This year might turn out to be even more of a millennium year for us than last year. There's a chance that if we focus on the HIV/AIDS crisis, particularly in Africa--that's the shock to the system that might allow for deeper debt relief.

I've had two meetings with Tony Blair in the last few weeks, and he realizes that he is in power at a time of great importance. This is akin to the bubonic plague or Hiroshima or the Holocaust. I think he is going to, along with your new president, work with the industrialized nations and the African leadership to really have a go at this problem. And debt relief will be part of that package.

Do you have the same level of rapport with the Bush administration as you did with Clinton?

Yes. In fact, if you look at the cover of The New York Times when debt cancellation went through [Congress], the headline was--and for me it was an amusing triumvirate--"The Pope, U2 and George W. Prevail." We worked very hard to get both Republican and Democratic authorship on that package, and I'm confident the Republican leadership will follow through. In the second debate, [Bush] mentioned debt cancellation as one of the ideas he was excited by.

Because debt relief became a religious issue, you were able to meet with many politicians with whom you probably agree on nothing else. What was that like?

I really have had to swallow my own prejudice at times. Because I was suspicious of the traditional Christian church, I tended to tar them all with the same brush. That was a mistake, because there are righteous people working in a whole rainbow of belief systems--from Hasidic Jews to right-wing Bible Belters to charismatic Catholics.

The idea of turning your music into a tool for evangelism is missing the point. Music is the language of the spirit anyway. Its first function is praise to creation.

We had a meeting in the White House, and President Clinton invited Pat Robertson, who I think had referred to him as "a devil" and hadn't visited the White House in eight years. I saw him in the room with Andrew Young, who said, his voice trembling, that this is the most important thing that's come up for him since the civil rights marches in the '60s. Clinton said, "This is a very odd bunch of people. But if you guys could agree to meet a few more times, you could really change the world."

I'm actually starting to like more and more people who have convictions that are unpopular. Now at what point does an unpopular conviction interfere with your own human rights? Forced female circumcision, for instance. The Catholic Church's stance on contraception. The list goes on. You know, God has some really weird kids, and I find it hard to be in their company most of the time.

When I went to meet the pope, I brought a book of Seamus Heaney's poetry, which he had inscribed for the pontiff. The inscription was a quote from [Heaney's] catechism, from 1947. It said, "Q: Who is my neighbor? A: All of mankind."

Now, for all its failings and its perversions over the last 2,000 years--and as much as every exponent of this faith has attempted to dodge this idea--it is unarguably the central tenet of Christianity: that everybody is equal in God's eyes. So you cannot, as a Christian, walk away from Africa. America will be judged by God if, in its plenty, it crosses the road from 23 million people suffering from HIV, the leprosy of the day. What's up on trial here is Christianity itself. You cannot walk away from this and call yourself a Christian and sit in power. Distance does not decide who is your brother and who is not. The church is going to have to become the conscience of the free market if it's to have any meaning in this world--and stop being its apologist. During U2's Zooropa tour, you would often call prominent figures by phone from the stage. In London, you were dressed as the devil character you invented, MacPhisto, and, as you tried to call the Archbishop of Canterbury, MacPhisto remarked that religious leaders were some of his closest friends. It's true. I often wonder if religion is the enemy of God. It's almost like religion is what happens when the Spirit has left the building. God's Spirit moves through us and the world at a pace that can never be constricted by any one religious paradigm. I love that. You know, it says somewhere in the scriptures that the Spirit moves like a wind--no one knows where it's come from or where it's going. The Spirit is described in the Holy Scriptures as much more anarchic than any established religion credits. For all that, U2 has often been seen as a Christian rock band.
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