Pontiff tells reporters onboard plane: 'I enjoy your company'

With economic hard times as an excuse not to hire young people, the world risks tossing them aside and endangers its own future, Pope Francis said.

Speaking to reporters aboard the papal flight to Rio de Janeiro today, the Pope declined to answer their questions, but instead made very brief remarks about his July 22-29 trip and then greeted each of the 71 media members.

A Mexican veteran of papal trips, speaking on behalf of the journalists, welcomed the Pope to the back of the plane on his first foreign trip, acknowledging the Pope’s reputation for keeping reporters at a distance.

Pope Francis said it was strange to hear her interpretation that reporters “aren’t the saints I’m most devoted to” and that by entering the media section of the plane he was entering “the lion’s den”.

“It’s true I don’t give interviews. I don’t know why. I just can’t. It’s tiresome,” he said. “But I enjoy your company.”

Turning to World Youth Day, the purpose of his trip, Pope Francis said he did not want the event to be a meeting with young people “in isolation”, because “when we isolate them we do them an injustice. They belong to a family, a country, a culture and faith.”

While it is true that young people are the future, he said, they are not the only keys to a healthy future for a society, nation or the world.

The young “are the future because they are strong”, the 76-year-old Pope said, but the aged are essential too “because they have the wisdom of life”.

“Sometimes we are unjust to the aged. We set them aside as if they have nothing to give,” he said. “But they have the wisdom of life, history of our homelands and families that we need.”

Pope Francis told reporters he knows that in many countries the economic crisis has been hardest on young people and young families.

“I read last week how many of the young are without work and I think we run the risk of creating a generation that has never worked,” he said.

The long-term lack of a job is detrimental, he said, because “work is dignity to the person [and] the ability to earn one’s bread.”

Once again decrying what he describes as “a throwaway culture”, Pope Francis said “we do it often with the aged and now, with this crisis, we are doing the same with the young.”

What the world needs and what Pope Francis had said he hoped to demonstrate in Brazil is “a culture of inclusion and encounter” to make sure everyone’s place and potential contribution to society is welcomed.

Telling the journalists that he noticed that they weren’t as “ferocious” as he had feared, the Pope asked them to “help me by collaborating for the good of society, the young and the aged”.