“Without any doubt a new chapter”

Francis is the first pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula. In the process, he had "done everything to show: I am not a monarch and I don't want to be one," says Pope's biographer Andreas Englisch, who accompanied him.

Interviewer: In Abu Dhabi, Francis has been received with great pomp. How did the Pope react?

Andreas Englisch (Author): Of course, this is insanely embarrassing for him every time and he tries to avoid it every time as well. When he went to the presidential palace, the colors of the Vatican, i.e. white and yellow, were drawn in the sky with fighter jets. This is exactly what he hates. But he has no influence on it.

We asked him about this and he said "Yes well, they just wanted to show how welcome I am". And there is also something to it. He did everything to show: I am not a monarch and I don't want to be one. And he drove around in the little Kia, which looked really weird in this insanely rich Abu Dhabi. That was very nice.

Interviewer: This journey has been described by many people as a historic event. Did you have the impression that this was the case for the pope and the tour group??

English: Yes, it was quite clear. There was not the slightest doubt. Even as it hinted that he might succeed in holding a service in Abu Dhabi, we all knew it was historic. It began in 2000 with John Paul II. a first attempt given. He was then in Damascus. However, there were great difficulties from the Arab side when he visited the mosque. All that did not look so good. Then came that unfortunate Regensburg speech in 2006, when Pope Benedict XVI. in one quote disparaging Muhammad. There was a total ice age, nothing worked anymore. Then came a new pope, Francis.

That he actually manages not only to be invited to the Arabian Peninsula as the first pope in history, but also to hold a huge church service in the open air with 120.It was a total sensation to celebrate in the middle of an Islamic country, not too far from Mecca, the place that is holy to millions of Muslims. The fact that he says this is historical is also true. This is without any doubt a new chapter in the history of the Catholic Church, there is no other way to say it.

Interviewer: When you go on a journey and you have a mission, you come back and you ask yourself if you are happy with it and if it can make you happy. Were you under the impression that Pope Francis was thinking along these lines?

English: Yes, of course. He was in an extremely good mood on the way back. He said, "I'm very happy that we were able to do this. The pope is maddeningly drastic about this. He always says: The alternative to peace with Islam is war and destruction. So, in terms of religion, we absolutely have to reach out to each other. If we don't do that, we take an insane risk.

That is why it was also possible to see how relieved he was. He said it all went well. One must quite honestly take off one's hat and say: That was already great to say quite clearly: A religion may never say that violence may be exercised in the name of God. That was already a tough one, what he put on Islam, that he brought up the war that the United Arab Emirates is waging in Yemen.

That he said all this without being bent and still managed to make such a far-reaching peace agreement and to say himself: Terrorism is caused by a wrong interpretation of Islam. I have known the Vatican for 30 years. If you had told me twenty years ago that the pope would manage something like this, I would have said: It's hopeless.

Interviewer: You were on the plane. The pope responded to a journalist who asked about sexual assaults on nuns. Francis has commented: yes, there is sexual violence against nuns in the church. How do you classify that?

English: It is not so insanely new. Already under John Paul II. there had been an investigation that had come to the conclusion that there is massive sexual violence against women religious in the world. There was a clear connection at the time. By the way, the perpetrators who were caught and questioned always said that they had committed sexual acts against women religious because they could be sure that they did not have AIDS.

That was a first investigation at that time and the pope knew that. He said it quite openly and meant: This probably still happens. We know they are priests, even bishops. And they know they have to do something about it. I think that also speaks for this pope. He did not iron it out.

Interviewer: That after such a trip such thick hammers come on the table, happens every now and then. What is the atmosphere like on the plane?? Is there room for such questions?

English: Actually, it is customary that on the return flight from a trip only questions about a trip may be asked, because the pope says: I am not omniscient either. But the fact that he allowed the question to be asked and said, "Okay, you're breaking the rules we've set for ourselves, but I'd still like to answer it" also shows the new style. This shows: We don't want to sweep anything under the rug. We know that they are all human beings, that they are all fallible, that there are criminals among them, and that is what we are addressing now. I thought that was great.

The pope is always totally open about it. There is no censorship. In the time of Pope Benedict XVI. the questions always had to be submitted beforehand. This is over. You can ask the pope whatever you want. No one censors them. You can ask any question. The pope also mostly addresses the questions. There are things that are so special that he says: Please, I'm not a catalog that knows everything. But on questions that are important, he goes of course.

The atmosphere on the plane is actually rather great. That was under John Paul ll. actually also very similar. You could also say: Holiness, this is going terribly wrong, you've messed up. Then he also said: Yes, that was a mistake. Francis has often said that there are things that are going incredibly wrong in our country. But he does not try to avoid it. And in the process he also makes mistakes, he knows that too. Either we have a pope who is silent or we have a pope who is also a pope who talks the talk. This is simply a good atmosphere

The interview was conducted by Uta Vorbrodt.

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Christina Cherry
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