By Andrea Tornielli
"A man of great humanity" able to provide a synthesis with the style of Dostoevsky: Pope Francis was visibly moved when speaking these words after greeting journalists on the plane to Panama. He was remembering Alexej Bukalov, Rome correspondent of the TASS news agency and veteran journalist of papal flights. Bukalov, who followed papal journeys right up until the most recent one, passed away on 28 December last, aged 78.
After thanking the journalists who will be reporting on his activities and words in the next few days in Panama, for the intense work they will be carrying out, the Pope said with audible emotion: “This is the first flight in which a colleague of yours, Alexei Bukalov of TASS news agency, to whom I was very close, is missing”.
“He was a man – Francis added - of great humanity. A kind of humanity that is not afraid of plumbing the lowest depths of human nature, and of ascending to the Divine. A man capable of providing a synthesis in the style of Dostoevsky”.
The Pope then asked everyone to observe a moment of silence in memory of the Russian journalist and concluded with the Lord’s prayer. The journalists reacted to the Pope's tribute to their colleague with a round of warm applause.
Future apostolic journeys
Before the papal greeting, papal trip organizer, Monsignor Mauricio Rueda Beltz, introduced Alessandro Gisotti, the “ad interim” Holy See Press Office Director, on his first papal journey in this role.
Answering questions put to him by several journalists, Gisotti confirmed that it is Pope Francis’s wish to undertake an apostolic visit to Japan. This is a possibility, he said, that is under consideration.
There are no plans, he added, as yet, for a papal journey to Iraq, confirming Cardinal Parolin’s words upon his return from the country in December when he said that "at present the conditions do not exist" for an apostolic visit to the nation.