By Shannon Mullen
Pope Francis, speaking in a new interview published by a media outlet in his native Argentina, said the Church must change “in favor of the dignity of the people.”
But in the same interview, conducted late last month and published Tuesday by state-owned news agency Telam Digital, he stressed that change must take place “without recanting the essence of the Church.”
“Since the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII had a very clear perception: The Church has to change. Paul VI agreed, just like the succeeding popes,” Francis said in the interview.
“It’s not just changing ways, it’s about a change of growth, in favor of the dignity of people. That’s theological progression, of moral theology and all the ecclesiastical sciences, even in the interpretation of Scriptures that have progressed according to the feelings of the Church,” he continued.
But, he added, using the image of a tree and its roots, “always in harmony. Rupture is not good. We either progress through development or things don’t turn out right. Rupture leaves you out of the sap of development.”
The pope went on to reference the writings of Vincent of Lérins, a fifth-century monk who stated that changes in the Church must be consolidating, growing, and ennobling.
“The Church has to change. Let’s think of the ways it has changed since the [Second Vatican] Council until now and the way it must continue changing its ways, in the way to propose an unchanging truth,” he said. “That is, the revelation of Jesus Christ does not change, the dogmas of the Church do not change, they grow and ennoble themselves like the sap of a tree. The person who does not follow this path follows a path that takes steps backward, a path that closes on itself.”
“Changes in the Church take place within this identity flow of the Church. And it has to keep changing along the way, as challenges are met. That is why the core of change is fundamentally pastoral, without recanting the essence of the Church.”
Pope Francis emphasized the role of dialogue. “I believe dialogue cannot be just nationalist, it must be universal, especially nowadays with the advanced communication systems we have. That is why I speak of universal dialogue, universal harmony, universal encounter. And of course, the enemy of this is war. Since the end of World War II up until today, there have been wars everywhere. That’s what I meant when I said we are living a World War in pieces.”
‘I’m going to do a heresy’
The pope’s on-camera remarks touched on a wide range of topics, including the Synod on Synodality, the Oct. 22 presidential election in Argentina, and his personal prayer life.
In answer to a question about his future travel plans, Francis alluded to the possibility of returning to his home country for the first time as pope — and perhaps continuing on to and even going so far as the South Pole.
“I’d like to go [to Argentina],” he said. “When it comes to more distant countries, I still haven’t visited Papua New Guinea. Somebody said that if I go to Argentina, I should stop at Rio Gallegos, then head to the South Pole, land in Melbourne and visit New Zealand. It would be a rather long journey.”
Asked if it was “hard being the representative of God on Earth” at this time, Francis replied: “I’m going to do a heresy. We are all representatives of God. Every person who believes must testify to what they believe and, in this sense, we are all representatives of God.”
“It is true that the pope is a privileged representative of God,” he added, laughing, “and I must testify to an inner coherence, to the truth of the Church and the pastorality of the Church. That is, a Church that keeps its doors open for everybody.”
‘People without a sense of humor are boring’
Asked about his personal prayer life, the pope described it as child-like and “old-fashioned.”
“I maintain the piety I had as a child. My grandmother taught me how to pray and I maintain that simple piety of praying, as we say in Argentina ‘the faith of a coal miner,’” Pope Francis said.
“I’m not complicated when I pray. One might even say I have an old-fashioned spirituality,” he said.
“My religious consciousness has grown a lot, that’s different, it has matured, but the way I express myself to God has always been simple. Being complicated is not in me,” he said.
“Sometimes I say [looking up], ‘You fix this, because I can’t.’ And I ask the Virgin and the saints to intercede, to help me,” he said. “And when I have to make a decision, I always pray … to the light above. But the Lord is a good friend, he has been good to me. He takes care of me, as he takes care of all. We must pay attention to the way he takes care of each of us; he has a different style with each of us. That is beautiful.”
Pope Francis also spoke in the interview about the importance of having a sense of humor.
Responding to a question about what amuses him, he said with a laugh: “A sense of humor is a certificate of good health.”
Every day for the past 40 years, he said, he has prayed St. Thomas More’s “Prayer for Good Humor,” which begins: “Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest. Grant me a healthy body, and the necessary good humor to maintain it.”
“People who don’t have a sense of humor,” the pope said, “are boring.”