By Andrea Tornielli
In Pope Francis' speech on the "state of the world" this year, it is the words dedicated to the growing tension between Iran and the United States that attract attention. The Pope, who had already spoken on the subject on Sunday 5 January, reiterates the appeal to avoid further escalating the confrontation, keeping alive "the ‘flame of dialogue and self-control restraint’, in full respect of international law". It is a realistic call that applies to all parties involved and which reflects on the risk of dragging the Middle East and the whole world into a conflict with incalculable consequences.
But even if today, and rightly so, the spotlight is on the evolution of the crisis between the US and Iran, and on the further risk that it represents for the already unstable Iraq scourged by wars and terrorism, Pope Francis does not simplify reality. He also remembers many other wars and violence that are all too often forgotten. He denounces the blanket of silence on the fate of a devastated Syria, he denounces the conflict in Yemen which is experiencing a very serious humanitarian crisis amid the indifference of the international community. He cites Libya, but also the violence in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. He recalls violence against innocent people, including the many Christians killed for their fidelity to the Gospel, victims of terrorism and fundamentalism.
Pope Francis began his speech with an air of hope, which cannot fail to strike those who have listened to or read the long and detailed list of crises. They include those that inflame Latin America and are caused by injustice and endemic corruption. It is a hope which for Christians is a fundamental virtue but which cannot be separated from reality. Hope, the Pope explained, demands that we call problems by name and have the courage to face them, without forgetting the disasters caused by wars fought over time and the devastation caused. Without forgetting the absurdity and immorality of the race for nuclear rearmament and the real risk of the world's self-destruction. Without forgetting the lack of respect for life and human dignity; the lack of food, water and care from which so many people suffer; the ecological crisis that too many still pretend not to see.
But one can hope, because in a world that seems condemned to hatred and walls, there are women and men who do not surrender to division and do not turn away from those who suffer. Because there are leaders from different religions who meet and try to build a world of peace. Because there are young people who are trying to make adults aware of the risks that creation is facing as it approaches a point of no return. One can hope because on a night in Bethlehem, God the Almighty, chose to become a child, small, fragile, humble, in order to triumph and conquer the world with his overwhelming love and mercy.