Father Antonio Spadaro is a Jesuit priest, doctor of theology and a specialist in the field of social communications. He is a journalist, and the chief editor of La Civiltà Cattolica. Aleteia was very happy to have a chance to meet with him recently, and ask some questions about his relationship with Pope Francis, the challenges this pope brings to the Church, and the outlook for World Youth Day and beyond.
How did you come to be a close associate of Pope Francis?
This may seem strange, but the truth is that he just called me, and on my cell phone! I was very surprised and unsure what to say or how to address him.
The Holy Father just called and said: ‘Hello, this is Pope Francis speaking’?
Exactly. It was quite funny, because that day I was to deliver a lecture at a seminary, and the phone rang at 6:55, and from some unknown number. I was wondering whether to pick it up because I was in a hurry. In the end, I decided to pick up and was going to ask the calling person to call back later. Then I heard: “Good morning, this is Pope Francis speaking.”
And the pope said?
After a moment of complete shock, like, ‘Oh, my God!” I said perhaps a little incredulously: “His Holiness?” Then I asked, how do I respond to the Holy Father. And he said: “There is nothing to be alarmed about,” and we began to talk freely. During the conversation I asked him for an official audience, as the editor of “La Civiltà Cattolica.” This is not really so unusual, due to the strong relationship our magazine has with the Vatican. For the chief editor to have an audience with the new pope is a tradition. Francis agreed to this audience, which occurred a few weeks later, and there I asked him for permission to grant me an interview. He agreed. As a result, we spent three long afternoons together. It was our first long and serious conversation. So it just started like that.
And now, how often do you meet?
Irregularly. Rather, from time to time. I am no one special; the Holy Father meets so many people from all over the world. This makes him well informed — very abreast of things. Usually, I accompany the Pope on his travels, and I was also with his appointment as a member of two synods dedicated to the family.
Still, you are closer to Pope Francis than most people in the world. Hence, for example, you may know the answer to this question: Does the pope have his own cell phone?
No, he does not. He has no computer, no phone. In the House of St. Marta His Holiness uses a traditional landline or sometimes calls from his personal secretary’s phone.
I ask this because Francis clearly does not avoid the so-called selfies.
That’s true, but not due to a personal familiarity with the smartphone. I was even present at a situation in which someone first asked him for a photo together and tried to set it. Francis looked surprised. His face appeared puzzled, as if to say, “What are you doing? I do not understand what this is all about.” But after he understood, his face lit up and he permitted the picture. Since then, he is quite willing to agree to selfies with young people.
But why? Just to give young people a little fun?
No. The reason is deeper. If you are taking an ordinary photo, the subject is completely separated from the photographer. In the case selfie photographer and the subject of the pictures are together on the same side; the separation disappears. There is nothing to do with a fad, then, but rather touches on his deep pastoral sensitivity. Francis is not a technology geek and calls himself a technological dinosaur. But he understands the logic of the internet and social networks.