In recent weeks, two interviews with Pope Francis have been published and have received wide publicity. On September 19, sixteen journals around the world simultaneously published in several languages a 10,000-word interview with Pope Francis titled A Big Heart Open to God organized by the Italian Jesuit journal Civiltá Cattolica. The interview published in the September 30, 2013 issue of America and is available online here. On October 1, La Repubblica, Italy’s largest daily paper, published an interview of Pope Francis by Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica titled The Pope: How the Church will Change. The interview is available in English translation here.
Each interview is, of course, different – different interviewers, different questions. They also happened in very different ways. According to Fr. Matt Malone S.J. of America magazine, the interview published by the Jesuit journal, Civiltá Cattolica, had its beginnings with a conversation among the America staff shortly after the papal election. Civiltá Cattolica became interested in the idea, which ultimately led to interest by other Jesuit journals around the world. The various editors submitted questions to the staff of Civiltá Cattolica. Fr. Antonio Spadaro S.J., of Civiltá Cattolica, conducted the interview in August. After transcribing and editing the interview, he personally reviewed it with the Pope, who approved it for publication.
The interview published in La Repubblica had a completely different origin. Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica and Pope Francis had publicly exchanged letters with during the summer in the pages of La Repubblica regarding the Pope’s encyclical on faith. (Mr. Scalfari was raised a Catholic but has become one of the best-known non-believers (atheists) in Italy.) In his response to Mr. Scalfari’s published editorial of July 7 and his further reflections/questions published August 7, Pope Francis wrote, “I feel comfortable in listening to your questions and together with you, will try to find a way to perhaps walk along a path together.” As La Repubblica reports, Pope Francis personally called Mr. Scalfari and set up the interview at the Vatican. It is unclear whether the Holy Father had the opportunity to review the text before it was published.
The “target audience” and focus of the two interviews are also rather different: the Civiltá Cattolica interview was prepared by Jesuits and so the questions were more church/religion oriented and directed to a largely Catholic audience; the La Repubblica interview was published in a daily newspaper and directed to a more general audience, many of whom (being Italian) were raised Catholic.
Both interviews have received widespread attention from the news media (and, I suspect, from social media as well). Typically, the stories focused on the rarity of a papal interview, some mention about the range of topics discussed and short quotations – “sound bites” – highlighting statements that seemed different or unexpected or striking. However, none of the news stories or media coverage about the interviews can substitute for reading each interview (hence the hyperlink included above for each interview).
There are, of course, many approaches to reading: for news, for information, for explanation, for advocacy, for analysis, for commentary, for insight, for inspiration, for entertainment. While it may be possible to read the interviews with Pope Francis in any or all of these ways, it might be most helpful – and fruitful — to read them reflectively and prayerfully.
In his Civiltá Cattolica interview, Pope Francis says, “Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside of itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent.” It would seem that, for Pope Francis, the interviews may be one of the “new roads;” it certainly is an example of “stepping outside” of what has been considered “normal” papal activity. Later in the same interview, he says, “we need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing…” and so, the interviews are, for Pope Francis, most of all a way to proclaim the Gospel that reaches people throughout Italy and around the world – and, perhaps most importantly in his view, to many of “those who have quit or are indifferent.”
Precisely because Pope Francis seems to have envisioned the interviews as an opportunity to proclaim the Good News, taking the time to read each interview slowly, with time to reflect on his responses and even to pray over something that is particularly meaningful may allow his message to speak to both mind and heart … and life.