On his return to the Vatican, Pope Francis spoke frankly to reporters on his Alitalia flight after having spent eight days visiting Bolivia, Ecuador, and Paraguay. The 78-year-old pontiff offered an hour of responses to reporters’ questions after a clearly tiring round of liturgies, homilies, and official visits. With regards to sniping from political and religious conservatives in the U.S., Pope Francis said “I have heard that there was some criticism, but I’ve not had time to study them. Every criticism should be accepted, examine and a later comes the dialogue.”
The informal meeting with curious reporters came on the evening of July 12 after the Pope’s flight left the ground in Asunción, Paraguay’s capital city. The talk was light-hearted and full of good humor, according to witnesses. The Pope joined in singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to three journalists on board.
Regarding the speech he gave on July 8 in Bolivia, where he called for a change in political and economic structures while criticizing the love of money as the “Devel’s dung,” the Pope responded that he was merely referring to Catholic social teaching. “I follow the Church,” he said. With regard to the Church’s dialogue with social movements, the Pope said “It is not as if the Church takes recourse to an option for the road toward anarchy.”
Widely considered to have played a key role in the diplomatic rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, the Pope expressed surprise that he had been given any credit. “With regard to the United States, it was the work of the Lord,” said the Pope despite having his role heralded by none other than President Barack Obama.
The Pope was asked why he had not spoken about the middle class, even while he spoke quite forcefully about the plight of the poor and the excesses of the wealthy. In response, the Pope appeared apologetic. “That is an appropriate correction. You are right. It was a mistaken on my part to not think about that. I will comment on that, but not to make any self-justification. But you are right. I have to think it over. The world is polarized. The middle class is smaller: the polarization between rich and poor is huge; that is true. Perhaps this has led me to not pay attention. Some countries in the world are not doing well, but in general the polarization can be seen. The numbers of the poor is large and afterwards, why do I speak about the poor? Because it is the heart of the Gospels. I always speak of the Gospels, of poverty, not as though it is sociological. Then, about the middle class, I have said a few words sometime in the past; but ordinary people, humble people, the workers, have great value. But I believe that you have told me something that I must do. I must further into this teaching. I want to thank you for you help.”