September 27, 2013


The interview with Pope Francis

A lengthy interview (12,000 words) with Pope Francis, conducted by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor-in-chief of the Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica, is being published in seven Jesuit magazines, including America. It’s an amazing interview that reveals a lot about our pope. An article about the interview begins on page 1 of this week’s issue of The Criterion.

The interview was prominently publicized in the secular media because, in the interview, they reported that Pope Francis said that the Church is too focused on abortion, gay marriage and contraception. What he actually said was, “When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear, and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

Not reported by the secular media, though, is the fact that, the day after the interview was released, Pope Francis made a very strong statement about abortion in a talk to a gathering of Catholic gynecologists. We are also reporting that this week on page 5.

Since our page 1 story reports on the America magazine interview itself, we thought we’d use this space to let our readers see the amazing breadth of the pope’s knowledge about literature, art and music. Here is some of what he said:

“I have really loved a diverse array of authors. I love very much Dostoevsky and Hölderlin. I remember Hölderlin for that poem written for the birthday of his grandmother that is very beautiful, and was spiritually very enriching for me. The poem ends with the verse, ‘May the man hold fast to what the child has promised.’ I was also impressed because I loved my grandmother, Rosa, and in that poem Hölderlin compares his grandmother to the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, the friend of the Earth who did not consider anybody a foreigner.

“I have read The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni, three times, and I have it now on my table because I want to read it again. Manzoni gave me so much. When I was a child, my grandmother taught me by heart the beginning of The Betrothed: ‘That branch of Lake Como that turns off to the south between two unbroken chains of mountains. …’ I also liked Gerard Manley Hopkins very much.”

As for his interests in art and music, the Holy Father noted, “Among the great painters, I admire Caravaggio; his paintings speak to me. But also Chagall, with his ‘White Crucifixion.’ Among musicians I love Mozart, of course. The ‘Et incarnatus est’ from his Mass in C minor is matchless; it lifts you to God! I love Mozart performed by Clara Haskil. Mozart fulfills me. But I cannot think about his music; I have to listen to it.

“I like listening to Beethoven, but in a Promethean way, and the most Promethean interpreter for me is Furtwängler. And then Bach’s Passions. The piece by Bach that I love so much is the ‘Erbarme Dich,’ the tears of Peter in the ‘St. Matthew Passion.’ Sublime. Then, at a different level, not intimate in the same way, I love Wagner. I like to listen to him, but not all the time. The performance of Wagner’s ‘Ring’ by Furtwängler at La Scala in Milan in 1950 is for me the best. But also the ‘Parsifal’ by Knappertsbusch in 1962.”

Pope Francis also shared his likes on the big screen.

“We should also talk about the cinema. ‘La Strada,’ by Fellini, is the movie that perhaps I loved the most. I identify with this movie, in which there is an implicit reference to St. Francis. I also believe that I watched all of the Italian movies with Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi when I was between 10 and 12 years old. Another film that I loved is ‘Rome, Open City.’ I owe my film culture especially to my parents, who used to take us to the movies quite often.

“Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones. There is a nice definition that Cervantes puts on the lips of the bachelor Carrasco to praise the story of Don Quixote: ‘Children have it in their hands, young people read it, adults understand it, the elderly praise it.’ For me this can be a good definition of the classics.”

We encourage you to read the entire interview. It is available online at You won’t be disappointed.

—John F. Fink

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