imagine the response of that huge crowd that was in St. Peter’s Square … They expected a theological message, and they found somebody that is warm, that is near, that is one of us.”
Here now in Honduras we have the plenary meeting of our bishops’ conference, and I was [reminding] them that last year in our meeting was when we received the communication of the resignation of Pope Benedict. And I told them: “Do you remember how did we feel? We were sad. We said, ‘What’s going on?’ … After so many troubles in the last year of Pope Benedict, and now he’s gone, he wants to go. What’s going to happen?”
And now, after one year, we said OK, nobody expected this. But he was a sign of hope, and giving hope to many, many people.
Because he may not have a lot of time. Somebody said — it’s a horrid thing to say — he’s quite old, and is he going to have time to really make a difference?
Of course I have heard that. Well, when he entered the conclave he told me, “I have presented my resignation letter to Pope Benedict because I will be 76.” He said: “So I am ready. I am ready to go to pension.”
And then he receives this new call, this new commitment, and he is now full of energy. I am so surprised how much [more] energetic he is now.
These are things that only come from our lord.
I want to ask you one thing. I’ve been enjoying your discussion with the German cardinal. You talked about flexibility. I’ve been used to a church that’s all the time, for the last for as long as I can remember, said, “This is good; this is bad; do this; do that.” Tell me, has there been a change? …
What I was trying to say is that the human being is not like a robot that you can say, “Do this,” or “Do that.”
The principles are clear; the doctrine is clear. But we human beings arrived to our goals progressively. We cannot start [at] 100 percent of perfection from the very beginning. We are only poor people in a pilgrimage.
So I would say little by little you are walking; you are achieving small goals. Of course we have the idea and someday we will achieve that, but in the meantime, we cannot be like that, because human beings are not like that.
When you heard Pope Benedict was resigning, what did you feel inside? What did you say to yourself?
I was feeling what I felt when John Paul II died. In a certain [manner], he was like my father. He was the one who appointed me as bishop, who appointed me as archbishop of Tegucigalpa, who appointed me as cardinal. We had a beautiful relationship of friendship, and I was feeling like an orphan. I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, I was so sad. …
And when you heard that Pope Benedict was going, did you say to yourself, what’s going on? What’s it about?
Yes. Yes, I was feeling very sad as well, because, you know, after all that happened in the year before, especially with all the scandals of VatiLeaks and all the processes and many of the scandals that were coming up from the Institute for Opere di Religione, from the [Vatican] Bank, from also some cases of corruption with the narco business, some cases of pedophilia, of course I was, “Oh, this is what is missing now, my goodness.”
And I have to tell you, I went to — because we were upheld to go to [the Vatican] on Feb. 28, because Pope Benedict wanted to say goodbye to each one of us. I arrived on the 27th, but I have to tell you I was very sad.
Then when we entered the pre-conclave meetings I was feeling, listen, indeed, this pre-conclave is so different than the one before. And we started listening to the real situation of the church, but [it was] a very positive thing. There were a lot of positive suggestions.
And what was the real situation? Cardinal [Cormac] Murphy-O’Connor said, “The atmosphere was the most serious, the most intense I’ve ever known,” in the pre-meetings. He said it was a time of crisis; the credibility of the church was at stake. What did you feel was at stake?
Of course we were feeling, “OK, what’s going to happen now?,” when, as Cardinal Murphy said, the credibility of the church was in terrible danger. What is necessary to do? How can we listen to the voices of the Holy Spirit in order to change? Because everybody knew it was necessary to change in many things.
And this is why voices were coming and going and coming and going, saying it is a necessary reform in the Vatican Curia.
It’s not an idea that came from the sleeves of Pope Francis, no. It came from the bottom. It came from the bases, from the very grassroots, and so was developing. And I think this was one of the causes of the election of a pope from the Third World.
Was there a general opinion that it needed to be someone from outside the Vatican?
I cannot tell you about figures. There was an opinion that it was necessary to look to another continent. It was in that direction.
Well, when you see the crisis that is now in Europe, I was recalling John XXIII. Next April, he will be a saint. When he started the Vatican II, many people thought it is going to be a meeting that maybe two months or three months it will be over. It went on for three years, three full years. And John XXIII said it’s necessary to open the windows in the church because we need fresh air.
That was in the environment of those days. It’s necessary. Nobody knew how things were going to develop, but it was this general feeling, this general tendency, it’s necessary to open the windows.
And when they did, or when we did, it appeared the Holy Spirit had the plan. Nobody could imagine that, I can tell you. Nobody could.
Francis, or Cardinal Bergoglio as he was, gave an address, gave a speech in the run-up to the conclave and said that the church must not live within itself; it has to look outside. Did you hear that?
No, I didn’t. But I have to tell you that I know very well the way of thinking of Cardinal Bergoglio, because we were together a lot of time in the conference of Aparecida, [Brazil]. He was the chief of redaction committee. I was one of the members, and we passed long hours discussing, writing or correcting drafts of documents.
He always wanted a church that looked out rather than inward-looking –
Yes, yes. … Excuse me if I use the language of aviation, because I love to fly. When somebody is flying in circles, it’s because there is not an airway in order to land. You have to wait. And the way you wait in flying is flying in circles. But flying in circles leads you nowhere. Instead you have to have the complete direction in order to land.
In a certain aspect I think that the church was flying in circles. So all of a sudden the airspace was open, the whole experience was blowing, and that’s the reason came the new pope.
So Pope Benedict made the right decision. He opened the window.
I believe that he was very courageous and very humble as well.
I knew him very well. I can tell you we were friends because, well, when I was in CELAM, in the bishops’ council of Latin America, I was the president, and we had some programs together with the Congregation [for] the Doctrine of the Faith.
“When he entered the conclave he told me, ‘I have presented my resignation letter to Pope Benedict because I will be 76.’ He said: ‘So I am ready. I am ready to go to pension.’ And then he receives this new call, this new commitment, and he is now full of energy.”
One of them I recall was beautiful. There was a meeting in Guadalajara, [Mexico,] of all the bishops of Latin America in charge of the Doctrine of the Faith commissions, and he wanted to listen to all the problems, the theological problems. I was sitting side by side with him. We talked long times, and I knew him as a very intelligent person, a brilliant theologian.
But at a certain moment we started looking at him like the age came suddenly over him. So at the end of December 2011, I recall telling to a colleague, “Look how old the pope is.” It came suddenly, because I was with him when he was elected. I went with him to Cologne, [Germany], for the Day of Youth [World Youth Day]. I went with him to Australia, and he was quite different.
But there we saw that he was becoming weak. Then he went to Mexico and Cuba, and I learned after that when he came back from Cuba, he said to the secretary of state: “I cannot continue more because I am so weak. I do not have enough strength to keep it going. But don’t say this to anybody.”
So he was meditating his decision from March 2012 until February 2013. And he was praying as well, so when he announced his resignation, he was conscious that he was acting from the bottom of his heart, from his conscience and in great responsibility. And this was a very courageous act.
We’ve spoken to people about the Cardinal [Julian] Herranz investigation [into the workings of the Vatican organization Opus Dei]. He also got that dossier at the end. Clearly he was talking about resignation anyway, but somebody said to me it just showed the scale of the task and must have crystallized his thinking.
Yeah, it was because of the physical strength, because his mind is very clear, and he indeed continues to be like light in the darkness.
As Pope Francis stood on that balcony, you were looking at him. What were the big challenges that he faced?
Well, when we talked the first time, it was very, very shortly after his election. He told me, “I want to make a commission of cardinals to help me in the renovation of the Roman Curia, and I have been thinking in this, this, this, this, this.”
From the very beginning he knew the names of the people he wanted to appoint. And then he told me, “Would you dare to lead this commission?” And I said: “Holy Father, whatever you want. If you want me there, I will do it.”
But from the very beginning he was thinking, but one of the things more urgent were some reformation in his environment, in his way of running the church.
Somebody told me, in simple terms, he wanted to clean up the Vatican. Is that true?
Well, you have to have a clean house when you want to live with health. And of course if you have dirt, if you have bacteria, you will not be healthy.
So of course he wanted to not only clean, I would say, because there was a lot of goodness, a lot of good things inside. But of course there were some viruses, and it was necessary to clean up.
You had lunch with him. What’s your best memory of the lunch?
Oh, many signs of his way. First of all, he said: “Listen, I would like to live in [Casa] Santa Marta because I need people. I cannot be up there in the [papal] apartment because I cannot live isolated. All my life I have been a pastor.”
So he invented this beautiful way of celebrating the Holy Eucharist every morning in Santa Marta with guests. Who were the first guests? The gardeners of the Vatican, and then the cleaning people, and then all the employees. They were the favorites.
Big message, turning his back on all the pomp.
Those who many times do not count and for Christ and for him count. So this is very good.
The Catholic Church, over a billion members, the highest moral voice in the world. The scandals that emerged in the Vatican in that last year, two years — the bank, stories about sex, stories about corruption, stories about child abuse — a lot of people felt betrayed by the Vatican. Do you understand that betrayal?
Yes, of course, of course. It happened to us also, because we say OK, we have the Vatican as a center, a point of I would say orientation. So when we listen to that, when we read that, we said it’s very sad, because I know that there’s more good than evil.
But many times the evil is the one that makes noise. I know people who have devoted their lives, laymen and -women and -people, and clergy as well, and cardinals and bishops that have consumed their lives serving the church and serving with dignity and in very good thoughts. But now, yes, there are also others. Maybe they are not so many, but others who were victims of these defects we just heard, of these sins as well.
So you felt betrayed?
As you work now with your commission, what issues have caused you great concern? …
Well, you know, the Curia, the Roman Curia is like a cabinet of a government. A president of a certain country cannot work [by] himself. He needs a cabinet of ministers — education, health, communication, etc. The Roman Curia is more or less the same.
But there have been many reforms in the history. The first one is in the 16th century when it started to be organized. Then at the beginning of the 20th century, after losing the Vatican states [Papal States], the Holy Father Pius X started a great reformation, even the redaction of the laws of the constitution of the church. OK, it worked very well.
But then came Vatican II. After Vatican II, it was necessary to make a reformation, and Paul VI did.
After 15 years, John Paul II said, “No, I need a reformation,” and he started, and he did it. This is Pastor Bonus [Apostolic Constitution] that has come unto us.
What are we going to do? What do we want to do? We started listening to the voices of all the grassroots, and each cardinal in his own continent was accumulating many suggestions.
Then when we came together for the first time in October, the Holy Father wanted to start [with] the reformation of the Synod of Bishops. And he did already. The Synod of Bishops was like the prolongation of Vatican II. It was not possible to put together 2,000 bishops — now we are more than 4,000 — in a big meeting every year or every two years or every three years. So they started with the synod.
But the synod was an institution of collegiality that worked one month every three years. The pope said, “No, I want this institution permanently.”
Because he wants to listen to the voices of the bases of the church.
What are the other big issues for you?
This was already done. Then we were working on the secretary of state. There has been a lot of, I would say, unrest, because for many people, there was a comparison with the government. In Britain you have the queen and the prime minister, and suddenly the people were not comfortable saying the pope is the one running the church, and the prime minister, the secretary of state was like that.
At a certain moment it was not comfortable for many people to say, “OK, who is in command here?” And it’s not only in matters of authority, but of power.
Cardinal [Tarcisio] Bertone, some people said it felt like he was the pope. It had been a problem.
Not only him, but before him as well, others. So it was necessary. And there has been a lot of reflection. Maybe there will be some changes, because this institution began as the secretary of the pope, not the secretary of a state. Of course, we have the problem that the Vatican is also a state, a political state, but maybe there will be some reformation in that direction.
So possibly a downgrading of the secretary of state, or a change.
I wouldn’t say downgrading. Trying to define better the tasks of this service in a different orientation, not as a state of power and authority, but as a service.
I believe this is a key word in all the pontificate of Francis, to serve like Christ was serving, and did not come to be served but to serve.
A remark Pope Francis made to [Italian journalist] Eugenio Scalfari, he said the Vatican court, with its flattering courtiers, was “the leprosy of the papacy.” What did he mean?
Well, it’s a little strong, you know. But I believe he wanted something more simple, more evangelical, because with the times, we must not forget that the Vatican states was like a kingdom, like a human kingdom, so there were all the defects of a human court.
But he wants something more simple. He doesn’t want these waiting rooms — one waiting room and then go to the second, go to the third until you arrive. He wants things more simply. And of course many things are going to change.
And you think you can deliver that simpler Vatican for him?
Yes. You know, the history is not going backward. When something new comes to the history, it’s not only a work of human intelligence or human activities.
If we have faith, we believe that the Holy Spirit is the author of the church, and so he is inspiring Pope Francis in what he has to do.
When you’re sitting here in Honduras worrying about corruption, as I’ve heard you speak about, when you read the stuff coming out about the Vatican Bank, the fact that international authorities were thinking of putting it on a blacklist because they were so worried, what did you think?
I was ashamed, and I was very sad, because we don’t need this. We don’t need this. You know, the pope has appointed two different commissions that are going to report to us in February … and [on] the 17th, 18th and 19th of April.
Do you remember where you were when you first heard it? I’ll ask you where you are now, but do you remember where you were two years back what were you thinking?
We were sad, and we said it’s necessary that things have to change there. The big proposal is to establish a real minister of finance in the Vatican state.
So OK, if they say it’s a state, OK, work like a state, with the minister of finance. And is there a bank? They say no, it’s not a bank; it’s a foundation. Because we were questioning in the pre-conclave, and they said it’s a foundation Pius XII started because there was a fear that Hitler would invade the Vatican and take all the resources of the religion congregations. That is the reason why IOR [Institute for Works of Religion; Vatican Bank] was established.
But during the years it has been acting as a bank. OK. Where is the problem not saying there is a bank? Every state has a central bank. Why the state of Vatican could not have a bank with all the transparency, with all the laws, the international laws and the commitment to serve in that direction?
Cardinal Bertone fought very hard to stop regulation. He didn’t want the past scrutinized.
When there is money that comes and goes hidden, this is very bad. That is an illness. So transparency, and start with clarity, will give credibility also to that.
You feel strongly about that?
Oh, yes, yes. And I am sure that the Holy Father will go in that direction and will not go backward. Certainly not. Things are not going to continue like they were in the past.
What about the financial corruption that came up in VatiLeaks? How can you address that?
First of all, as I said, with transparency. Why [do] they talk about corruption? Well, there is a clear case that was published in the press. There was a person of the Italian society that had some money in Switzerland and wanted to bring it to Italy. This is not forbidden when you do it by the law. But this man wanted a transference, transferring that money to the account of a certain monsignore in the Vatican. And, of course, as a sign of gratitude, he was going to give half a million to this person.
“Things are not going to continue like they were in the past.”
The money was transferred, and the authorities of the Italian state were following that, and so one day they went and they captured this person. “Sir, you have committed something that is against the law.” He wrote a letter to the pope saying that he was innocent, and the pope answered: “Let the justice do their thing. If you are guilty, you will go to jail.”
And that is for the first time, because in the past it was no, he was not aware, and now he is being transferred to the other part of the world so nobody will find him.
This is over, already over in the church.
Can I talk to you about gay priests? I interviewed a gay priest who works in the Vatican, and he said to me that Benedict’s teaching that there was no place for gay priests, he said: “It was like a knife in my heart, because I believe in vocation; I believe in the calling of God, in Jesus. I believe he wants us to serve his people.” Has anything changed for him under Francis?
I would say yes. He has changed the way to approach this person, because he said if he wants to live with dignity, the law of God, “who am I to judge him?”
But of course he cannot pretend to be a priest and to live sexually active as a gay person. This is wrong. But to see him and to say, “OK, if you want to live your vocation, if you believe that, you are not active sexually, you can continue,” of course.
That wasn’t the case before.
… I know that [in] flying, when you fly you have to make a flight plan, and you have to establish some points in the flight plan — where is an alternative airport in case you have a problem with that engine, etc. — and there is a point that is called “point of no return.”
Imagine I am flying from Los Angeles to Honolulu. I have my plan, and I said that after three and a half hours is a point of no return. I cannot go back to Los Angeles; I have to continue whatever happens because there was a point of no return.
In this kind of psychology, if you continue just fostering your tendencies, there is a point of no return, and then you will not be able to live in chastity. This is the human being like that.
Of course I don’t have the right to judge him, but I have to tell him, “This is not your way.”
Robert Mickens is a devout Catholic and writes for The Tablet. He said if he had five minutes with Pope Francis, he’d say get rid of celibacy; it causes the church so many problems. Let priests who want to be celibate be celibate; let other priests have wives, and let them work in the community. Isn’t it true that celibacy is the cause of so many scandals and problems, and yet Jesus didn’t preach it? Why not just get rid of celibacy?
It’s not the cause of many problems. The cause of many problems is that you didn’t have the vocation of celibacy. When somebody doesn’t have the vocation of celibacy he must not go that way, because he will be in danger all the time.
Whether he’s gay or heterosexual?
Yes. It’s a grace of God. And this is what people do not understand, because to follow Christ is not only to follow some rules; it’s to follow some person that has special requirements that came from him, not from the church.
And of course if I do not have the vocation, I do not have to continue there. Well, after you left the priesthood, make an example. You were a priest; you left the priesthood and then said, “Oh, the main cause of my changing of place is celibacy,” no.
You know that even in the pre-conclave, we had some voices of some cardinals who have married priests, for instance, some of them who came from the Anglican Church. And they said they are aware that they cannot be transferred to certain parishes because they would not have the possibility of raising their families, of keeping the children, or maybe because the wife doesn’t like that place.
It’s not so easy to say, “OK, tomorrow celibacy is abolished, and all the problems of the church are going to be solved.” It’s not like that way. It’s necessary to follow Christ, and this is what people do not understand. They would like to have everything at the same time. And our lord asked us to leave some things behind and to follow him.
There is a renunciation of many things. I would like to be a great pilot, but I have to leave my plane away. I would like to be a great entrepreneur, for instance, but I left money away because I was following Christ, serving the poor.
Pope Francis — I want to read this one out — has said the church must be merciful. He’s reached out to gay people. At the same time he’s made it clear that he’s the son of the church, that he’s not going to change the church’s teaching. His critics say nothing’s changed; it’s all just public relations. Are they right?
No. No, because he is neither making public relations. He is talking about what he [hears] from Christ. He’s a man of prayer. He prays a lot every day. When he speaks it’s because he has been listening and because he has been praying, and especially trying to go deep into the Holy Scripture in order to deliver the authentic message.
But when he says “Who am I to judge?,” that sounds like he’s just sidestepping a difficult issue.
No. What he says is, “I do not condemn you.” This is what he says, as Christ did: “Who am I to judge? I don’t know your feelings. I don’t know your interior. I don’t know your goodwill. So I cannot judge you; I cannot condemn you. I will show you the idea. I won’t oblige you to go there, but we want to share what we have. We have the love of Christ, and we want to share it with you.”
That’s big stuff, important.
Oh, of course. Of course.
A Vatican journalist [told us that] the issues that always divide more than public opinion are the real-life issues — family, gender, euthanasia and so on — but he’s carefully avoided all the issues that could lead to conflict.
But he is not, I would say, resigning to the truth. That is the reason why he wants to listen, you know.
He said, “My method is the method of the New Testament,” document saying what is the meaning of document saying in Greek is discernment, and discernment is a process. It’s not an act; it’s a process that has the first steps – listening, then praying and then dialogue and then taking decisions.
About these important things of course he has his ideas clear, but he wants to listen. That is the reason why he has called for a consistorium in two weeks, a consistorium of all the cardinals about family. Then in October there will be an extraordinary synod with all the presidents of bishops’ conferences in the world.
What pushed him? Family. October 2015 there will be an ordinary synod [with the] theme [of] family.
One thing I must ask you about [that] always comes up [is] child abuse. I’m aware that much has changed. I’m aware that the church doesn’t cause abuses; it’s individuals. But what is of concern as far as the church is concerned is cover-ups, intimidation of victims — we hear that from the people in America, church lawyers. Schemes have been hatched up to deprive victims of compensation. … The history of what has happened, how do you react? What do you say to people?
You know, along the history there has been a lot of mistakes, a lot of mistakes in the history, because we wish that at that time they could have had the mentality we have now today. For instance, when you see slavery that was even motivated by theological reasons, and now nobody would accept slavery, but people accept modern slavery now such as human trafficking, such as prostitution, exploitation of prostitutes, etc., all these kinds of human slavery. Slavery is a mistake. It’s a wrongdoing. But the humanity had to have more time in order to arrive to the clarity, “Of course we have to reject slavery.”
Child abuse has been always condemned by the Holy Scripture, always.
But the church did cover it up.
Not the church. Some people in the church, because the law of the church has been all the time very clear, very clear.
So what does Pope Francis have to do to put the child abuse scandal behind the church?
He has to continue the way he is doing. There was a very sad case of this with a nuncio of the Holy Father in Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico.
What was the decision of the pope? When he had all the proof and everything, he sent a telegram to him: “Your mission is over tomorrow. Present yourself immediately.” You see, this has been inaudito [unheard of], we say in Spanish. I don’t know the word in English.
You never heard about this in the past. So clear not to cover anything. You will go to justice. In the meantime, you are not a nuncio anymore.
Transparency. It has to continue that way.
In Milwaukee, in America, there’s been a situation where a lot of money has been put into a graveyard fund so it isn’t accessible for compensation for the victims. What do you feel when you hear about these types of schemes?
You know, there is something painful when the human suffering cannot be bought by money and cannot be covered up by money.
What people need is spiritual healing and human healing as well. When you say, “OK, have this money and never talk about that again,” this is a big mistake as well. Money is not healing people.
So I am sorry when all the theme goes around money, how many millions have been paid, how many, etc., and how many efforts have been made in order to help to heal that victim spiritually and humanly.
When you finish your work, what kind of Vatican do you want? …
I would like a structure very simple, not too sophisticated, a structure that serves the people, serves the pope, serves the Christian, serve the non-Christians with the witness of the Gospel.
Not lots of costumes and feuding and politics?
I think these things have to change, even the costumes or any of the things that detect or give the impression of power. We are humble servants.
And Francis’ message, your message on poverty, capitalism. This seems a new message for a new century.
I would say yes, because we have been talking a lot of time about the option for the poor. But in concrete terms what is this? How can we put in practice this option for the poor?
And Francis is starting [to give] us examples, such as never exclude people from your pastoral care. Never exclude people because he is ill with tumors in his face. Never exclude people because [they come] from very far away and is not European or American or Latin American. No, never exclude anybody.
“This is what Francis wants to [be our] approach to the world: Listen. Be human. Let’s be humans. Let’s take care of our neighbor, not as a number, not as a matter of economy indicator but as a son of God, as a friend of mine, as a brother and a sister.”
We need to be near the poor and trying to help, to raise conscience in the people that we can help each other, that we can practice solidarity. For instance, in Caritas Internationalis, last December we launched a campaign against hunger in the world. Are we going to achieve something? Yes! The U.N. in 2000 said in 2015 hunger had to be reduced by the half, and this is not true. Why? Because people said OK, it’s beautiful to have a conference in the U.N. and to make millennium goals, but millennium realizations?
I have discussed with many people that said, “You priests do not know about economy.” I said, “Yes, I know, because I study economy by myself.”
But we know of humanity. And this is what Francis wants to [be our] approach to the world: Listen. Be human. Let’s be humans. Let’s take care of our neighbor, not as a number, not as a matter of economy indicator but as a son of God, as a friend of mine, as a brother and a sister that I can help in certain ways.
We need to develop this and not the globalization of indifference as he said in Lampedusa, [Italy]. We cannot be indifferent [to] those who suffer.
This is making many people in America, in particular North America, uncomfortable.
Yes, yes. But the Gospel per se isn’t comfortable, because it’s provoking you: “Hey, don’t be sitting in that beautiful chair. Come, go out, follow me.” We go to a poor neighborhood so you can see with your own eyes how people do not have not even a simple chair. Try to help him. Try to do something for him. Not to be indifferent against others — I think this is necessary.
And many people, of course, feel uncomfortable, because they have a new god as well. The new god is money, like the golden calf of the Old Testament. He just wants us to look to another direction, and you will find some challenges that are worth[while].
Looking back over the last 12 months, what’s the moment you’ve had with Pope Francis that you remember the best?
So many. The very first encounter, when he invited me to lunch after four days after he was elected, and he was talking to me about all his projects, that was incredibly beautiful.
But then following other aspects, you know, I have been bishop 35 years. I have been cardinal 13 years already, and I never had the opportunity of concelebrating in St. Peter’s Square at the side of the pope.
Well, on the Sunday, I believe it was May 9, I was praying in the tomb of John Paul II, preparing me to participate in the concelebration of the canonization of two saints, one from Colombia and the other one from Mexico, religious sisters. I was praying there when there is a master of ceremonies that was tapping [on my shoulder] and said, “Listen, the pope wants you at his right hand in the concelebration.”
Of course that was for me very beautiful. I never dreamed about that.
And you never believed, could have dreamed, how the church would change in 12 months?
Of course. Of course the church has changed a lot in less than 12 months. I see it everywhere. There is a lot of people with joy now. People who were sad now are smiling, are greeting you and say, “Of course this was what I was expecting, some prize that is nearing to me.”
What has changed? What made it all happen?
The attitude and the examples, the witness of a pope that came to serve and came to show you not doctrine or theories, to show you simply how Christ would live in our times, being merciful, being understanding and loving.
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