Pope Francis: persecution against Christians is now greater than the early church

Despite concerns for his safety, Pope Francis refuses to be protected by an enclosed Popemobile. "I couldn’t greet the people and tell them that I love them from within a sardine tin," he says.

Pope Francis has condemned persecution against Christians in a revealing interview with Spanish 'La Vanguardia' magazine, in which he also addressed fundamentalism, poverty and his own legacy.

"What I would like to be clear on is one thing, I am convinced that the persecution against Christians today is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church," the Pontiff declared according to an article published last week.

"Today there are more Christian martyrs than in that period. And, it's not because of fantasy, it's because of the numbers."

He added: "The persecuted Christians are a concern that touches me very deeply as a pastor...In some places it is prohibited to have a Bible or teach the catechism or wear a cross."

In light of this statement, Francis branded religious violence a "contradiction".  

"Violence in the name of God does not correspond with our time," he noted.

"A fundamentalist group, although it may not kill anyone, although it may not strike anyone, is violent. The mental structure of fundamentalists is violence in the name of God."

However, despite candidly discussing increased persecution against believers, the Pope announced that he himself has done away with some of the precautions taken to protect him from possible harm.

"I know that something could happen to me, but it's in the hands of God. I remember that in Brazil they had prepared a closed Popemobile for me, with glass, but I couldn't greet the people and tell them that I love them from within a sardine tin," he said.

"Even if it's made of glass, for me that is a wall. It's true that something could happen to me, but let's be realistic, at my age I don't have much to lose."

The Pope has famously eschewed another car, a Mercedes-Benz, offered to him in the past, choosing instead to travel in a 30-year-old Renault 4 given to him as a symbolic gift of his humility by an Italian priest.

It is this humility and a passion for serving the poor that has captured the hearts of millions worldwide; during his inauguration Mass in March 2013 he spoke of the Christian calling to be close to "the poorest, the weakest, the least important...the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, those in prison".

Francis readdressed this issue with La Vanguardia last week, contending that "poverty and humility are at the centre of the Gospel".

"I say it in a theological sense, not in a sociological one," the Pontiff continued. "You can't understand the Gospel without poverty, but we have to distinguish it from pauperism. I think that Jesus wants us bishops not to be princes but servants.

"It's proven that with the food that is left over we could feed the people who are hungry. When you see photographs of undernourished kids in different parts of the world, you take your head in your hand, it incomprehensible.

"I believe that we are in a world economic system that isn't good. At the centre of all economic systems must be man, man and woman, and everything else must be in service of this man. But we have put money at the centre, the god of money. We have fallen into a sin of idolatry, the idolatry of money."

Famously causing shake-up at the Vatican, Francis reportedly chuckled at being called a "revolutionary", saying, "There is no contradiction between [being a] revolutionary and going to the roots."

He also shared that he has "not thought about" the legacy he will leave behind.

"But I like it when someone remembers someone and says: 'He was a good guy, he did what he could. He wasn't so bad,' the Pope added.

"I'm OK with that."

See the full translation of Francis' interview, courtesy of the Catholic News Agency, here.