This new book interview with the poor brings us the pope in simplicity and honesty.
Did you know? Pope Francis’ favorite poem is a poem by a 19th-century French poet, Paul Verlaine. And his first big disappointment as a child was realizing that his father didn’t own all the cars in Buenos Aires. In his book of questions and answers with poor people from all over the world (“Des pauvres au pape, du pape au monde,” to be published in French on April 1, 2022), he offers spontaneous insights into himself and his life. Here is a selection.
On the pope’s tastes
His favorite poem
You know, I have a melancholic side. And I love to repeat to myself a French poem that reflects my heart when it is melancholy. It is by Verlaine: “The long sobs of the autumn violins wound my heart with a monotonous languor …” There is another French poet I love very much, and that’s Baudelaire, and his Fleurs du mal.
His favorite book
I love the classics. And among them, my favorite is surely the Aeneid. I’ve also read many modern authors. But the classics have shaped me more.
The music that soothes him
For me, what soothes me, what “de-energizes” me and what calms me, is listening to music. And more precisely Wagner.
His favorite saint
St. Therese of Lisieux.
His current diet
Until three years ago, I ate everything. Now, unfortunately, I have a serious intestinal complication, acute diverticulitis, and I have to eat boiled rice, boiled potatoes, grilled fish or chicken. Plain, plain, plain …
The color of his pants
Two days after I was elected, someone said to me, “Holy Father, you must wear white pants.” I replied, “I’m not an ice cream vendor!”
His method of learning German
You’ve reminded me of those books for learning languages that were called “Assimil.” […] That’s how I started to study German, and that’s how you open the door to new languages.
What makes him uncomfortable
When people start singing my praises, I feel uncomfortable, because I know it’s not the truth.
What suits me is closeness to the people, so they don’t have to make me a kind of deity or worship me.
On the pope’s past
His first big disappointment
I remember as if it were yesterday my first disillusionment with my father, or at least the first one I can remember. I was about five or six years old. My father had taken me to the clinic for a tonsil operation. (In those days, the nurse would take you, sit you down, hold you still, put something between your teeth to keep you from closing your mouth, and with a pair of scissors, snip! It was as I’m telling you. There was blood everywhere. They didn’t even give you time to scream, they brought you an ice cream, and with the ice cream you forgot everything!)
When we got out of the clinic, my dad called a cab to go home. When we arrived, he paid the driver. I was amazed! I couldn’t talk because I was in so much pain, and I had to eat my ice cream to ease the pain. But two days later, when I could talk again, the first thing I said to my dad was, “Why did you pay the driver?” He explained the man’s job to me. I couldn’t believe my ears: “How? Isn’t that car yours?” In my idealization of my father, I was convinced that he owned every car in town, and it was my first disappointment to learn that this was not the case.
His car accident
I had driven to a city 155 miles from Buenos Aires, a five-hour drive, for a priestly ordination. I went to that ordination, and when it was over, I said to myself, “I’m not going to eat on the spot because it’s going to put me to sleep.” And I left. As I was driving, it started to rain and at one point the car skidded. I was 50-something, and I thought, “When my car registration expires, I’m not renewing it.” Because it seemed to me that this accident was a sign.
It was not that I thought I could no longer believe in God, but it did indeed occur to me to ask, “Where is God?” It was a difficult, dark experience. Everything seemed to go dark. This probably happened to me at the time of my exile from Buenos Aires, in Germany, and then in Cordoba, Argentina. Very difficult moments, yes, very dark. […] I felt bad. I prayed, I put myself in God’s hands, I asked for forgiveness, I let myself be helped.
On the pope’s spiritual life
Devotion to his guardian angel
Angel of God who is my guardian
Eternal piety has recommended me to you
Help me, save me, and bring me eternal life (Ed. note – probably the traditional prayer to the Guardian Angel, modified by translation)
His main faults
I’m a hothead. How can I call it? Impatient … I sometimes answer too quickly. I sometimes have the thought I was superior to others. I have sometimes not had the patience to wait. And these are all faults that are related to a feeling of self-sufficiency, which is a very bitter, very ugly root that I have to watch over all the time.
I go to confession with Fr. Manuel, a Franciscan, who called me today. Every two weeks he calls me and says, “Two weeks have passed.” Then he comes, and he hears my confession. His name is Manuel Blanco, and he’s Spanish. He is the superior of one of the Franciscan communities in Rome.
A question he asks himself in the evening
When I pray in the evening and I try to examine my conscience, to see what happened during the day, how I lived it, one question always comes back to me: Did I live it with dignity? And when we speak of dignity, we mean a sense of reality, humility, and need for others.
His greatest desire as pope
I would say spontaneously: to be a good priest.