A tank in Kyiv A tank in Kyiv 

Cardinal Parolin: Europe must recover the "Spirit of Helsinki"

The Vatican Secretary of State speaks at a Conference hosted by the Italian Embassy to the Holy See in Rome about the need to find new diplomatic ways to end the war in Ukraine by drawing inspiration from the historic “Helsinki Conference” in the 1970s during the Cold War.

By Lisa Zengarini

In the face of the “barbarism underway in Ukraine” and of the nuclear threat looming over the world, Europe must recover the "Spirit of Helsinki," and follow “new paths of peace”.

The conference

The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, made this appeal on Tuesday as he spoke at a conference on the ongoing war in Eastern Europe hosted by the Italian Embassy to the Holy See in Rome, and organized in collaboration with Vatican Media and the Italian geopolitical Journal  ‘Limes’.

The aim of the event, entitled “Europe and War: From the Spirit of Helsinki to prospects of peace”, was to discuss concrete diplomatic solutions to a war that seems to be at a deadlock with no prospect of peace talks any time soon.

Discussions focused on the “Helsinki Declaration”, the landmark pact signed in 1975 by the Western powers and the Soviet Union at the closing the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) with the aim of improving East-West relations.

Never get used to horrors of war

Cardinal Parolin started his keynote speech by warning, once again, against the danger of growing accustomed to the war in Eastern Europe.   

“For nine months, since the beginning of the aggression perpetrated by the army of the Russian Federation, we have been witnessing the ‘mistakes’ and ‘horrors'" of this conflict.

The result, he said, is that now "we pay hardly any attention to the news of destructive missiles hailing on the country, of many civilians dying, children being left under the rubble, of soldiers being killed, displaced people, and of the devastation of the country.”


According to Cardinal Parolin, Pope Francis’ tears on 8 December, during his traditional act of veneration to Our Lady in Rome on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, are a powerful antidote against this risk “of habit and indifference" setting in.

Hence the need, he said, to reiterate the Pope's appeal  to use all diplomatic efforts to attain “a ceasefire and a just peace".

The risk of a nuclear war

Despite some “glimmers” of hope for peace that have emerged in the past  weeks, the Vatican Secretary of State lamented that the escalation still continues and, with it, the threat of a nuclear war.

“It is terrifying that there is talk of nuclear devices and atomic warfare as a possibility. The accelerated arms race is worrying, with huge investments of money used for war rather than to fight hunger, create jobs, ensure adequate medical care for people who have never had it.”

Reviving the “Spirit of Helsinki”

In the light of this, Cardinal Parolin underscored  the need “to ask ourselves if we are doing everything possible to put an end to this tragedy.”

He noted in this regard that, although the experience of the Helsinki Process and the armaments control talks during the Cold War cannot be repeated in the present circumstances, there still are the conditions for reviving that spirit, “working creatively”.

“We need to address this war and the many forgotten wars, with new tools,” he said.

“We cannot imagine the present and the future on the basis of old mindsets: we need to imagine and build a new project of peace and international solidarity, reminding ourselves that many countries ask to be heard and represented. We need new rules for international treaties, courage to bet on peace and not on the ineluctability of war. We need a verbal military 'de-escalation'.”

A new European peace conference

Europe should therefore work for a new European peace conference. By doing so, he said, it “may once again be the beacon of a civilization founded on peace, law and international justice.”

For its part, he added, the Holy See “is ready to do everything possible to encourage this process.”

Cardinal Parolin concluded his address by quoting Pope St. Paul VI‘s words in his historic plea to the United Nations in 1965:

“Never again war! Peace must guide the destiny of peoples and of all humanity!”

Other speakers at the Conference

Among the other speakers at the event  were the President of Italy Sergio Mattarella, Andrea Tornielli, Editorial Director of Vatican Media, and Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio Community.

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13 December 2022, 16:45