Italian psychologist Salvo Noi interviewed Pope Francis regarding his book “La paura come dono” (“Fear as a Gift”), which will be published in Italian by Edisoni San Paolo on January 25. The Pope talks about his thoughts, fears and feelings during the years of his pontificate, starting with his election in 2013.
By a writer for Vatican News
New book interview in Italian with Pope Francis entitled La pura come dunno (“Fear as a Gift”), will be released by Edizioni San Paolo on January 25th. The author, Italian psychologist and psychotherapist Salvo Noi, conducted a lengthy interview with Pope Francis, researching a range of topics over the nearly ten years of Pope Francis’ pontificate.
On decision-making, the Pope says “sometimes yes, when I have to make a decision, I say to myself, ‘If I do it like this…? And that’s a bit of a fear of making a mistake, isn’t it? And fear in this case helps me, because it leads me to an accurate assessment of the decisions that need to be made, how to implement them and everything else. I proceed with caution: fear can be like a mother warning you.”
Dr. Noé met Pope Francis in Santa Marta, where the pope is staying, and told Vatican News that “at one of the many meetings, I told the Holy Father of my desire to write a book on fear, and asked him if he would like it. He made his own contribution to it. As usual,” he said. Yes; and so, one January afternoon, with my tape recorder, I asked some questions, which the Pope answered in his usual calm and reassuring voice. He also asked me some questions of fear and so our conversation became full of food for thought.” The long conversation then covered a wide range of topics, ranging from the formation of yeshivas, the challenge posed by hypocrisy, worldliness, functionalism, welcoming gays and immigrants, and preventing abuse of clergy through perhaps the introduction of psychiatric reviews in seminaries.
Psychology and seminaries
Regarding the process of discerning the vocation to the priesthood, the Pope replies that “it is necessary to assess in an integrated way how one lives, the psychological dimension, and the personal relationships of those who wish to walk the path of the priesthood by: entering the seminary”. “It is better to lose the profession than to take risks with an insecure candidate,” he asserts. For the Pope, the use of psychology in seminaries could be “very beneficial”, since “the sexual abuse of minors by the clergy has greatly accentuated this problem”.
The interview also talks about the topic of people with homosexual tendencies: “God is Father and does not deny any of His children,” says the Pope. “God’s method is closeness, mercy, and tenderness. There is no condemnation or marginalization. God approaches with love to each one of His children, to each one of them. His heart is open to each one. He is a father. Love does not divide, but unites.”
Migration and fear mongering
Continuing on the theme of welcome, Pope Francis also mentions a cause dear to him, that of immigrants, who he says are often used as a reason “to scare people, to make them think that our problems arise from (immigration).” Instead, our problems “arise from a lack of values.” and from the disorganized way of living in our homes and in our cities, and from the void of faith that distances us from one another and does not allow us to be brothers.”
In a similar fashion, Pope Francis reiterates his call to “adopt an ecologically respectful way of life to protect the heritage of creation and protect the lives of those who inhabit the planet.” “Our planet is sick, mistreated and plundered,” he says, as a result of “a lifestyle dominated by selfishness and a culture of waste, which has put before us an alternative: to continue on the path traveled so far or to embark on a new path.” What is needed, he says, is an “environmental transformation”, “a change of direction … where we take responsibility, commit ourselves to looking after our common home”.
Pope Francis and Dr. Noe pondered at length on the topic of fear, which is the central theme of the book. “Excessive fear can hurt, weaken … and paralyze us, so much so that a person overcome with fear does not move, does not know what to do …”. Pope notes. Excessive fear, in fact, is not a Christian attitude, but an attitude, we might say, of a soul imprisoned, [a soul] Without freedom, she has no freedom to look forward, to create something, to do good.
Deal with hypocrisy
The Pope adds that hypocrisy is not Christian either. “It is a fear of the truth,” he explains, and the Church is not immune from it. “A hypocrite fears the truth. One would rather pretend than be oneself. It is like gambling with one’s soul. Pretending destroys the courage to speak the truth openly, and so one easily gets rid of the duty to speak the truth always, everywhere and in spite of everything.” “There are many situations in which this happens: hidden in the workplace, where one tries to appear friendly to colleagues while competition leads to beatings behind their backs; in politics it is not unusual to find hypocrites separated from public and private life.” That said, the Pope stressed that “it is a particularly abhorrent thing to find hypocrisy in the Church. Unfortunately, there is hypocrisy and there are many Christians and hypocritical servants. We must never forget the Lord’s saying ‘Let your word be yes, yes, no, no.’ Anything that comes from the evil one.”
From the Meditations, the book moves on to historical events, going back to Election Day and the “welcoming and simple” way the new Pope presented the world, says Dr. Noe, which “won the hearts of many.” “I never expected to be elected, but I never lost my peace. I brought a little bag, convinced I would be back in Buenos Aires, in time for Palm Sunday. I left the sermons there ready. Instead, I stayed in Rome,” Pope Francis explains in the book. He remembers Cardinal Claudio Hames telling him not to forget the poor, as well as reassuring, “Don’t worry, that’s the way the Holy Spirit does it,” when he is confronted with the surprised expression of the newly elected pope. “I felt peace and comfort, even in major choices; for example, I didn’t want to wear anything, just the white papal dress. Even the shoes I didn’t want to wear. I already had the shoes and I just wanted to be normal. Then I went out and said good afternoon.”
Walking in the streets
Pope Francis spoke again of his passion to walk the streets as he used to in Argentina, to meet people, talk to them and listen to their stories, their difficulties and their situations: “I have to stick to the security protocols. Here they are afraid that something might happen to me.” It’s another fear, though in this case it’s justified, he concedes. And the Pope reveals: “The first few times, once I was elected, I tried to get out without warning several times, creating serious problems for the people working to ensure my security.”
Choose Santa Marta
Regarding his choice to live in the Santa Marta guest house in the Vatican, where he eats in a communal dining room and shares his table with other people, Dr Noé wonders if this decision was influenced by any kind of fear. Pope Francis replied: “Yes, I chose to live in Santa Marta, rather than the historic papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace, because, as you understand, I need to meet people, talk, and here I feel more free. There I felt closed, and that made me feel fearful.” Each of us to know ourselves to find the best solutions to our issues. When I was brought to the Apostolic Palace as soon as I was elected, I saw a very large bedroom, a large bathroom, and (a kind of) funnel effect. Large rooms but a small entrance, where only very few could enter Of the staff. So I thought, I must accept if I can’t go out and wander outside the Vatican, but I want to meet people at least. That’s why I chose Santa Marta. I wanted to get rid of the habit of deposing the Pope.”
Proximity, an antidote to fear
On the other hand, Pope Francis points out that “being close to people, being able to interact with each other and do things together is the real antidote to fear.” “Often, being isolated, feeling wrong, having problems and not finding help can lead to a crisis that can turn into psychological distress. My work is full of people who feel lonely and terribly far from ‘home.’ Loneliness is the real evil of our society, Everyone is connected to cell phones, but disconnected from reality.”
Worldliness, perversion in the Church
Finally, Pope Francis reassures about the future: “Jesus is always on our side.” He calls believers to “live in charity, knowing that we entrust ourselves to the Father.” He again appeals to all priests to show “mercy, courage and open doors”. He says, “Today, the greatest perversion in the Church is priests who are ‘climbers’ and worldly. Worldliness can lead to vanity, arrogance, and pride. Worldliness kills, as I once said; the worldly priest is religious pagans. Believers need to see that we are like them, and that We have the same fears and desires to live in God’s grace. We bring believers and non-believers together and talk with an open heart. And that’s what we all need to do.”