Pope Francis called unemployment and loneliness the most serious of the world's evils and criticized proselytism in his interview with Eugenio Scalfari, the atheist founder of Italian newspaper La Repubblica, which has now been published online.
"The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don't even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present," Francis said in the long interview published online with an English translation on Oct. 1 by La Repubblica.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church had unexpectedly set up the interview with Scalfari after the two had exchanged letters focusing on non-believers and the grace of God in September. The La Repubblica founder, who also worked as editor of the publication from 1976 to 1996, admitted that he was shocked that Pope Francis wanted to meet and speak in person, and took the opportunity to conduct a lengthy interview on Sept. 24 at the Pope's residence, which touched on a number of issues.
When asked whether he was aiming to convert Scalfari, the Vatican leader smiled and explained: "Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas."
Francis, who has often spoken out for the poor and the need for the Church to do more to help them, said that unemployment and loneliness hurt both the body and the soul, and so are part of the Church's responsibility. He added that the Church is not sufficiently aware of just how big the problem is, which is something that needs to change.
When asked about good and evil, the Vatican leader said that every person has his or her own vision of those concepts, but people need to be encouraged to choose good, which would make the world a better place.
"The Son of God became incarnate in the souls of men to instill the feeling of brotherhood," Francis offered. "All are brothers and all children of God. Abba, as he called the Father. I will show you the way, he said. Follow me and you will find the Father and you will all be his children and he will take delight in you. Agape, the love of each one of us for the other, from the closest to the furthest, is in fact the only way that Jesus has given us to find the way of salvation and of the Beatitudes."
The Roman Catholic Church leader admitted that some leaders within the Church have "often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers" and said that the court is "the leprosy of the papacy."
He clarified that what he is talking about is related more to the quartermaster's office, those who manage the services that serve the Holy See.
"But it has one defect: it is Vatican-centric. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests. This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I'll do everything I can to change it. The Church is or should go back to being a community of God's people, and priests, pastors and bishops who have the care of souls, are at the service of the people of God," Francis added.
The full interview, in which Francis and Scalfari also touch upon politics and the nature of the universe, is available on the La Repubblica website.