Pope Francis, 77, showed no signs of exhaustion after his recent three-day trip to the Holy Land, which ended with a lengthy conversation with reporters while on the plane back to Rome. Although his comments about celibacy were largely what made headlines around the world, the pontiff's no-holds-barred press conference spanned a variety of topics, including the economy and unemployment, divorced Catholics and communion, and the Church’s sexual abuse scandal.
Here are a few highlights:
Political Leaders Invited to Interfaith Prayer Meeting
Pope Francis invited the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to the Vatican for an interfaith prayer meeting and expressed hope that Jerusalem “will be a city of peace among the three religions.” He clarified that the meeting would not be a formal negotiation, but said, “I think that prayer is important and to pray together without formal discussions of another type, this will help."
‘Door Is Open’ to Future Popes Stepping Down
Pope Benedict XVI led the way for future popes to abdicate when he resigned in 2013. “Will there be others? God knows,” Francis said. “But this door is opened: I think that a bishop of Rome, a Pope that feels his strength is diminishing because now we live much longer, should ask himself the same questions that Pope Benedict did.”
‘Grave’ Unemployment in Europe
Money is at the center of the economic system -- one that should value people instead of things, Francis said. But instead, he added, the current system has cast out an entire generation of Europeans who are neither studying nor working -- and this is very serious. “We are discarding a generation of the young,” he said. “It is an inhumane economic system.”
'Zero Tolerance' for Clergy Sexual Abuse
Francis vowed to hold a mass with some of the victims of the clergy sexual abuse scandal and then “go forward, with zero tolerance.”
"A priest that does this betrays the Body of Christ," he said.
Celibacy and Priests
Greek and Coptic Catholics both allow priests to marry, and because celibacy “is not a dogma of faith, the door is open,” Francis said. “We have stronger things to undertake.”
Future Trips Abroad
Francis will be traveling to South Korea and also to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, where he aims to help those who are suffering as a result of their faith.
“The problem of the lack of freedom of worship is not only a problem in certain Asian countries, in some it is, but also other countries in the world,” he said. “Not all countries have religious freedom. Some have more or less, light or relaxed control. Others adopt measures that end up persecuting the believers.”
Should Divorced Catholics Receive Communion?
According to Francis, the family unit is in a “worldwide crisis.”
“The young do not want to marry or they live together without being married, marriage is in crisis, and therefore, so is the family,” he said. “And I would not like for us to fall into this case study: can they receive communion or can they not? For this reason, I thank you very much for this question, because it gives me the opportunity to clarify that.”
Those who get divorced are sometimes treated as though they were excommunicated, he added, and they are not.
‘Pray for Me!’
At the end of the 45-minute on board press conference with journalists, Francis smiled and said, “Thank you all so much for your company, for your kindness, and please, I ask you to pray for me. I sure need it! Thank you.”