Pope Francis: 'War is a sacrilege, let us stop fuelling it!'
By Pope Francis
A year ago, on my pilgrimage to martyred Iraq, I was able to touch with my own hands the disaster caused by war, fratricidal violence and terrorism; I saw the rubble of homes and the wounds of hearts, but also seeds of hope for rebirth. Never would I have imagined then that one year later a conflict would break out in Europe. From the beginning of my service as bishop of Rome, I have spoken of World War III, saying that we are already living it, though only in pieces. Those pieces have become bigger and bigger, melding together.... So many wars are going on in the world right now, causing immense pain, innocent victims, especially children. Wars that cause millions of people to flee, forced to leave their land, their homes, their destroyed cities to save their lives. These are the many forgotten wars that reappear from time to time before our inattentive eyes.
These wars seemed "distant" to us. Until, now, almost suddenly, war has broken out near us. Ukraine has been attacked and invaded. And among the affected in the conflict are unfortunately many innocent civilians, many women, many children, many elderly people, forced to live in shelters dug in the belly of the earth to escape the bombs, with families that are divided because the husbands, fathers, grandfathers remain to fight, while the wives, mothers and grandmothers seek refuge after long journeys of hope and cross the border seeking hospitality in other countries that receive them with a large heart.
In the face of the heartbreaking images we see every day, in the face of the cries of children and women, we can only shout: "Stop!". War is not the solution, war is madness, war is a monster, war is a cancer that feeds off itself, engulfing everything! More so, war is a sacrilege, that wreaks havoc on what is most precious on our earth, human life, the innocence of the little ones, the beauty of creation.
Yes, war is a sacrilege! I cannot fail to recall the plea with which in 1962 Saint John XXIII asked the powerful men and women of his time to stop an escalation of war that could have dragged the world into the abyss of nuclear conflict. I cannot forget the forcefulness with which Saint Paul VI, speaking in 1965 at the United Nations General Assembly, said: "Never again war! Never again war!". Or, again, the many appeals for peace made by Saint John Paul II, who in 1991 called war "an adventure without return".
What we are witnessing is yet another barbarity and we, unfortunately, have a short memory. Yes, because if we had memory, we would remember what our grandparents and parents told us, and we would feel the need for peace just as our lungs need oxygen. War disrupts everything, it is pure madness, its only goal is destruction and it develops and grows through destruction, and if we had memory, we would not spend tens, hundreds of billions of dollars for rearmament, to equip ourselves with increasingly sophisticated weapons, to increase the market and the traffic of weapons that end up killing children, women, old people: 1,981 billion dollars per year, according to the calculations of an important study center in Stockholm. This marks a dramatic increase of 2.6% in the second year of the pandemic, when all our efforts should have been focused on global health and on saving lives from the virus.
If we had memory, we would know that war, before it reaches the front lines, must be stopped in hearts. Hate, before it is too late, must be eradicated from hearts. And in order to do so, we need dialogue, negotiation, listening, diplomatic capacity and creativity, far-sighted politics capable of building a new system of coexistence that is no longer based on weapons, on the power of weapons, on deterrence.
Every war represents not only a defeat of politics but also a shameful surrender in the face of the forces of evil. In November 2019, in Hiroshima, the symbolic city of World War II whose inhabitants were slaughtered, along with those of Nagasaki, by two nuclear bombs, I reiterated that the use of atomic energy for the purposes of war is, today more than ever, a crime, not only against humans and their dignity, but against any possibility of a future in our common home. The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possession of atomic weapons is immoral.
Who could have imagined that less than three years later the spectre of a nuclear war would be looming over Europe? And so, step by step, we are moving towards catastrophe. Piece by piece the world risks becoming the theater of a unique Third World War. We are moving towards it as if it were unavoidable. But we must forcefully repeat: no, it is not inevitable! No, war is not inescapable! When we allow ourselves to be devoured by this monster represented by war, when we allow this monster to raise its head and guide our actions, everyone loses, we destroy God's creatures, we commit sacrilege and prepare a future of death for our children and grandchildren. Greed, intolerance, ambition for power, violence, are motives that advance the decision for war, and these motives are often justified by a war ideology that forgets the immeasurable dignity of human life, of every human life, and the respect and care we owe it.
In the face of the images of death that reach us from Ukraine, it is difficult to hope. Yet there are signs of hope. There are millions of people who do not aspire to war, who do not justify war, but ask for peace. There are millions of young people who are asking us to do everything, the possible and the impossible, to stop war, to stop wars. It is thinking first of all of them, of young people and children, that we must repeat together: never again war. And together we must commit ourselves to building a world that is more peaceful because it is more just, where peace triumphs, not the folly of war; justice, not the injustice of war; mutual forgiveness, not the hatred that divides and makes us see an enemy in the other, in those who are different from us.
Here I would like to quote an Italian pastor of souls, the venerable Don Tonino Bello, bishop of Molfetta-Ruvo-Giovinazzo-Terlizzi, in Puglia, a tireless prophet of peace, who loved to repeat: conflicts and all wars "find their root in the fading of faces". When we erase the face of the other, then we can make the noise of weapons resound. When we keep before our eyes the other, his or her face as well as his or her pain, then we are not allowed to disfigure his or her dignity with violence.
In the Encyclical Fratelli tutti, I proposed that the money spent on arms and other military expenditures be used to set up a global fund to finally eliminate hunger and foster development in the poorest countries, so that their inhabitants would not resort to violent or deceptive solutions and would not be forced to leave their countries in search of a more dignified life. I renew this proposal again today, especially today. Because war must be stopped, because wars must be stopped and they will only be stopped if we stop " fuelling" them.
*The book, published by Solferino and LEV, will be presented on Friday, 29 April, at 10:30 a.m. in Rome at the LUMSA University (Sala Giubileo - via di Porta Castello 44). After the greetings by the Rector, Francesco Bonini, Cardinal Secretary of State Piero Parolin, and Romano Prodi will speak. Moderator: Fiorenza Sarzanini, deputy director of Corriere della Sera.