Some will undoubtedly think that Pope Francis has set the bar for his papacy a little low, when he defined his legacy this week as being remembered as a “good guy.” After all, when one thinks of the exalted post to which he has been summoned—Catholics understand the pope to be the successor of Saint Peter and the “vicar of Christ”—being just a “good guy” could seem an underachievement.
In a one-on-one interview this week with Argentinian journalist Juan Berretta, Pope Francis talked about his life prior to his election as pope, as well as what it has been like to fill the shoes of the “prince of the apostles.”
But when asked how he would like to be remembered, Francis simply responded: “As a good guy.” He then added, “I hope they say: ‘He was a good guy who tried to do good.’ I have no other aspirations.”
For those familiar with the Bible, however, Francis’ description of his papacy isn’t far from the way Peter described the life of Jesus himself. “He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him,” he wrote.
In the interview, which appeared in the Argentinian paper La Voz del Pueblo, Francis also spoke about his need to be with other people, a need that has continued into his papacy.
“It does me good to be with people,” he said. “My life is wrapped up in other people and, psychologically, I can’t live without people. I’d make a lousy monk.”
The Pope said that his need to be around people explains why he chose to come live in the Santa Marta residence in the Vatican City, rather than in the papal apartments. There are some 210 rooms, he explained, where 40 people live who work in the Vatican and the others are guests—bishops, priests and lay people who stay there. “That’s good for me,” he said. “ I come here, eat in the dining room where all the people are, have Mass four days a week with people who come from outside.”
“I love that,” he said. “I became a priest to be with people and I thank God I haven’t lost that.”
When asked about his “magnetism” and ability to connect with people, the Pope attributed it to his straightforward style and his use of practical examples. Last Wednesday during his weekly audience, for instance, he said, “I told a story of when I was in fourth grade. So it’s like people understand what I mean.”
The Pope complained, however, about stories concocted by the media.
“The media sometimes take something you say completely out of context,” he said. He gave the example of an expression he let slip during a recent visit to the parish of Ostia, outside Rome. When greeting a group of aged and infirm people, the Pope told them: “I understand you because I am an old man, too, and I have my aches and pains and I’m a little sick.” The next thing you know, Francis said, the newspapers had written: “Pope Confesses He Is Sick.” Against an adversary like that, he said, “there’s nothing you can do.”
Asked why he insists so much on the poor, Francis said that “poverty is the center of the Gospel. Jesus came to preach to the poor. If you take poverty out of the Gospel you can’t understand anything because you take out its core.”
Francis also had strong words for what is wrong with the world and the way people’s values get twisted.
According to the Pope, the worst problems in the world today are poverty, corruption and human trafficking. He also expressed his astonishment when he read about what people spend money on. “After food, clothing and medicine,” he said, “the fourth item is cosmetics and the fifth is pets. That’s serious.”
In fact, for an “environmental pope,” Francis seems to think that people pay altogether too much attention to pets.
“Care for pets is like programmed love,” he said. “I can program the loving response of a dog or a cat, and I don’t need the experience of a human, reciprocal love.”
The Pope said this kind of trade-off is “worrisome.”
Even though the Pope says he has had an easy time adjusting to his new life in the Vatican, he still misses some simple things from his former life, like walking the streets of the city and going out for pizza.
“I really miss the peacefulness of walking out on the streets, or going to a pizzeria to eat a nice pizza,” he said.
When asked why he doesn’t just have pizza delivered, Francis said it just isn’t the same.
“It’s all about going there,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome