Pope discusses Greece, the middle classes, coca leaves and selfies onboard the papal plane

Pope Francis issues a rare mea culpa over his neglect of the problems of the middle classes, speaks about his thoughts on the crisis in Greece and how he feels about selfies as he returns home following his visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.

ONBOARD PAPAL PLANE (JULY 12, 2015) (REUTERS) – Pope Francis acknowledged on Sunday (July 12) that he had neglected the problems of the middle class and said he was willing to have a dialogue with those who disagreed with his criticisms of unbridled capitalism.

Francis, speaking to reporters onboard the papal flight taking him back to Rome from a gruelling eight-day trip to Latin America, also said he hoped the Greek crisis could lead to more oversight so that other countries would not experience the same problems.

The pope, who has made defence of the poor a major plank of his papacy, was asked why he had hardly ever spoken out about the problems of the working, tax-paying middle class.

He immediately offered a rare papal mea culpa, thanking the reporter for his “good correction”.

“You are right. It’s an error of mine not to think about this. I will make a comment but not to justify myself. You’re right. I have to think a bit. The world is polarised. The middle class becomes smaller. The polarisation between the rich and poor is big. This is true,” he said.

On the economic crisis in Greece, the pontiff said previous Greek governments had to take some responsibility for the situation the country now finds itself in.

“Even the Greek governments that brought forward this situation of international debt, even they have a responsibility” he said.

“With the new Greek government we see a revision and that is a bit right … I hope that they find a way to resolve the Greek problem and also a way to have make sure the same problem will not fall on others countries” Pope Francis said.

The pope also answered questions on some more light-hearted themes.

Replying to a question on whether he had chewed coca leaves to help combat altitude sickness in Bolivia, the pope said he had only drunk a tea, called mate (pronounced: ma-te), and not chewed leaves.

“Mate helps me but I haven’t tried coca, let’s be clear,” he said laughing.

In response to a question on selfies, he said he felt like “a great-grandfather” when young people wanted to take selfies with him.

“What do I think of it? I feel like a great grandfather! It’s another culture. Today as I was taking leave (from Asuncion), a policeman in his 40’s asked me for a selfie! I told him you’re a teenager! It’s another culture – I respect it,” he said.

Francis spoke to reporters for about an hour shortly after the papal flight departed from Asuncion, Paraguay, en-route to Rome.