Pope Francis compares church to 'field hospital,' talks prison & homosexuals in newest book

Pope Francis. © Alessandro Bianchi
In his first book as Pope, Francis has described the Church as a “field hospital” offering people “first aid.” The pontiff also spoke of his “special relations” with people in prison and the need for the Church to show compassion to homosexuals.

“I like to use the image of a field hospital to describe this ‘Church that goes forth’, it exists where there is combat, it is not a solid structure with all the equipment where people go to receive treatment for both small and large infirmities.“

“It is a mobile structure that offers first aid and immediate care, so that its soldiers do not die,” he says in exclusive extracts, published in the Sunday Telegraph.

"The Name of God is Mercy" is a long conversation with veteran Italian Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli, due to be published on Tuesday.

The 150-page question-and-answer book coincides with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, during which the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics are expected to seek forgiveness and also to forgive.

In one of the chapters, Pope Francis admits he has a “special relationship” with people in prison.

“Every time I go through the gates into a prison to celebrate Mass or for a visit, I always think: Why them and not me? I should be here. I deserve to be here. Their fall could have been mine,” the pontiff says.

“The Church does not exist to condemn people, but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy," he says.

“I often say that in order for this to happen, it is necessary to go out: to go out from the churches and the parishes, to go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope."

In his new book, Pope Francis, who has called for the Church to extend a helping hand to people on the margins of society, reprimands those in the organization "who are only used to having things fit into their pre-conceived notions and ritual purity instead of letting themselves be surprised by reality, by a greater love or a higher standard."

In his first book published as Pope, he says he also wants the Church to show more compassion towards homosexuals.

Answering a question about homosexuals, Francis defends his famous old remark "Who am I to judge?" saying he was paraphrasing existing Church teaching.

"Before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity. And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love," he said, according to Reuters.

Catholics who divorced and remarried outside the Church and are banned from receiving communion seek mercy too, the pontiff noted.

"We need to enter the darkness, the night in which so many of our brothers live. We need to be able to make contact with them and let them feel our closeness, without letting ourselves be wrapped up in that darkness and be influenced by it," Francis said.