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The Fiducia Supplicans declaration on blessings of same-sex couples “wants to include, not divide,” Pope Francis told the Italian daily La Stampa, in an interview published January 29, 2024. In conversation with Italian Vatican journalist, Domenico Agasso, the Pope also spoke about his health, his future travels, and his worries about the growing conflict between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East.
As he did when he received the members of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) on January 26, the Pope defended the document Fiducia Supplicans, emphasizing once again that “it is not the union that is blessed, but the people.”
“The gospel is to sanctify everyone. Of course, as long as there is good will. And it is necessary to give precise instructions on Christian life. […] But we are all sinners: So why draw up a list of sinners who can enter the Church and a list of sinners who cannot be in the Church? This is not the Gospel,” he said.
The Pope not worried about schisms
“Those who vehemently protest [the declaration] belong to small ideological groups,” he added. He acknowledged though that the African Catholics, who distanced themselves from Fiducia Supplicans in a declaration approved by the Vatican, are “a separate case” given that the culture in Africa has not undergone the change in view of homosexuality that the West has.
“For them homosexuality is something ‘bad’ culturally, they do not tolerate it,” the Pontiff said in the interview.
“When I perceive tensions around me, I calmly try to establish dialogues,” explained Pope Francis, adding that he does not believe a schism would occur. “Always in the Church there have been little groups that manifested reflections of a schismatic color … you have to let them be and pass … and look forward,” he said.
“In general, I trust that gradually everyone will be reassured by the spirit of the Fiducia Supplicans declaration by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith: it wants to include, not divide.”
Beyond Africa, several dioceses have distanced themselves from the text authorizing blessings for same-sex couples, including the bishops of Brittany (France) and Poland. Prominent figures have also strongly criticized the declaration, such as the former Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller.
A two-state solution; people deserve peace
Throughout the interview, the head of the Catholic Church expressed his concern about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict saying it “is dramatically enlarging.”
On Sunday, January 28, three American soldiers died in Jordan, due to intensified attacks by pro-Iranian militias, in response to Israeli bombardments of Gaza.
“There were the Oslo accords, so clear, with the two-state solution. Until that agreement is implemented, real peace remains far away,” the Pontiff lamented.
The Pope also confided his hope for a “truce,” mentioning that “confidential meetings are taking place to try to reach an agreement.”
“Christians and the people of Gaza – I do not mean Hamas – have a right to peace,” the Pope underlined.
Pope Francis also cited the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, as a “crucial figure” in the Holy See’s diplomatic initiatives. The Pope made him a Cardinal on September 30, 2023, a few days before the outbreak of the conflict in the Holy Land. “He is great. He is moving well. He is trying hard to mediate,” the Pontiff added.
He also said he contacts every day the Catholic parish in Gaza, which is hosting around 600 people.
“They are continuing their lives looking death in the face every day,” he said. “And then, the other priority is always the release of the Israeli hostages.”
No “just war” but “self-defence”
In the interview the Pope called for caution when using the term “just war,” which is cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “If thieves come into your house to rob you and attack you, you defend yourself.”
But, he warned, the term “just war” can be “instrumentalized.” The Pontiff explained, “It is right and legitimate to defend oneself, that yes. But please let’s talk about self-defense, so that we can avoid justifying wars, which are always wrong.”
The Pope also emphasized the importance of praying for peace.
Prayer “is a struggle with the Lord to give us something. Prayer is concrete. And strong, and incisive. Prayer matters! Because it prepares the way for peacemaking, it knocks on the door of God’s heart so that He may enlighten and lead human beings toward peace.”
“Peace is a gift that God can give us even when it seems that war is prevailing inexorably. That is why I insist on every occasion: We must pray for peace,” he said.
The conflict in Ukraine
The Pope also did not forget the conflict occurring in Ukraine, and highlighted how Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, had been sent on a mission in 2023 to promote peace in Russia and Ukraine. Francis assured that discussions “for the repatriation of Ukrainian children forcibly taken to Russia” are continuing, especially with Maria Llova-Belova, the Russian commissioner for children’s rights.
In an interview with L’Osservatore Romanoon December 1, 2023, the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, said that the Holy See’s initiatives have made it possible to investigate the cases of dozens of children. Famously, the Holy See’s efforts helped repatriate a young Ukrainian man, Bogdan Yermokhin, on the eve of his 18th birthday, before he could be possibly obligated to take up arms against his own country.
Future travel plans : Indonesia, East Timor, and more…
As for his health, the 87-year-old Pontiff admitted to “a few aches and pains” but said “it’s better now” and that he is “fine.” He also said he’s not thinking about resigning for the time being: “If and when I can’t take it anymore, I will eventually start thinking about it. And to pray about it.”
While he had to cancel a trip to Dubai in December 2023 due to acute bronchitis, in this interview he confirmed his plans for a trip to Belgium, and then to East Timor, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia in August.
In Italy, Pope Francis is planning to visit Verona in May and Trieste in July.
In regards to a trip to his native Argentina, the Pontiff said it is a possibility. He confirmed that he will be meeting the recently elected Argentinian President Javier Milei, as he will be in Rome for the canonization of the Argentinian nun, “Mama Antula,” on February 11.
“I know that he has asked for an appointment with me: I have accepted, and therefore we will meet. And I am ready to start a dialogue – speaking and listening – with him. As with everyone,” said the Pope. During the campaign that then led to his election on November 19, Javier Milei had targeted Francis with insulting remarks.
The Pope feels like a “parish priest”
The Pontiff also briefly addressed the rapidly expanding topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI), to which he has devoted several messages, two recently. He reminded that AI “should always be in harmony with the dignity of the person.”
“If there is no such harmony, it will be suicide,” he warned.
Almost 11 years after his election, which occurred on March 13, 2013, the 266th Pope said that he feels “like a parish priest.”
“Of a very large, planetary parish, of course, but I like to keep the spirit of a parish priest. And being among the people. Where I always find God.”