Vatican City, 23 September 2015 (VIS) – During the flight from Cuba to the United States, Pope Francis spoke with journalists and answered their questions on a number of issues including the trade embargo against Cuba, his critique of liberal capitalism and the future role of the Church on the island.
The first question related to the Pope's opinion on the trade embargo against Cuba, and whether he intends to refer to this theme in his address to the United States Congress.
“The question of the trade embargo is part of the negotiations”, replied Francis. “This is public: both presidents have referred to it. So, it is a public matter, that leads in the direction of the good relations that are being constructed. My hope is that an agreement satisfying both parties may be reached. … With regard to the position of the Holy See on the embargoes, previous Popes have spoken not only about this case, but also on other cases of embargoes. On this matter I refer to the social doctrine of the Church, which is precise and just. With regard to the United States Congress … I am thinking about what I would like to say in this respect; but not specifically on this theme, but rather in general on the issue of bilateral and multilateral agreements, as a sign of progress in co-existence. But this theme in a concrete sense is not mentioned, I am almost sure of this”.
“We have heard that more than fifty dissidents were arrested outside the nunciature because they were trying to obtain a meeting with you. Would you like to meet the dissidents? And if such a meeting took place, what would you say to them?”
“Firstly, I am not aware that this happened. … Directly, I do not know. Your two questions concern the future. I would like this to happen. I like meeting all people. First of all because I believe that all people are sons and daughters of God, and secondly, an encounter with any person is enriching. Yes, I would like to meet them. If you would like me to continue to speak about the dissidents, I have something very concrete to say. First of all, it was very clear that I would not have given any audience, as I was asked for an audience not only with the dissidents, but also with people from other sectors, including various heads of State. … Audiences were planned neither with dissidents, nor with others. Secondly, from the nunciature there were telephone calls with various people who form part of this group of dissidents. The task of the nuncio was to communicate to them that with pleasure, upon my arrival at the cathedral for the meeting with consecrated persons, I would have greeted those who were there. A greeting, this is true. But given that nobody presented themselves for the greeting, I do not know if they were there or not. I greeted all those who were there. Above all I greeted the sick, those who were in wheelchairs. But nobody presented him- or herself as a dissident. From the nunciature calls were made to invite them for a passing greeting”.
The third question was on the suffering of the Cuban Catholic Church under Fidel Castro, and whether during his meeting with the Commander, the Pope thought he had repented to any degree.
“Repentance is something very intimate, it is a matter of conscience”, said the Holy Father. “In the encounter with Fidel I spoke with him about the Jesuits he knew, as one of the gifts I took was a book by Fr. Llorente, a close friend of his and a Jesuit, and another by Fr. Pronzato which he will certainly appreciate. We spoke about these things. We spoke at length about 'Laudato si'', as he is very interested in environmental issues. It was an informal and spontaneous meeting. We spoke about the encyclical as he is very concerned about this matter, but we did not talk about the past”.
“Given that the Pope has denounced the current economic system, some sectors of American society have asked whether the Pope is communist and others, indeed, whether he is Catholic. What does Francis think about this?”
“I am sure that I have not said anything that is not present in the social Doctrine of the Church”, responded the Holy Father. “On another flight a journalist asked me if, when I went to speak to the Popular Movements, if the Church was following me, and I answered that I follow the Church, as in this way I don't think I can make a mistake. I don't believe I have said anything that is not in the social Doctrine of the Church. These things can be explained. Perhaps an explanation gave the impression that I tended a little to the left, but it would be an error of explanation. No. My doctrine, on all of this, on 'Laudato si'', on economic imperialism and all of this, it is that of the social doctrine of the Church. And if it is necessary for me to recite the Creed, I am willing to do so!”
Another journalist recalled that during his last apostolic trip to Latin America the Pope harshly criticised the liberal capitalist system while in Cuba his criticism of the Communist system was less severe. “What is the reason for this difference?”
“In the addresses I gave in Cuba, I always mentioned the social Doctrine of the Church”, explained Francis. “The things that need to be corrected I have mentioned clearly. … I have not said anything more than what I have written in the encyclical and in 'Evangelii Gaudium' on unfettered or liberal capitalism. … But here in Cuba … it has been a very pastoral trip, with the Catholic community, with Christians, and also with those people of good will and so my discourses have been homilies. … Even with the young – whether or not they were young believers and, among the believers, of different religions – it was a discourse of hope to encourage dialogue between them, to seek the things they have in common and not those that divide them, to build bridges. … It was a more pastoral language. Instead, in the encyclical it was necessary to tackle more technical issues”.
The penultimate question was whether or not the Catholic Church will assume any role in encouraging openness to political freedom in Cuba, considering the role the Holy See has already played in re-establishing relations between Cuba and the United States.
“The Church in Cuba has drawn up a list of prisoners to be pardoned”, revealed the Pope. “Amnesty has been granted to 3,500 of them, according to the president of the Episcopal Conference. And there are still cases under consideration. And the Church here in Cuba is working for further amnesty. For example, some people tell me it would be good to do away with life imprisonment. Speaking plainly, life imprisonment is almost a form of hidden death sentence. I have said this publicly in an address to European jurists. You stay there, dying every day without hope of freedom. It is a hypothesis. Another hypothesis is that there be general amnesties every year or two. But the Church is working, has worked on this. I am not saying that these three thousand were freed because of the Church lists, no. The Church has made a list, has officially requested amnesty, and will continue to do so”.
Finally, a reporter asked if the fact that three Popes have visited Cuba in twenty years may be interpreted as indicating that the island is in some way afflicted, inasmuch as a doctor visits a sick patient rather than a person in good health.
“No, no”, he replied. “The first was John Paul II, the first historic visit”, he affirmed. “But it was normal – he visited many countries, including those that were hostile towards the Church. The second was Pope Benedict XVI. … Initially my idea was to enter the United States via Mexico, but to visit Mexico without visiting Our Lady of Guadalupe would not have been good. Then, with the announcement of 17 December last year, when the talks that had been taking place for almost a year were made public, I said that I would like to visit the United States via Cuba. And I chose to do so for this reason. But Cuba does not have any particular affliction that other countries do not have”.