Full Text of Pope’s In-Flight Press Conference Returning from Iraq

Spent Hour With Papal Flight Journalists

pope's text press conference
© Vatican Media

Below is a full working English translation of the text provided by the Vatican in Italian of the Pope’s in-flight press conference. Pope Francis responded to many questions posed to him by the journalists during the flight bringing them back to Rome from Iraq.

Returning from Iraq, Pope Affirms Lebanon As Next Middle East Trip During In-Flight Press Conference



It was an extraordinary trip that has touched this country’s heart.


Thank you for your work, your company, and your exhaustion!

Women’s Day . . .congratulations to women . . . women’s . . . because . . . it’s men’s celebration, no?

The President’s wife spoke well to me of women . . . the strength that women have in taking life forward, the family, . . . so many things.

Third thing, the birthday of COPE’s journalist . . . Now I give the floor to you.


 The meeting in Abu Dhabi with the Imam of Al Ahzar and the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity was two years ago. Three days ago you met with Al Sistani. Can something similar be thought of also with the Shi’ite side? And then a second thing, Lebanon that — Saint John Paul II said — more than a country is a message . . . but, unfortunately, I can tell you that this message is disappearing from the Lebanese. Can we think of a next imminent visit of yours to Lebanon?


The Abu Dhabi Document was prepared with the Imam in great secrecy, over six months, praying, reflecting, praying, it was  . . . somewhat presumptuous, take it as a presumption — a first step of what you ask me, we can say that this would be the second <to be visited> and that there will be others. The path of brotherhood is important.

Then the two Documents . . . that of Abu Dhabi left in me the anxiety of fraternity, Fratelli Tutti came out, no?  that . . . one must . . . both Documents must be studied because both go in the same direction. They seek fraternity.

Ayatollah Al Sistani has a phrase that I hope I can remember well, every man . . . men are either brothers by religion or equal by creation — fraternity and equality. However, we can’t go forward under the sign of equality. I believe it’s also a cultural path. We think of us Christians, of the 30 Years War, of the Saint Bartholomew Night, to give an example, we think of these, but among us, the mentality changed . . . because our faith makes us discover that it’s this, Jesus’ revelation, faith, and charity lead us to this, but how many centuries passed to implement this. This is something important — human fraternity — all men being brothers and we must go forward with the other religions.

The Vatican Council took a great step on this, including the institution  — after – the Council for Christian Unity and the Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, Cardinal Ayuso is accompanying us today. You are human; you are a child of God; you are my brother, this would be a greatest indication. One must risk often to take this step, no?

You know that sometimes there are criticisms. The Pope isn’t courageous; he is reckless and is taking steps against Christian Doctrine, that he is a step away from heresy . . . there are risks, but these decisions are always taken in prayer, in dialogue, asking for advice, in reflection, 8.29 they aren’t a whim and are only the line the Council taught us. This is the answer to your first question.

The second. Lebanon is a message, Lebanon suffers, it’s more than a balance; it still has the weakness of non-reconciled differences but it has the strength of a great people that are reconciled, like the strength of cedars.

The Patriarch asked me, please, to stop-off in Beirut, but it seemed to me a bit . . . somewhat too little, a crumb . . . in face of a problem, a country suffering as Lebanon is. I wrote a letter and spelled out a promise and I promised to go to Lebanon.

However, at this moment Lebanon is in crisis, in a life crisis, I don’t want to offend but it is in a life crisis! Lebanon is so generous in its welcome of refugees. This <will be> the second trip.


 To what degree was the meeting with Al Sistani also a message to the religious leaders of Iran?

 I believe it was a universal message. I felt the duty of this pilgrimage of faith and penance, to go to meet a great wise man of God. I perceived this just by listening to him . . . And, speaking of messages, I would say it’s a message for all; it’s a message for all! And he is a person that has that wisdom and also the prudence, who said to me: “For 10 years — he told me — I haven’t received people that come to visit me, but with other political or cultural aims, not so much religious objectives. He was very respectful in the meeting. I felt honored because even when greeting he never stands up, but he stood up twice to greet me. He is a humble and wise man, this meeting did my soul good. He is a light. These wise men are everywhere because God’s wisdom is scattered throughout the world. The same thing happens with saints who aren’t on the altars, but everyday saints, those that I call saints of next door. Holy men and women who live their faith, whatever it is, with consistency, who live human values with consistency, fraternity with consistency.  I believe we must discover these people, evidence them, because there are so many examples of them and there are scandals, also in the Church, so many . . . and this doesn’t help, but let us make people be seen who seek the way of fraternity, the next-door saints. No doubt we’ll find people of our family there.”

Your trip had enormous repercussions throughout the world. Do you think it could be “the trip” of the pontificate? It has also been said that it was the riskiest. Were you afraid at some moment of your trip? You are about to complete the eighth year of your pontificate. Do you continue to think that it will be short? Finally, the big question: will you go back sometime to Argentina?

 I begin with the last one, it’s a question . . . I understand it. That book of my journalist friend Nelson Castro, a doctor, he wrote a book on the sicknesses of Presidents and I once said to him that if he came to Rome, he must write on the sicknesses of Popes, because it will be interesting to know the sicknesses of Popes, at least of some of recent times. He interviewed me, and the book came out. I’m told it’s good but I haven’t seen it. He asked me a question “ if you resign — if I die or resign — will you return to Argentina or will you stay here? I said I wouldn’t return to Argentina but would stay here in my diocese. However, in that hypothesis, this is joined to the question: when will I go to Argentina or why don’t I go . . . I always answer somewhat ironically: I was in Argentina for 76 years, it’s enough, no?

It’s something that, I don’t know why is not said: a trip to Argentina was planned for November of 2017. Work on it began, including Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. It was <to be > at the end of November. But then, at that time, there was an electoral campaign in Chile. Elected in those days in December was Michelle Bachelet’s successor. I should have gone before the government changed. But I couldn’t go . . . However, let’s do it this way: let’s go to Chile in January and then to Argentina and Uruguay . . . But it wasn’t possible, because January was like July-August for the two countries. Rethinking the matter, the suggestion was made why not include Peru, because Peru was left out from the trip to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay? It was left aside. And from there was born on the January (2018) trip to Chile and Peru. But I want to say this so that fantasies are not made of “patriaphobia.” When the opportunity arises, we will be able to do it (19,11) because there is Argentina, Uruguay, the south of Brazil, which is a very great cultural compound.

Then, in regard to trips, to take a decision on trips I listen, I listen to the advice of advisers and sometimes someone comes who says: what do you think about going to that post? It does me good to listen; it helps me to take decisions later on.  I listen to advisers and in the end, I pray, I reflect a lot, I reflect a lot for some trips. Then the decision is made from within, from the stomach, almost spontaneously but as a ripe fruit. It’s a long course. Some trips are more difficult and others. Easier.  The decision on this trip came first from the ambassadress, a pediatric doctor who is the ambassadress of Iraq; she is good, good; she insisted. Then the ambassadress in Italy; she is a fighter. Then the new ambassador to the Vatican came. The President had come before. All these things stayed inside. But there is something behind that I would like to mention: one of you gave me the last Spanish edition of the girl, Nadia Mourad. I read it in Italian; it’s the story of the Yazidi. And Nadia Mourad recounts terrifying things. I suggest that you read her. On some points, it might seem heavy-going, but for me, this is the underlying reason of my decision. That book brewed inside me; also when I listened to Nadia who came to tell me terrible things . . . these things together made the decision, thinking of all, all the many problems. But in the end, the decision came and I took it.

Then the eighth year of my pontificate; must I do this? (he crosses his fingers).

I don’t know if the trip will be made or not, I only confess to you that I was more tired on this trip than in the others. My 84 years don’t come alone, it’s a consequence, but we’ll see. Now I must go to Hungary to the closing Mass of the Congress (International Eucharistic Congress, not a visit to the country, but the Mass. But Budapest is two hours by car from Bratislava so, why not make a visit to Slovakia? This is how things happen.”


 As I said earlier, the trips simmer over time in my conscience and this is one of the things that gave me more strength — strength. I thought so much, I prayed so much about this, and in the end, I took the decision freely, but that truly came from within. And I said that He that gives me the strength> to decide must take care of the people. And so I made the decision, but after prayer and after the awareness of the risks — after everything.


 We saw the courage, the dynamism of the Iraqi Christians. We also saw the challenges that they must face, the threat of Islamist violence, the exodus, and the witness of faith in their environment. These are the challenges of Christians in the whole region. We spoke of Lebanon, but also of Syria, the Holy Land. Then years ago a Synod was held in the Middle East; however, its unfolding was interrupted by the attacks on Baghdad’s Cathedral. Are you thinking of doing something for the whole of the Middle East, a regional Synod, or some other initiative?

 I’m not thinking of a Synod . . . I’m 0pen to many initiatives, but I haven’t thought of a Synod. You have sowed the first seed, we’ll see, we’ll see what happens. The life of Christians is troubled, but not only that of Christians. I just spoke . . . we spoke of the Yazidi and other religions that did not submit to Daesh’s power . . .

And this — I don’t know why — gave me very great strength; however, there is the problem you mentioned of migration. Yesterday, while I was returning from Qaraqosh by car to Erbil, I saw so many people, the age level is low; there are so many young people. And the question that someone asked me: but what future do these young people have? Where will they go?  So many will have to leave the country. Before going on the trip, 12 Iraqis came to take leave of me — refugees, one who had a prosthetic leg because he escaped under trucks and was hurt. Many escaped. Migration is a double right: right not to migrate, right to migrate. These people don’t have either one, because they can’t migrate and they can’t migrate because the world is not yet aware that migration is a human right.  Speaking of the demographic winter in Italy, a sociologist said to me the other day that in 40 years <time> we will have to import foreigners to work and pay the taxes of our pensioners. You, French, have been craftier, you have advanced by ten years with the law of family support; the level of growth is very great.

(30.58) However, migration is seen as an invasion. Yesterday, after Mass, I wanted to receive — because he had asked — Alan Kurdi’s father. This child is a symbol. Alan Kurdi is a symbol that goes beyond the child who died in the migration. He is the symbol of civilizations that die, which cannot survive, the symbol of humanity. A measure is urgent so that people don’t have the need to migrate and also measures to protect the right to migrate. It’s true that every country must study well its capacity to receive because it’s not only receiving but accompanying, to made migrants progress and integrate. The migrant’s integration is clear. Two anecdotes: we think of the Belgian case, the terrorists were Belgians, born in Belgium but not integrated. The other example, I went to Sweden. When I took leave of the country, the Minister had a special physiognomy, not typically Swedish. She was the daughter of a migrant and a Swedish woman, but she was so integrated that she had become a Minister. Let us think of these two incidents.

I also want to thank the generous countries, the countries that receive migrants: Lebanon is generous with migrants, Jordan . . . Unfortunately, we won’t go beyond Jordan. King Abdullah is so kind that he wanted to give us free planes. I thank him now. Jordan is extremely generous; it has more than one and a half million migrants — and many other countries do too. Thank you to these countries; thank you so much.

In three days this key country of the Middle East did what the powerful of the earth have discussed for thirty years. You have already explained what is the interesting genesis of your trips, how the choices of your trips are born, but now, in this contingency, looking at the Middle East, can you take into account a trip to Syria? What can be the objectives a year from now of other places in which your presence is requested?

 Lebanon is the only hypothesis in the Middle East and also the promise. I haven’t thought of a trip to Syria, because the inspiration hasn’t come to me. But I am so close to martyred and beloved Syria, as I call it. I remember that afternoon of prayer in St. Peter’s Square at the beginning of my pontificate. There was the Rosary <and>Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. But how many Muslims, how many Muslims, with their mats, prayed with us for peace in Syria, to halt the bombings in that moment when it was said that it was a ferocious bombing.  I carry Syria in my heart, but to think of a trip hasn’t come to me at this time.


 I feel different when I’m far from the people in audiences. I would like to start the General Audiences again. Let’s hope that soon the conditions will exist. In this, I follow the norms of the Authorities, as they are the ones responsible to give the norms, whether one likes it or not, but they are the responsible ones and they must do so.

Now I have begun the Angelus in the Square again. It can be done if distances are kept. There is a small proposal for General Audiences, but I haven’t decided yet until we see clearly the development of the situation, but after these months of prison  — because I truly felt somewhat imprisoned — this for me is to live again, to live again because it is to touch the Church, the holy People of God — all peoples.

Because a priest becomes a priest to serve the holy People of God, he is at the service of the holy People of God, not for careerism, money . . .

This morning’s Mass was the healing of Naaman, the Syrian, and it said that this Naaman wanted to give gifts, gifts after his healing . . . no, the prophet Elisha refused, he refused. However, the Bible continues, and then the servant, when he left Naaman well settled, ran after the herd and asked for gifts. <But>God said to him, the leprosy that Naaman had now infected you.

I am afraid that we, men and women of the Church, especially we priests, do not have this free closeness to the People of God which is what saves us. And we do as Naaman’s servant, we help but then turn back.

I’m afraid of that leprosy, and the only thing that saves us from that leprosy, the cupidity, the arrogance . . . is the holy People of God.

It’s what God said to David: I took you from the flock; don’t forget the flock.

What Paul says to Timothy, remember your mother and grandmother who nursed you in the faith, namely, don’t lose your belonging to the People of God to become a privileged caste of consecrated, clerics, anything, no?

Therefore, contact with the people saves us, helps us. We give the Eucharist to the people, it’s our function, but they give us belonging; don’t forget this belonging to the holy People of God.

Then you began thus: what did you find at Qaraqosh in Iraq? At Qaraqosh I wanted to begin . . . but . . . I didn’t imagine the ruins of Mosul and of Qaraqosh, I didn’t imagine them. Truly things were seen, the book read, but this touches, it’s touching.

But then, what touched me most was the testimony of a mother of Qaraqosh. A priest gave witness who truly knows poverty, service, penance and a woman who in the first bombings of Daesh lost her son . .  and she said a word: forgiveness. I was moved. A mother saying I forgive, I ask forgiveness for them, and there came to my memory the trip to Colombia, that meeting at Villavicencio where so many people, women especially, wives and mothers talked about their experience of the murder of their children and of their husbands . . . They spoke of forgiveness — I forgive. This word had been lost. We are able to insult greatly, we are able to condemn greatly, I being the first, we know this well, but to forgive . . . to forgive enemies, and this is pure Gospel. This is what most struck me at Qaraqosh.

(it’s almost an hour  I will continue but the car . . . last answer — the last before celebrating the birthday)

Marciano (AFP)

 I want to know what you felt from the helicopter seeing the destroyed city of Mosul and then praying in the ruins of a church. If I can ask the question of the women, you supported the women of Qaraqosh with very beautiful words, but what do you think of the vow that a Muslim woman in love cannot marry a Christian without being rejected by her family or even something worse?

 At Mosul, I said somewhat on passing what I felt. I stopped in front of the destroyed church. I had no words, it couldn’t be believed, it couldn’t be believed.

Not only the Church but the other churches too, also a destroyed mosque, one perceived it wasn’t in agreement with these people. Our human cruelty cannot be believed, no?

At this moment I don’t want to say the word to begin again. But let’s look at Africa; let’s look at Africa, which with our experience of Mosul of destroyed churches, enmity, war, and then the so-called Islamic State begins to act. This is something awful, very awful. And before going to the other question, a question that came to me in the Church, is this: but who sells the arms to these destroyers? Why don’t they make the arms at home, if they make some bombs, but who sells them arms? Who is responsible? That I ask at least to those that have them, who sell the arms, to say we are the ones who sell the arms. But they don’t say it; it’s awful.

The women, the women . . . are more courageous than the men, it’s true, but women are humiliated also today, we go to that extreme. I don’t know who – but one of you showed me the list of prices for women . . . I can’t believe that age costs so much. Women are sold, they are sold, they are enslaved . . .  also in the center of Rome. The endeavor against trafficking is a work of every day.

In the Jubilee I went to visit a house of Don Benzi’s Work . . . a girl with her ear severed because she hadn’t brought the right amount of money, brought from Bratislava in the baggage of the car, a slave, kidnapped, this happens among us, the educated, the trafficking of people . . .

In these countries some — especially in a part of Africa, there is mutilation, mutilation as a rite that must be done, but the women are still slaves, and we must fight this, we must fight for women’s dignity; they are the ones that carry history forward; this isn’t an exaggeration.  Women carry our history forward and it’s not a compliment today on Women’s Day. But it’s true, slavery is so . . . the rejection of woman: to think that in a post x the discussion was held because the rejection of a woman must be in writing or only oral?  There is not even the right to have the act of divorce . . .This happens today but not to go so far we think of the center of Rome, of the girls that are abducted and exploited, no? I believe I’ve said everything about this.


Thank you Holy Father.

Translation by Exaudi’s Virginia M. Forrester