Pope Francis has said that he “did not know what to say” when greeting the world from the balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square after his election two years ago.
He made the remark in a candid and wide-ranging interview with the Mexican broadcaster Televisa.
In the interview he said he felt his pontificate would be brief and that he did “not mind” being pope, adding: “The only thing I would like is to go out one day, without being recognised, and go to a pizzeria for a pizza.”
According to a translation by Vatican Radio, he said: “I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief: four or five years; I do not know, even two or three. Two have already passed. It is a somewhat vague sensation. Maybe it’s like the psychology of the gambler who convinces himself he will lose so he won’t be disappointed and if he wins, is happy. I do not know. But I feel that the Lord has placed me here for a short time, and nothing more … But it is a feeling. I always leave the possibility open.”
On the subject of the conclave, Pope Francis said he had expected it to be very short, and had already prepared a homily for his return to Buenos Aires. The first moment he realised he might not, in fact, be returning, was the afternoon of his election, he said.
“Really, until that afternoon, nothing. And then something happened, I do not know what. In the room I saw some strange signs, but … They asked me about my health … and stuff. And when we came back in the afternoon the cake was already in the oven. In two votes it was all over. It was a surprise even for me.”
He said Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who was sitting next to him, told him “not to worry – this is how the Holy Spirit works”.
Francis said: “After the second vote when the two-thirds majority was reached, there was applause, there is always applause at this point in the conclaves, so [Cardinal Hummes] kissed me and told me not forget the poor and this phrase began to go round in my head and that’s what led me to my choice of name.
“During the vote I was praying the rosary, I usually pray three rosaries daily, and I felt great peace, almost to the point of insentience. The very same when everything was resolved, and for me this was a sign that God wanted it, great peace. From that day to this I have not lost it. It is ‘something inside’, it is like a gift. I do not know what happened next. They made me stand up. They asked me if I agreed. I said yes. I do not know if they made me swear on something, I forget. I was at peace.”
The Pope then changed his vestments and, after praying in the Pauline chapel, went out on to the balcony. “I did not know what to say. And you are the witnesses of everything else. I deeply felt that a minister needs the blessing of God, but also that of his people. I did not dare to ask the people to bless me. I simply said: pray that God may bless me through you. But it came out spontaneously, also my prayer for Benedict.”
In the wide-ranging interview Pope Francis also addressed the rise of Protestant groups in South America, blaming the loss of Catholic faithful on clericalism and “disastrous” homilies.
Of the homilies, he said: “I do not know if they are the majority – but they do not reach the heart. They are lessons in theology and are abstract or long and this is why I devoted so much space to them in Evangeli Gaudium. Typically evangelicals are close to the people, they aim for the heart and prepare their homilies really well. I think we have to have a conversion in this. The Protestant concept of the homily is much stronger than the Catholic. It’s almost a sacrament.”