Francis comes in smiling: “Finally! I read you and now I finally meet you.” I blush. “Instead, I know you and now I am listening to you.” He laughs. The Pope laughs heartily, as he will other times over the course of an hour-long off the cuff conversation. Rome with its big-city evils, the era of changes that are weakening politics; the struggle to defend the common good; the Church re-appropriation of the issues of poverty and sharing (“Marx didn’t invent anything”), alarm in the face of the decay of the peripheries of the soul, a slippery moral abyss in which children are abused, and begging, child labour and, not least of all, the exploitation of child prostitutes barely 15 years of age is tolerated … and by clients who could be their grandfathers.
“Pedophiles”: this is precisely what the Pope calls them. Francis speaks, he explains, he pauses, he returns. Passion, sweetness, irony. A faint voice, his words seem to lull. His hands accompany his way of thinking, the interweaving, the obstacles, they seem to trace invisible shapes in the air. He is in very good shape despite the rumors concerning his health.
It’s time for the match between Italy and Uruguay. Holy Father, who are you rooting for?
Oh me, no one, really. I promised the President of Brazil [Dilma Dilma Roussef] that I would remain neutral.
Shall we begin with Rome?
But you’re aware that I don’t know Rome? Just consider that I saw the Sistine Chapel for the first time when I took part in the Conclave that elected Benedict XVI [in 2005]. I’ve never even been to the museums. The fact is that I didn’t often come to Rome as a cardinal. I know St. Mary Major because I would always go there. Then there is St. Lawrence outside the Walls, where I went for several confirmations when Don Giacomo Tantardini was there. Obviously I know Piazza Navona because I always stayed on Via della Scrofa, just behind it.
Is there anything Roman in the Argentinian Bergoglio?
Hardly anything at all. I am more Piedmontese; those are my family roots. Yet I am beginning to feel Roman. I intend to go and visit the area, the parishes. I am discovering the city little by little. It’s a beautiful city, quite unique, with the problems of any large city. A small city has a clear structure, whereas a metropolis contains seven or eight imaginary cities that overlap on various levels. Also on cultural levels. I think, for example, about the urban tribes of young people. It’s the case in all big cities. In November, in Barcelona, we’ll hold a conference dedicated precisely to the pastoral care of big cities. In Argentina exchanges were promoted with Mexico. We find many cross-cultures, but not so much because of migration, but rather because cross-cultural territories, each having their own membership. Cities within cities. The Church also must respond to this phenomenon.
Why, from the beginning, have you wished to place such great emphasis on the role of Bishop of Rome?
The first service of Francis is this: to be the Bishop of Rome. All the titles which belong to the Pope, Universal Shepherd, Vicar of Christ, etc, he has because he is the Bishop of Rome. It is the first choice. The consequence of the primacy of Peter. If tomorrow the Pope wanted to be the Bishop of Tivoli, it’s clear they would drive me out.
Forty years ago, under Paul VI, the Vicariate promoted a meeting on the evils of Rome. A picture of a city emerged in which whoever had much had the best, and whoever had little had the worst. Today, in your opinion, what are the evils of this city?
They are those of the big cities, like Buenos Aires. Those who profit more and more, and those who are always poorer. I wasn’t aware of the conference on the evils of Rome. They are very Roman issues, and at the time I was 38 years old. I am the first Pope who never took part in the Council and the first to study theology after the Council, and the great light for us at the time was Paul VI. For me,