Fr. inf. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with Antonio Gaspari – the director of the International Press Agency Zenit – about the person of the pope Francis, his philosophy of meeting and love winning over death

FR. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: - We welcome Mr. Antonio Gaspari again, who is an editor and a director of the International Press Agency Zenit in Rome, publishing news in seven languages all over the world. We are glad about our cooperation…

ANTONIO GASPARI: -It is not only a cooperation but also friendship, a kind of brotherhood in order to realize the great project of a good communication and formation. I am glad that ‘Niedziela’ is getting prepared for the English edition. The wealth of Poland which we got to know thanks to John Paul II, must be passed to the world in order to help it grow. I am glad to be in Częstochowa again, which is the centre of spirituality and strength for this nation. It is a light which can enlighten the world.

– When somebody is setting off to Rome today, he is thinking about a meeting with the pope Francis. It is the pope phenomenon, the pope enigma of the pope personality?

– Recently I have edited a book about the pope Francis entitled: ‘A cyclone named Francis’. In the group of journalists we have known cardinal Bergoglio before and we were fascinated by his attitude. Many people do not know whether the Pope is really so, as it is seen in his actions. But we discovered him as an unusual man, who is acting completely in accordance with himself and the teaching of the Church. As if in a new way and even in a revolutionary way, he discovered a possibility of meeting with the man. His strength is in his great humility. After all, to the question who the pope Bergoglio is, he answered that a sinner who had joy and a privilege of experiencing God’s love. I will add that the Pope undertook many reflections about the message of Jesus Christ. The man who said that he was God’s Son, he was not a philosopher or an ideologist, he was not a great speaker, either. Many issues about which he spoke, were not understand by people, but nobody loved people more than Him. Jesus’ being with the sufferers, His sympathy towards weak people was something unusual. He did not write any book, but people who met Him, were full of this love, and its strength caused the appearance of the religion which is the most widespread in the world at the moment. It was a mystery of the meeting.
Pope Francis is the person who is not waiting for people to come to him. He wants to go to people, especially to those who are weak, sinners, ill, suffering. And this is a secret of his success.

– Talking once with the cardinal, who was taking part in a conclave, I asked if he knew that cardinals choose this kind of pope. He answered that he is obliged the secret. You, as a Director, are not obliged to the secret….

– We, journalists, especially those focused on the Press Office in Vatican, receive confidential information which do not serve to discovering some secret cards, but are used to have a clear vision of history and explain everything what is taking place.

– So, did you expect this kind of election?

– Nobody of us, journalists, placed cardinal Bergoglio on the list of the first ten candidates. Not because he could not be a candidate, but after the illness and death of John Paul II, after the dismissal of Benedict XVI we expected a young pope. Cardinal Bergolio was 77. However, there were conditions and contexts which decided that he became pope. Looking backwards, one can say that it was somehow a desire of pope Benedict XVI and the body of cardinals that he should be pope. We must remember that cardinal Bergoglio received an incredible number of votes – 99 per 115. In the first voting he was a candidate who could not be overcome. In the previous elections – during the previous election of pope – he was the second who received most votes. We must thank the Holy Spirit, because this pope solved problems seeming unsolvable in a short time of a few months. He restored credibility of the Church, overcame scandals and gives the Church its popularity which it has never had in history.
It is very astonishing: most people who come to listen to the pope, are people who do not go to church, who left the Church a few years ago. It is not only a religious effect, but a social, and even incredible effect. The centre of sociological studies about values which are realized by the Italians informed that now, thanks to, among the others, pope Francis, people’s look at the world is completely changing. Among many values what is most stressed, is the attention directed towards another man, the family, marriage relations, as well as a kind of availability in order to prepare strength to help others. Those who call themselves believers, those who are somehow following the Pope, are also improving their relations, for example, at work. It is a real social revolution.
And, there is another thing, which is even fascinating: we can just look at how pope Francis lives among people. Few words but a lot of gestures. He is touching our hearts. Many of those who meet him, cry because love with which he comes up to another man is seen very well. He is prepared and used to being among people. They throw rosaries and the Pope catches them in the air; they bring him children and he cuddles and kisses them; he blesses in such a way that one can see his hobby in it, which raises emotions among present people; or, for example, a young person on the Square of St. Peter had a plaster on her leg in which the Pope put his signature.
His relations with all ill people who experience suffering, are unusual. He is the only pope in history who talks with people on the phone. He does not have a secretary who would mediate in these talks, but he takes a phone himself and makes a call. For example, we remember a story which moved the world very much. It is a story about a mother who was divorced and was in a relationship with another divorced person. When she got pregnant, her partner told her that either she would have abortion or he would leave her. She write to the Pope about it, not knowing what would happen. At that time, she was thinking about herself that she was ridiculous because the Pope has so many things to do. One day she received a phone call from Rome. She asked who was calling her and heard the answer: ‘I am pope Francis’. She started crying and as she was talking, she touched her belly with sensitivity. The Pope helped her and said: ‘You are not alone, go ahead, your example will give power to other women so that they would give birth to their babies’. She said that she was divorced, so who would baptize her baby. The Pope said: ‘If there is no priest who would do it, please, bring your baby to me’. I know that this phone call will save many children. Please, forgive me my emotions but this is pope Francis. The man who is close to every person and gives a testimony about Christ.

– We have always looked admiringly at audiences of John Paul II gathering crowds of people. Now these meetings are attended by more and more people…

– The number of people arriving at the papal audiences or the ‘Angelus Prayer’ with people is about eighty thousand people. It is more than at any stadium. I talked with taxi drivers who had never seen such a number of people from all over the world in Rome. When during general audiences I was conducting interviews with people, we were not able to come out of the Press Office because of crowds of pilgrims. I talked with a father of a family from Como, his wife and two sons. I asked why they had arrived there. He answered that he did not go to church, and he had not met a priest for many years, he had not heard words of the Pope and could not resist coming and meeting him. It is so with pope Francis.
The general audience with pope Benedict XVI was attended by people, organized, for example, by parishes. It is not possible in the case of this pope. For there are hundreds, thousands of people here. I was talking on the phone with my friend, a priest from a small region, where about two thousand people live. People were asking the priest to organize them a journey to Rome. A thousand of people notified their participation in it – it is fifty percent of inhabitants. It seemed that it would be so in the beginning of the pontificate, two, three months, but it is a phenomenon which is growing and……is getting doubled. At the moment the Pope has two audiences in a week: on Wednesday and Saturday.

– What do you think, isn’t it such a tactics?

– No, it isn’t. Pope Francis is himself, is a man completely devoted into God’s hands. Let’s notice, for example, his speeches: he says what is needed at a particular moment. On the All Saints’ Day he went to the Roman graveyard, with his prepared speech, which the Press Office in Vatican had also passed to journalists. Having arrived at the graveyard, he gave a completely different speech. First of all, in the evening, when the Pope prays, he sees Lord. He has a very strong and definite humility of a Servant of servants. He has not any pride or any privilege. He has never used an official car of the Holy See. His clothes are very modest. The only thing the Pope wants is to be a witness of Jesus Christ every day and share Christ’s love among people. Therefore he speaks about the Church in the Franciscan sense. He has not always been so. When he entered a prison for the first time, he got scared but he was working on overcoming his fear. He has never celebrated the liturgy of the Great Thursday in the cathedral. He used to go to wash poor people’s feet in hospitals, prisons and of people suffering from AIDS. In a particular deed for a man in need, he finds his Christian fulfillment; if he did something different than what he is doing now, it would be a sin. And people understand it. Pope Francis is very similar to John Paul II. The man who completely trusts God in order to serve people.

– During the inauguration of his pontificate, John Paul II said: ‘Do not be afraid to open the door to Christ’, emphasizing courage in expressing one’s belief in Christ. Pope Francis says: ‘Look, I am not afraid of Christ’.

– He says more: God’s Mercifulness is and acts and you are joy and hope of the world. Let the Heavenly Father do his work of forgiveness and mercifulness. Do not be afraid of returning to your Father. Because the Christian revolution is the revolution of love. Love is so great that it wins death. This Pope gives the world great enthusiasm and he is full of it himself. Therefore, he asks the Church so much to be purified off pride as much as possible, and be humble in order to give a testimony of real joy in this way.
The contemporary world has great possibilities, bigger than before in history, but is suffering from the lack of love - we call it a lack of faith. Pope Francis does everything to make up for this lack. So, we see that his actions changes the man. I do not know how it is in Poland, but in Rome churches register doubled numbers of people and now there are queues to confessionals which used to be empty.
In his first message to the world, pope Francis said that God does not get tired, when forgiving and loving, but we get tired, while begging Him constantly for forgiveness and love. God is happy when he can forgive us. The Pope wants to help us realize the fact that if we change our heart, nothing will come as an obstacle in bringing peace to the world and make the world better. Therefore Christianity is the religion of joy.


"Niedziela" 51-52/2013

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: