Pope Francis has said that he continues to visit retired Pope Benedict XVI, 92, who is like a grandfather who continues to encourage him and give him strength.
“I take his hand and let him speak. He speaks little, at his own pace, but with the same profoundness as always. Benedict’s problem are his knees, not his mind. He has a great lucidity,” the Pope told journalists on June 2 on his return flight from Romania.
Asked about his relationship with his predecessor, the Pontiff said his conversations with Pope Benedict make him stronger, likening the knowledge he receives from his predecessor to sap “from the roots that help me to go forward”.
“When I hear him speak, I become strong,” he explained. “I feel this tradition of the Church. The tradition of the Church is not a museum. No, tradition is like the roots that give you the sap in order to grow.
“You won’t become the root; you will grow and bear fruit and the seed will be root for others.”
Recalling a quote by Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, he said tradition “is the guarantee of the future and not the custodian of ashes”.
“The tradition of the church is always in motion,” he said.
“The nostalgia of the ‘integralists’ is to return to the ashes,” but that is not Catholic tradition; tradition is “the roots that guarantee the tree grows, blossoms and bears fruit”.
Referring to remarks he had made in Romania about unity and fraternity, he was asked about growing divisions within the European Union and said continental unity is a task for every European country.
“If Europe does not guard well against future challenges, Europe will wither away,” he warned, adding that while cultural differences must be respected, Europeans must not give in “to pessimism or ideologies”.
The Pope also was asked about an event in the Romanian Orthodox Cathedral in Bucharest, where it appeared that many people at the gathering did not join in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
Where there is tension or conflict, the Pope said, Christians must have “a relationship with an outstretched hand.”
“We must go forward together,” he said, “always keeping in mind that ecumenism isn’t about arriving at the end of the game. Ecumenism means walking together, praying together, an ecumenism of prayer.”
Christians also share “an ecumenism of blood, an ecumenism of witness and what I call ‘an ecumenism of the poor’ – working together to help the sick, those who are on the margins”, he added.
The Pontiff said Chapter 25 of St Matthew’s Gospel – where Jesus says those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and prisoners do the same for him – “is a good ecumenical program”.