Vatican City, Jan 8, 2017 / 01:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a new interview published Sunday, Pope Francis said that though his many papal trips are often very tiring, both from a physical and mental standpoint, the people he encounters and the testimonies he hears make all of it worthwhile.
“I always carry with me the faces, testimonials, images, experiences...” he said. “An unimaginable wealth, which always makes me say, it was worth it.” The Pope’s comments on traveling were made in an interview with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli of the newspaper La Stampa and the online outlet “Vatican Insider.” The interview is part of his new book on the Pope’s trips, coming out Jan. 10.
In the interview, the Pope explains that he doesn’t really like to travel much, saying that when he was a bishop in Buenos Aires, he preferred to stay in the area of his archdiocese. “Honestly, no. I never liked to travel,” he said. “And I would never have imagined doing so many trips...”
His first trip as Pope was to Lampedusa, an Italian island, on July 8, 2013. This trip was not planned, nor were there any official invitations. But, being moved by the news of migrants dying at sea there, he felt he “had to go,” he said.
“I saw pictures of the rescue of the survivors, I received testimonies on the generosity and hospitality of the inhabitants of Lampedusa. It was important to go there.” Pope Francis’ next trip was to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for World Youth Day at the end of July 2013 was, of course, “already on the agenda,” he said. But after that “came another invitation, and then another. I simply said yes,” Francis explained. “And now I feel that I have to travel, to visit the churches, to encourage the seeds of hope we have.” These trips are “heavy,” the Pope said, but for the moment he is able to manage.
Even more than the physical exertion required when traveling, he said that the time needed to prepare for each trip is also taxing. Time is spent reading and preparing, in addition to the day’s regular activities, before he leaves. And when he returns, he usually needs at least a day to rest and recover.
Asked what it is like to be received in the different places and to encounter the enthusiasm of the crowds of people, Francis recalled something a cardinal once said about the donkey Jesus rode during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem: did he “think that those cheers were for him?” “Here the Pope must be conscious of the fact that he ‘brings’ Jesus,” Pope Francis emphasized. He “testifies to Jesus, to his proximity, closeness and tenderness to all creatures, especially those who suffer.” For this reason, he said, when crowds shout, “long live the Pope,” he asks them to instead shout, “Long live Jesus!”
Pope Francis then referenced a quote from Pope Paul VI to explain why he thinks it is important to make these papal trips. “I believe that of all the dignities of a Pope, the most enviable is paternity,” Pope Paul said. “Paternity is an emotion that invades the spirit and the heart, that stays every hour of the day, that can’t diminish, but that grows so the number of children grows. It’s a feeling that doesn’t tire one out or cause fatigue, but it gives rest from every cause of exhaustion.”
“Never, not for one minute, did I ever feel tired when I raised my hand to give a blessing,” Pope Paul said. “No, I’ll never get tired of blessing or forgiving.” Francis said, “I believe those words explain why popes in the contemporary era have decided to travel.”
Despite his previous feelings about traveling, Pope Francis has several big trips planned for 2017, including to Fatima, Portugal May 12-13 for the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of Fatima. He will also make a few smaller trips within Italy, such as to Milan in March. Trips to India and Bangladesh are also being planned for later in the year, with Francis stating in his in-flight interview coming back from Sweden in November that going to Africa is also a possibility.