Domenico Agasso on a visit with Pope Francis


Dear Mr Agasso, your latest collaboration with Pope Francis, the book-interview ‘Dio e Il mondo che verra’ is just about to be published in Bulgaria. How was this book created?

The idea was born after an interview with Pope Francis that we published in La Stampa in March 2020 right in the eye of the sanitary storm. On this occasion the Pope had emphasized that people ‘are crying and suffering. All of them. We can only get out of this situation together as a single united community.’ This is how we came to the idea about a book that we could publish at a later stage without dwelling too much on the present but trying to have a peek beyond the pandemic, looking for our contribution to the recovery period after the crisis that only came on top of the already existing problems, related to social injustice, lack of equality, selfishness and economic interests. A book that can transcend the immediate drama of the coronavirus, to the world of the future with faith, strength, hope and courage. We prepared it in the course of several personal meetings and many phone calls, mostly towards the end of 2020.

Just when the world and Italy in particular were going through their darkest hour due to the corona virus pandemic, Pope Francis came up with this profound and optimistic outlook for the future of humanity. What was the idea that really stuck with you after working on the text of the book?

The main pillars on which mankind, communities, cities and regions that were affected by the pandemic need to step on are hope, environmental protection and solidarity. Pope Francis appeals for a sustainable development model. He encourages the young people to never stop fighting for their dreams, even in our hard times, and to become the messengers of ‘knowledge, love and mercy’. And most of all to have the unshakeable faith that even when we think that God has given up on us, in reality ‘God is with us, close to us and in the right moment he will reach out and save us.’

Do you think that the Catholic church fulfilled its mission to guide and console during the pandemic? Did it have an adequate response in these testing times?

In the Covid-19 pandemic the Catholic church literally and virtually came out of the altar and through its priests who held mass alone on the internet tried to reach out to people. Many parishes that were largely unfrequented before, managed to attract a lot more people during the weeks ‘of the dark shadows that thickened and fell on our piazzas, streets and cities’, as Pope Francis pointed out. Today the clergy can and should turn into gold that spiritual progress and the increased sensitivity of the people to the miracle of life. Now the challenge for the church is to acquire a more constant and comforting presence in the daily life of everyone, which is characterized not only by the on-going health concerns that we all have but also by economic and work-related problems. People need sincere support. They need someone who would listen to them, welcome them, support them and give signs and words of hope for a better future.

Having worked and communicated a lot with Pope Francis, how is he different from his predecessors, what sets him apart?

Every pope has his own character, his own background, personal experience, personal story and sensibility and every pope’s term of service should be interpreted within its specifics and its historical context. I can characterize Pope Francis as a credible leader who exudes assurance, faith and simplicity. His ability to empathize with people is extraordinary. His humane attitude is engaging and exciting. He is strong-willed in his work and in his efforts to respond to the needs of those around him, to speak to everybody, to help the weak, to comfort the desperate, to build bridges and break down walls, to be close to everyone in spirit or in person, especially to those living in pain and grief. He thinks most of all for the poor, those who come last, the distant, the abandoned ones. Pope Francis preaches and practices the principle of human fraternity, generosity and peace. He is always ready to take decisions that can uproot the old and weary habits and open wide the windows and the doors of the church by preserving the traditions and the roots of the church in order to bring new, fresh and clean air in. With his behavior and his actions he teaches us how to make the best of the time on earth that we’ve been given and to spread the message of God through dialogue, good deeds, joy and tenderness. And fun.

Pope Francis visited Bulgaria in 2019 and received a very warm welcome from ordinary people, both Catholics and Christian Orthodox. Did you accompany him on that visit and if so, what were your immediate impressions?

I have a wonderful memory from Bulgaria and from Sofia from the days of Pope Francis’s visit in your amazing country, which the Pope named “The land of the encounter”. Bergoglio underlined that in the history of the Catholic church ‘also here in Bulgaria there were priests who have made a difference with the sanctity of their life: among them I like to recall my predecessor who you call ‘The Bulgarian Pope’, St John ХХIII, a saint whose memory is vividly alive in this country, where he lived in the period between 1925 and 1934. Pope Francis emphasized that St John XXIII’s ‘diplomatic and pastoral experience in Bulgaria had such a great impact on his priest’s heart that it made him promote the idea of an ecumenical dialogue that was given a big push during the Second Vatican Council, called by Pope Roncalli himself. In other words, ‘to a certain extent we should be grateful to this land for the wise and inspiring intuition of the ‘Good Pope’.” Apart from that I also remember Sofia for its green gardens and fields where you can play football, the blooming tulips, the people playing chess on the benches in the center and the overall harmonious atmosphere. This was a wonderful apostolic visit.

What would be your message to Bulgarian readers for the New 2022?

I believe that if we stick to the rules, made to protect us from the virus, without succumbing to despair or overblown fear, we will soon be able to come back to our normal or almost normal daily life. However, we need to learn from the mistakes that were made during the pandemic and earlier because the future of the world and humanity will become more meaningful only if we build it together without further marginalization and exclusion on local, national and international level. If we focus on the establishment of a peaceful and fruitful co-existence of nations and within each nation, in protection of our common home through an effective and widely spread environmentally friendly culture and by ensuring the dignity of existence of each human being. This could be a wonderful way to attach value to the time we have to spend here. And it would allow each and every one of us to live their days to the fullest and taste the flavor of real life during our pilgrimage on earth.