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The Pope Announces His Resignation; The Afghan Youth Orchestra Plays Carnegie Hall

Aired February 15, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Hello, again, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program, where we bring you two of the big stories that we covered this week.

First, the stunning developments in the Catholic Church as it prepares to elect a new pope and its 1.2 billion followers around the world are still reeling from Pope Benedict XVI's surprise resignation.

His announcement Monday marks the first time a pope has chosen to step down in more than 700 years. Now throughout his career, the German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the firm voice of orthodoxy and dogma within the church.

While that empowered the traditionalists, millions of other Catholics hope for a more progressive successor, one who will address pressing questions of today, about sexuality, about the role of women in the church.

While Pope Benedict was praised for his intellect and his writings, his papacy is also stained by scandal.

The Vatican's finances are chaotic, amid allegations of corruption. According to secret papers released by the pope's former butler in the so-called Vatileaks case. And by far the worst has been the decades- long pedophile priest scandal, the cover-ups and the protection of the abusers that reached to the highest levels of the church.

In a moment, we'll hear two sides of Pope Benedict's short reign. And later in the program, a truly joyful noise.


AMANPOUR: As we're joined by members of the Afghan Youth Orchestra in their historic visit to the United States. But first to Raymond Flynn. He's the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and he knows Pope Benedict personally.


Ambassador Flynn, thank you so much for joining me. Let me ask you, today is World Day of the Sick. You knew Pope Benedict. Why do you think he's done this now?

RAYMOND FLYNN, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO THE VATICAN: Well, I think just before Lent began, it's a very important period of time in the Catholic Church, a time for reflection and hope. Moving forward, it's always been one of my favorite days of periods. Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, I've known him for many years.

I'm not surprised at this decision that he made today, because he's always placed the emphasis, the priority of the Catholic Church over any kind of ambition. And I think he really has recognized and sees, as Cardinal Dolan said, that this is an opportunity to move the church forward for a more energetic person in good health. He's admitted the last three or four months that he is in declining health.

That's why I think he has, in fact, decided to step down in the best interest of the Catholic Church, Catholics and the world society for that matter.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador, we mentioned before we came to you that there has been a lot of betting already about who will be the next pontiff and will it be somebody for the first time outside of Europe. Now we know that the church congregation is growing fastest in places like Africa and South Asia. Where do you think the next pope will come from? Where do you think it should come from?

FLYNN: Well, I've always -- I've seen a diversity of the Catholic Church growing rather exponentially. I saw that when I traveled with John Paul II in Africa, Nigeria and Latin, Central America and Mexico. It's not like the United States, there is -- there's a level of enthusiasm, excitement, not only among Catholics but also religious people joining the Catholic profession.

So you know, I think that's the future of the Catholic Church, is in those areas where the population is skyrocketing, where there's a great hope and opportunity for our leadership in the Catholic Church.

So you know, I know there's this traditional wisdom that it comes from the institutional church in Italy. But John Paul II certainly broke that down, what, after 453 years, he was elected pope; I think you're going to see some real significant changes in the conclave, in the College of Cardinals. I think it's going to reflect the real growing diversity of the Catholic Church throughout the world.

AMANPOUR: He never really wanted to be pope, did he?

FLYNN: You know, that's a great question you ask. I was with him Palm Sunday before he became pope, when -- just when John Paul II -- I was in Rome, and John Paul II was dying. You know, I've been in politics, Christiane, 50 years. I've worked with Kennedy and Humphrey and Bill Clinton and all these people.

You know, I think I can size up politics as well as anybody. I never would have believed that this was an ambition of Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal Ratzinger, in those early days. But nonetheless, he was an intellect. He was well informed. He had a great deal of credibility on the issues, head of the doctrine of this -- doctrine of faith.

So I think the office came to him rather than him going to the papacy.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Ambassador Flynn, thank you so much for joining me.

FLYNN: Sure, Christiane, good to talk to you again.

AMANPOUR: And you, too.

And now we turn to John Allen, who's a senior Vatican analyst and who has been my copilot many, many times on these papal transitions.

Good to see you again, John. We just heard from Ambassador Flynn - -



AMANPOUR: -- that Pope Benedict didn't want to be pope, but he was a big intellect. What would you say to the people who still don't believe that the great gaping wound of this sex abuse scandal is what colors the Catholic Church for too many adherents around the world?

What does he do to stop that?

ALLEN: Well, I think -- I think that's absolutely right.

There is no doubt that the child sex abuse scandals, which, to some extent, Benedict XVI inherited from John Paul II, have been the most significant blow to the public standing and moral authority of the Catholic Church in our lifetime, and then of course there are a number of critics of Benedict XVI out there, who would perhaps give him credit for some tentative, positive steps.

They would say, you know, the first pope to meet with sex abuse victims -- which he did in the United States for the first time in 2008 and did six times during the course of his papacy, the first pope to apologize, the first pope to make zero tolerance the official policy of the Catholic Church. They would say those were positive steps.

But at the end of the day, they would say much of it was too little too late. They would still say that many bishops who were involved in the cover-up of these crimes were not adequately held accountable. They would say that the church still has not completely come clean in terms of its willingness to release files and so on.

There is no doubt that criticism remains and will undoubtedly be part of the debate over Benedict's legacy, both in the short and the long terms, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: So what, from your reporting today -- how startled was the Vatican? How are they handling it there?

ALLEN: Look, you want to know how startled they were? Let me tell you a story. I was set to have lunch today with a senior Vatican official, the guy who works about 200 yards down the corridor from the papal apartment. He was as shocked as I was when we started getting, you know, text messages and phone calls and so forth about this news breaking this morning.

Now, look, the editor of the Vatican newspaper has said today that this was a decision Benedict made almost a year ago, after he got back from a long and grueling trip to Mexico and Cuba last March.

But if that's the case, Christiane, I can tell you, he played these cards awfully close to the vest, because everyone here was stunned by the timing of the announcement. And I think people are still scrambling to figure out exactly what it means.

I mean, we know at one level what the process is. There will be a conclave and you and I have lived through a conclave before. We know about the pageantry and the intrigue and the sequencing. What we don't yet know, Christiane, and what no one here really has a clear answer to is what exactly is the role of a retired pope going to be?

We know that Benedict is going to live in a monastery on the Vatican grounds. But will he continue to publish? Will he continue to travel? Will he take part in public liturgical functions? What role will he have in continuing in some way to provide leadership for the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world?

Frankly, Christiane, these are completely uncharted waters. And when you're talking about an institution that has more than 200 -- or 2,000 years of history, you don't get a chance to be in uncharted waters very often.

AMANPOUR: You certainly don't. And what about this speculation about who might be the successor? Is, do you think, this time, somebody from Africa, somebody from South Asia?

ALLEN: Well, look, I think it's entirely possible, two-thirds of the Catholics in the world today live in the Southern Hemisphere. That share is going to be three-quarters by mid-century. I think in the abstract many cardinals would be attracted to the idea of electing a pope who can put a face and a voice on that burgeoning Catholic population outside the West.

The problem is, however, Christiane, when they go into the Sistine Chapel to vote, they're not electing a passport. They have to elect a flesh-and-blood individual. And so what's going to be most important to them is taking a look around and trying to ask who's the best card in the deck?

I mean, you and I both know that in 2005, Joseph Ratzinger was not elected because he was a German. In many ways, he was elected in spite of being a German and another European. I think this time it's the same dynamic; they want to find the holiest, smartest, savviest, most capable figure they can, regardless of where he happens to come from.

AMANPOUR: And I know you'll be watching and we'll be watching and we'll keep talking. John Allen, thank you; you'll be out there in rain and shine, I can see that rain on you. So thanks very much for joining me this evening on this incredible night.


AMANPOUR: The weather was indeed stormy in Rome the night the pope resigned. There was what even some have called a Biblical sign when lightning struck the dome of St. Peter's.

And if you're looking for signs and miracles, an Afghan youth orchestra performed this week in New York's legendary Carnegie Hall. It was a first and I'll tell you how they got there when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And here in the studio, we have something very special for you now.

Now for the world's would-be musicians, there's a famous maxim here in the United States, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? The answer: practice, practice, practice.

Well, for Afghanistan's only national orchestra, the road to this esteemed concert hall here in New York began in Kabul, where not so long ago playing music was illegal. When I covered Afghanistan during the war years, under the Taliban, I saw them round up and destroy instruments and cassette tapes, string their entrails on branches as a warning. Public performances, of course, were banned.

That tune has been changing now since the fall of the Taliban more than 11 years ago. Thanks to the Afghan Ministry of Education, to a lot of money from the United States and its international partners and also to their maestro, Afghan musician Ahmad Sarmast, the student musicians here with me now performed at Carnegie Hall.

Sarmast was studying music in Russia. And when the Taliban came to power, he fled and sought asylum in Australia. He only returned back in 2006 to found this Afghan orchestra and the institute that trains 141 students now between the ages of 10 and 21. Incredibly, half of these students are orphans and street children; 41 of them are girls.

And last week on the first stop of this, their American debut tour, they performed with young American musicians at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. They performed Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" with a distinctly Afghan twist.


AMANPOUR: Such a famous piece of music, performed by this youth orchestra. And in a moment, I'll speak with Ahmad Sarmast and his students.

But first, an Afghan folk song now, called "Lila John (ph)," performed here in our studio by Aziza Safi and Sapna Rahmati, who are 10 and 11 years old, on the piano; and Reshad Afzali, who's on the drums. And he's 18 years old.


AMANPOUR: That is beautiful. Well done. Excellent.

Let me ask a couple of the musicians here.

Reshad, how have you enjoyed being in the United States? What's all this meant for you?

RESHAD AFZALI, DRUMMER: Well, for me, it was such a great and wonderful and beneficial experience to play with the other musicians, I mean, that we never played with them, and to play in two popular and famous places like Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall (inaudible) --


AMANPOUR: Did you ever dream that you would be here?

AFZALI: Well, no, no, really, it's something like -- it was something amazing for me. I really enjoyed; I loved it.

AMANPOUR: Let me talk to Aziza and Sapna.

Do you like playing the piano?


AMANPOUR: Yes? You're 10 and 11 years old; you've come from Kabul. And you're playing for people in New York and Washington, D.C., all these important people. What is it like?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We feel great, because we're representing Afghanistan. And we want to show those who think Afghanistan doesn't allow girls to go to school or study music that we can.

AMANPOUR: How special is your school for you, your musical school?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I play music, I feel very good about it. Some people say playing music is bad. But it is very valuable to me.

AMANPOUR: Is it important, especially as a little girl, to be doing something this important?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It is very important, because this is the first time we have been here and performed in a concert hall like Carnegie Hall.

AMANPOUR: Excellent.

I remember how bad it was for people who wanted to play music in the '90s. Why was it important for you and for Afghanistan to create this institute, these young musicians?

SARMAST: It's very, very much connected to the discriminative policies against music and musicians that happened in 1990s up to early 2002.

AMANPOUR: When the Taliban said absolutely no, nobody's allowed to play?

SARMAST: Yes, but at the same time, after the collapse after the regime of the Taliban, it was significantly important to return the musical rights of Afghan children back to them and --


AMANPOUR: Why? Why was it so important for you to give them back those musical rights?

SARMAST: Because no country can exist without having its own musical identity. And also it's not just the musical identity of Afghanistan, but at the same time, the establishment of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music was significantly important to revive, preserve and transmit the Afghan musical tradition which became almost obsolete during the years of war.

AMANPOUR: Those of us who know about Afghan music, we recognize some of the traditional instruments. But it's not usual to have a piano in Afghanistan. That's not an Afghan instrument.

SARMAST: Yes, but Afghanistan should be part of the international music making. Afghan children should have access to the same musical instrument that it's given for granted outside Afghanistan to other children.

Students should have the ability to play Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, as it's part -- as this music is part of the musical heritage of humanity.

AMANPOUR: It's incredible for me, when I read about this orchestra, that a lot of them are either orphans or street children or had no other opportunity. How did you even find them? How did you select them? How did you train them?

SARMAST: We are working in close collaboration with a number of orphanages, which are caring for the Afghan kids. This cooperation and collaboration allows us to organize auditions for the disadvantaged kids of Afghan society and to identify the talents and enable them to further develop and polish their talent and become the master musicians of our country.

AMANPOUR: Fantastic.

SARMAST: It's a -- it's a great honor.

AMANPOUR: So you think this will continue, even when the U.S. leaves, even as it's becoming a little bit more conservative and people are more afraid now of -- if the Taliban gets more influence in this (inaudible)?


SARMAST: I strongly believe that the -- believe that the Afghanistan National Institute of Music operating within the Ministry of Education will survive, not only because it's part of the government, but at the same time, the people of Afghanistan, the mentality of the youth of Afghanistan, enormously changed in the last 10 years.

I believe that the youths of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan will not allow anyone to return the wheel of history back.

AMANPOUR: Good luck, everybody. We wish you all the very best. And we'll be watching. And thank you for coming into the studio.

And we're going to leave you now with another excerpt from their repertoire. They'll be performing "Anar Anar," which means "Pomegranate Pomegranate." And performing again is Reshad Afzali on the drum, Abu Kadir (ph) and Mustafa Darwishi (ph).




AMANPOUR: And finally, a word about a not-so-dead language, like many schoolgirls, I had to study Latin in class and I learned how it actually can bolster your vocabulary in English and in other modern languages. And as a parent I insisted with some grumbling at times that my son take Latin in school as well.

And now we have what every parent wants: undeniable proof that we do know best. When Pope Benedict announced his resignation, he did so in Latin, which is the official language of the Catholic Church.


POPE BENEDICT XVI: (Speaking Latin).


AMANPOUR: Who knew what he was saying? Well, only one reporter listening in the press room knew exactly what the pope was up to, because she was the only person who understood Latin. For almost 20 years, Giovanna Curie (ph) had covered the Vatican for the Italian news agency, ANSA. And now she was sitting on a scoop, only the biggest story in church history in years.

GIOVANNA CURIE (PH), JOURNALIST: Then he spoke Latin. He said that he stepped down. He indicate the date and that the church (inaudible) conclave. So it was absolutely clear.

MAX FOSTER, CNN HOST: What went through your mind when you heard that?

CURIE (PH): I was at my computer. I was (inaudible), my legs, I was on the -- on the church (ph), but my legs were trembling.


AMANPOUR: For one brief, shining moment, the language of Vergil and Caesar came alive to break the news to the rest of the world. And far from being dead, Latin is actually making a comeback. Harry Potter made it fashionable again, and millions of young readers know the motto of Harry's school, Hogwarts, "Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus," or "Never tickle a sleeping dragon."

It's also on the rise in real classrooms, from pilot programs right here in the South Bronx across the pond to Great Britain, where it's making an even bigger comeback. Next year, Latin will be offered in all 17,000 state-run primary schools.

Latin, the sleeping dragon of languages, is very much awake and alive. And that's it for the weekend edition of our program. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.