CNA has published an English translation of the entire press conference.
Here are Francis’s comments in fuller context.
I always have this idea: Ecumenism is not reaching the end of the game, of the discussion. Ecumenism is walking together, walking together, praying together… The ecumenism of prayer. In history, we have the ecumenism of blood. When they killed Christians they did not ask: Are you Catholic? Are you Orthodox? Are you Lutheran? No, [they asked] are you Christian! And the blood mixed together. It is the ecumensim of witness. Another ecumenism, of prayer, of blood… and then the ecumenism of the poor, those that work together. That we must work to help the sick, the infirm, for example, the people that are a little at the margin, below the poverty line, to help. “Matthew 25” is a beautiful ecumenical program, it comes from Jesus. To walk together: this is already Christian unity, but do not wait for theologians to agree to arrive at communion. Communion happens every day with prayer, with the memory of our martyrs, with works of charity and even of loving one another.
In one European city there is a good relationship between the Catholic archbishop and the Lutheran archbishop. [Once] the Catholic archbishop should have come to the Vatican Sunday evening and he called to say that he would arrive monday morning. When he arrived he told me: “Sorry, but yesterday the Lutheran archbishop should have gone to one of their meetings and he asked me to please go to his cathedral and lead the worship.” This is fraternity, to arrive to this much… and the Catholic bishop held the service. He did not do the Eucharist, but the service.
Regarding those who are resistant to ecumenism and praying with those of other Christian groups:
I have the experience of prayer with many, many pastors: Lutherans, Evangelicals, and even Orthodox. The patriarchs are open and yes, even us Catholics we have closed people that do not want, that say that the Orthodox are schismatics. These are old things. The Orthodox are Christians. These Catholic groups are a little bit fundamentalist. We should tolerate them, pray for them, so that the Lord with the Holy Spirit softens their hearts.
On Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Tradition:
Eva Fernandez (COPE): Holy Father, you do not have a family nearby, but you have said that Benedict XVI is like having a grandfather at home. Do you continue to see him as a grandfather?
Pope Francis: More. Every time I go to visit him I feel like that, I take his hand and get him to talk. He speaks little, slowly, but with the same depth as always, because Benedict’s problem is his knees, not his head. He has a great lucidity, as always. When I hear him speak, I become strong. I hear this history of the Church, which is not something like a museum, tradition. No, tradition is like a root which gives us the juice to grow and so you would become like roots, no! You flower, you grow, you give fruit, and you are the seeds that are the roots of the other. The tradition of the Church is always in motion.
In an interview made by Andrea Monda in L’Osservatore Romano a few days ago (do you read L’Osservatore Romano?) there was a situation of the musician Gustav Mahler that I liked so much. Speaking of tradition, he said that tradition is the guarantee of the future and not the keeper of ashes. It is not a museum. Tradition does not preserve ashes; the nostalgia of fundamentalists [is] to return to the ashes. No, tradition is the roots that guarantee the tree grows, flowers and gives fruit. I repeat with that piece by the Argentine poet I like so much: “All that the tree has in bloom comes from that which it has underground.”
I am happy because yesterday I referenced that grandmother… it was a gesture of understanding with the eyes. At that moment I was so emotional, that I did not react and then the popemobile went ahead and I could not tell this grandmother to come, to show this gesture, and I said to the Lord Jesus: “It is a pain, but you have the ability to solve it!” And our good Francesco, when he saw the communication I had with that woman with her eyes, snapped a photo and it is now public, I saw it this afternoon on Vatican Insider. These are the roots. This will grow, it will not be like me, but I give my [roots]. These encounters are important.
Then there are the teachings, right? When the grandparents feel they have grandchildren who will carry on the story, they begin to dream. Grandparents, when they do not dream, become down, depressed. There is a future, and young people encouraged by that begin to prophesy and make history. It is important.
It is interesting to note some threads he weaves through his responses, including two references to fundamentalist Catholics and their resistance to both ecumenism and the development of doctrine. Regarding ecumenism, he mentions their skepticism regarding relations with our Eastern Orthodox brethren, saying: “Even us Catholics we have closed people that do not want, that say that the Orthodox are schismatics. These are old things. The Orthodox are Christians. These Catholic groups are a little bit fundamentalist. We should tolerate them, pray for them, so that the Lord with the Holy Spirit softens their hearts.” This ties into what he said in the recent Mexican TV interview, where he said of the signatories of the Aidan Nichols letter that he prays for them, and “you have to take care of them too.” But, as he also made clear about them in the TV interview, they are wrong about the faith, saying, “The nostalgia of fundamentalists [is] to return to the ashes.”
Returning today from Romania, Pope Francis held a 35-minute in-flight press conference. So far, I have been unable to locate a full transcript in English (please post one in the comments if you find one), but the reports I’ve been able to track down feature quotes of great interest to our readers.
First, Joshua J. McElwee reports in the National Catholic Reporter, that Francis addressed the subject of Tradition in the Church. He writes:
[Pope Francis] singled out Catholic “fundamentalists,” who he said have a nostalgia for “returning to the ashes.”
“Tradition is the guarantee of the future and not the container of the ashes,” said Francis.
“Tradition is like roots [of a tree], which give us nutrition to grow,” he explained. “You will not become like the roots. You will flower, grow, give fruit. And the seeds become roots for other people.”
“The tradition of the church is always in movement,” he said. “The tradition does not safeguard the ashes.”
Francis did not specify in his remarks whom he had in mind while speaking of Catholic traditionalists. But the pontiff has come under criticism during his six-year papacy from a vocal minority of Catholics, including some cardinals, who have expressed concern that he has not been clear in enunciating some of the church’s teachings.
The reports from CNA and CNS gave additional focus to Francis’s response to a question about Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Junno Arocho Esteves of CNS quoted him at length, in which he ties his relationship with his predecessor to his understanding of Catholic Tradition:
“I take his hand and let him speak. He speaks little, at his own pace, but with the same profoundness as always. Benedict’s problem are his knees, not his mind. He has a great lucidity,” the pope told journalists June 2 on his return flight from Romania. The pope spent about 35 minutes with reporters on the short flight, answering five questions.
When asked about his relationship with this predecessor, the pope said his conversations with Pope Benedict make him stronger and he compared the knowledge he receives from his predecessor as the sap “from the roots that help me to go forward.
“When I hear him speak, I become strong,” he explained. “I feel this tradition of the church. The tradition of the church is not a museum. No, tradition is like the roots that give you the sap in order to grow. You won’t become the root; you will grow and bear fruit and the seed will be root for others.”
CNS also reported his words on ecumenism, in reference to his interactions and prayers with the Romanian Orthodox Christians he met on his trip:
“We must go forward together,” he said, “always keeping in mind that ecumenism isn’t about arriving at the end of the game. Ecumenism means walking together, praying together, an ecumenism of prayer.”
Amen to that.
Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He’s a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He’s active in his parish and community. He is a founding editor for Where Peter Is.