Cardinal Parolin: War is a sacrilege, we need a new Helsinki Conference
By Salvatore Cernuzio
"There is a need, today, for a new Helsinki Conference," said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, recalling the 1975 event that marked a fundamental step to curb the Cold War. It would be a way, he explained, to end the horror of the current conflict in Ukraine, a true "sacrilege" that continues to be perpetrated.
The Vatican Secretary of State’s words came as he presented the volume "Against War: The Courage to Build Peace", a collection of Pope Francis’ discourses and appeals against war and in favour of disarmament and dialogue. Former Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, was also a speaker at the book presentation at Rome’s Lumsa University on Friday morning.
Tragedy in Ukraine
Cardinal Parolin took his cue from the volume, which emphasizes the Pope’s radical "no to war" position, expressed since the beginning of his pontificate and even more so since 24 February.
He highlighted the need for a "mindset of peace" [schema di pace] to be opposed to the "pattern of war."
The "spirit" of Aldo Moro
In his speech, filled with quotations from the Catechism and the Italian Constitution, and from the legacy of Italian Catholic personalities such as Giorgio La Pira and Don Milani, the Cardinal called for a "spirit" to be recovered: that of Aldo Moro, the then Italian Prime Minister who led 35 states, forty-seven years ago, to sign the Helsinki Accords in the Finnish capital in order to go "beyond the logic of opposing blocs."
"During that Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe, East and West joined on the path of détente," he said, recalling the "role played then by the Holy See and the delegation led by the future Cardinal Agostino Casaroli."
Upholding the memory of that historical event, the Cardinal continued, "Peace is in the interest of peoples' international security is in the interest of all."
Greater capacity for European initiatives
Cardinal Parolin went on to call for "strengthening participation in international bodies and also finding a greater capacity for European initiative".
It is Europe, "our Christian Europe," he said, that is affected by the "terrible war" underway in Ukraine.
Weapons: a weak response
"Limiting ourselves to weapons represents a weak response. Yes, weapons are a weak response, not a strong response!" said the Cardinal Secretary of State. "A strong response is a response that undertakes - trying to involve everyone - initiatives according to the pattern of peace, that is, initiatives to make the fighting stop, to reach a negotiated solution, to think about what will be the possible future of coexistence in our Old Continent."
More must be done for peace
Cardinal Parolin also turned to the international community, saying it "has the obligation not to continue the war but to implement every possible political and diplomatic initiative to achieve a ceasefire and a just peace."
He said peace must be both just and, above all, "lasting," and "cannot be entrusted only to the deliberations of the aggressor and the aggressed."
New Helsinki Declaration
The Cardinal Secretary of State appealed for dialogue to create a new balance of peace and security.
"Today we need a new Helsinki Conference." This is a proposal made three days ago by the Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, before the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. It is a proposal that is in line with the Pope's yearning to overcome that "Cainist" spirit that prevents us from working together, as brothers.
Pope Francis’ appeals
Dwelling on the Pope's reiterated appeals, the Cardinal warned against the risk of considering them "as something due", of taking them for granted.
This, he said, would be "a disenchanted way of viewing the magisterium of the Pope," and would dig "an ever-widening gulf, between his words and the reality of facts," and it would mean losing sight of the fact that the Pope's message of peace and non-violence resides in the Gospel, where the crucified Christ "faced unjust death without reacting."
Right to self-defense
"Does this mean that the right to self-defense no longer exists?" the Cardinal asked.
"Of course not. One cannot expect someone, unjustly attacked, not to defend his loved ones, his home, his homeland."
And he quoted from the Catechism, in particular paragraph 2309, which states, "The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.”
We can no longer discuss 'just wars', he said, without giving due consideration to the fact that “today much more than in the past, the first victims of war are innocent civilians, by reason of destructive weapons that are only apparently intelligent."
Do not forget ongoing wars in the world
Cardinal Parolin also referred to the encyclical Fratelli tutti, to Pope St. John XXIII's Pacem in Terris, and to Pope Benedict XV's "unheeded" Peace Note.
A wealth of magisterium to which to add the farsightedness of Pontiffs, such as St. John Paul II who "implored the forces of the West not to wage war against Iraq". The Cardinal said that conflict's consequences, after twenty years, are still visibile for all to see.
The invitation is therefore not to forget the past. "Crushed by everyday life and by contemporaneity, full of information of all kinds, not exempt from fake news and propaganda," Cardinal Parolin said, there is the risk of setting aside historical memory, even recent memory, plummeting wars in progress in other parts of the world into oblivion, wars that are fuelled by the arms trade and have "devastating" consequences on civilian populations, especially on children "the first victims".
He also offered the examples of Syria, Yemen, and Ethiopia's Tigray region, saying they are all pieces of a larger puzzle defined by Pope Francis as a "World War III being fought piecemeal."
The Pope, he added, has never ceased to awaken the consciences of authorities, asking them to "desist from continuing this hell of destruction and seek negotiated solutions, even at the price of sacrifice."
“End” of the era of peace
In concrete terms, Cardinal Parolin continued, what should we do?
Certainly not cry over spilled milk, or search for responsibilities and omissions, but rather, we must "understand how it got to this point, writing the word 'end' to the period of peace inaugurated after the end of World War II, and to the many hopes born from the demise of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall."
"Not inevitable war, but inevitable peace"
"We have continued to build a world based on military alliances and economic colonization," the Secretary of State further noted.
A priority, at the same time, would be "to build a new system of international relations, no longer based on deterrence and military force". It is a "priority" to avoid "running towards the abyss of total war". The logic he offered is that of Giorgio La Pira: "Not inevitable war, but inevitable peace."
Negotiations without "pre-conditions"
Responding to a question regarding possible conditions for a return to the negotiating table, Cardinal Parolin said he was "pessimistic", because in recent months "attempts have been initiated or proposed, that have not been followed up."
At the same time, he said, "there are no other alternatives: it is necessary to continue to propose that first all the fighting and war actions be stopped, and that we return to negotiations."
It is important, however, to "negotiate without 'pre-conditions'", so that "when conditions are put on the table we try to find shared solutions. We must insist on this. There is no other way, otherwise, the war will continue to devour the children of Ukraine and the peace that will be built will not be a just and lasting peace, but only an imposition of certain conditions, the premise of other conflicts, other tensions, other wars."
The hope is therefore for a "just, durable, solid peace", but also that we are able to show "flexibility", and overcome "rigid positions."
"Negotiation," said the Secretary of State, "always involves compromise. Rigid positions do not lead to solutions. I hope there is still a willingness to reach a conclusion together."
Erosion of multilateralism
Returning to the concept and proposal of a "new Helsinki", Cardinal Parolin stressed that "the important thing is to return to the spirit" of that Conference, which was "lost too soon".
Back then, in a time of contrasts and rising tensions, "there was the wisdom of someone who said 'we must stop this drift.' And that drift was stopped by bringing together the various protagonists and conceiving a remarkable result that produced so many changes in Europe."
"This war," added Cardinal Parolin, "perhaps no one thought that it would break out, that some ploy would be found. But I have the impression that this war was the obvious consequence of a process of the last decades. The Holy See spoke of the erosion of multilateralism: you could see that the nations and those in charge no longer believed in a common solution to the problems that each sought to solve in their own way, based on the interests of nations and groups. It was logical that the process would lead towards this conclusion and it will continue to lead to similar conclusions if this trend is not put to an end."