Rome (AsiaNews) - On the flight that took him home this afternoon from Seoul to Rome, Pope Francis answered questions from journalists. When, as now in Iraq, there is "an unjust aggression", it is "lawful" to halt the aggressor. However, "I am not saying bombing, making war, but halting him," a decision that must be taken by the United Nations, which includes the means to do it. In view of this, Pope Francis said he was "available" to go to Kurdistan "if necessary".
During the long conversation, the pontiff also expressed his "desire" to go to China and reiterated his "respect" for the Chinese people. "The Church only asks freedom for its ministry and work, without conditions," he explained. "Let us not forget the fundamental letter about the Chinese problem, the one Pope Benedict XVI sent to the Chinese. The letter still matters today."
Speaking about his relationship with Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis said that he already believes that "Pope emeritus is already an institution, because our life is getting longer and at a certain age we lose the ability to govern well, as the body gets tired . . . Then one's health may be good but we may no longer be able to bear all the problems of a government like that of the Church . . . Pope Benedict made the choice [to retire]. Perhaps some theologians will tell me that that was not right, but that is how I think. Time will tell whether this was [right] or not. If I felt I could not go on, I would do the same."
In responding to a question about the "gruelling pace" of his commitments, Francis said he should be "more cautious". Speaking about his popularity, he said, "I know it will last for as long as I last - two or three years - and then . . . to the house of the Father."
Many questions were asked about trips already in the works or those that might be possible. In this regard, Pope Francis stressed the importance of his visit to Albania, scheduled for 21 September.
"I am going to Albania for two important reasons," he said. "Firstly, because here they were able to set up a government of national unity- this is the Balkans - with Muslims, Orthodox, and Catholics as well as an interreligious council that helps a lot and is balanced. This is good, well adjusted. I felt my presence would be of help to that the noble people.
"The other reason is this. Think about the history of Albania, the only Communist nation that included practicing atheism in its constitution. Going to church was unconstitutional! One of the ministers told me - I want to be precise about the figure - 1,820 churches, Orthodox and Catholic, were destroyed. At that time, other churches were turned into cinemas, theatres, dance halls. I felt I had to go, and one day I shall.
"Next year, I would like go to Philadelphia for the [World] Meeting of Families. I have also been invited by the President of the United States to the US parliament [Congress], and also by the Secretary of the United Nations to New York. Perhaps [I shall travel to] all three cities: Philadelphia, Washington and New York. The Mexicans want on this occasion that I also go to Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico City). We could take advantage [of this opportunity], but I am not sure. And at the end, there is Spain. The royals have invited me, the Bishops' Conference has invited me; there are scores of invitations to go to Spain . . . Maybe it is possible. We can go in the morning, we can go in the afternoon, it would be possible, but nothing has been decided."
The Pope addressed the Iraq issue in response to a question about "aggression by ISIS against Christian minorities in Iraq and American bombs."
"In cases like this," said the pontiff, "in which there is unjust aggression, I can only say that it is lawful to 'halt' the unjust aggressor. I emphasize the word 'halt'. I am not saying bombing, making war, but halting him. The means by which one can halt him should be evaluated. Halting the unjust aggressor is legitimate. But we should keep in mind how many times with this excuse of halting the unjust aggressor, powerful nations have overrun peoples and engaged in real wars of conquest. A single nation cannot judge how to halt an unjust aggressor.
"After the Second world War came the idea of the United Nations. That is where we must discuss [the issue] and say if there is an unjust aggressor? If that is the case, then how do we stop him? Only this, and nothing more.
"Secondly, minorities. Thank you for using that word. Because I hear about Christians, those who suffer, martyrs. And yes, there are many martyrs. But here there are men and women, religious minorities, not all Christians, and all are equal before God. Halting the unjust aggressor is a right that humanity possesses, one whereby the aggressor can be halted so that he no longer harms."
The Pope also spoke about his upcoming encyclical about safeguarding creation. He said he asked Cardinal Turkson "to collect all the contributions that were sent in. Before the trip, the cardinal gave me the first draft."
"It is a difficult problem because on the stewardship of Creation, ecology also - there's a human ecology - one can speak with some confidence only up to a certain point. There are scientific hypotheses, some quite certain, others that are not. An encyclical that must be magisterial must go forward only on safe grounds, on the things that are certain.
"If the Pope says that the earth and not the sun is at centre of the universe, he would be wrong because he would be saying something that is scientifically wrong. Hence, what is happening now is that we must study [the draft] paragraph by paragraph. It think it will be more concise because we need to go to what is essential, to what we can say with certainty. We can put in footnotes this or that hypothesis, but not as information, not in the body [of the text], which will be doctrinal and must be certain."
In a final thought for Korea, the pontiff spoke about this morning's Mass and the so-called comfort women. "The Korean people," he said, "have not lost their dignity" despite being "invaded, humiliated, suffered wars, and (are) now divided with much suffering."
"Yesterday when I went to the meeting with young people, I visited the Martyrs' Museum. How horrible was the suffering of those people." They were martyred "simply for not wanting to step on the cross. It was an historic suffering. This people can suffer; it is part of its dignity. Even today, those elderly women were in the front [pew] during Mass. Just imagine that after the invasion these young women were taken away, to barracks, to be exploited. [And yet] They did not lose their dignity. Today they were there, showing their faces, in their old age, the last ones. [The Korean] people is strong in its dignity.
"Going back to the issue of the martyrs, suffering, and these women. These are the fruits of war! And today we are in a world at war, everywhere! Someone said to me, 'You know Father that we are in World War III, but piecemeal, in chapters. It is a world war where cruelties are committed. Let me focus on two words.
"The first is cruelty. At present, children do not count! Once there was talk about conventional war, now this does not count. I am not saying that conventional wars are a good thing. No! But today the bomb kills the innocent along with the guilty, children along with women, mothers. It kills everyone. But should we not think about the level of cruelty that we have reached? This should scare us. I do not want to frighten, [but] the level of cruelty of humanity at present is a bit scary.
"The other word is torture. Today, torture one might say is almost an ordinary means used by intelligence services and in some judicial trials. . . . Torture is a sin against humanity, a crime against humanity. To Catholics I say torturing a person is a mortal sin, it is a grave sin. But it is more: it is a sin against humanity.
"Cruelty and torture. I would love you in media to think about humanity's level of cruelty today about your own thoughts vis-à-vis torture. I think we should all reflect on this."