Saying 'No' to war, remaining close to victims
By Andrea Tornielli
For more than a century, the Holy See, with a crescendo of pronouncements prompted by the escalation of threats of war and the use of increasingly sophisticated and destructive weapons, has been strongly pronouncing its “No” to war. From Benedict XV’s prophetic appeal against the “useless slaughter” of the Great War to the words of Pope Francis, repeated at every opportunity, on war as a defeat for humanity, the magisterium of the Bishops of Rome has clarified and deepened that there are no “just wars” and that even the right to self-defence must be proportionate, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches.
From the start of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine; and then again in recent weeks after Hamas’s inhuman attack, with its brutality against Israeli civilians, followed by the Israeli army’s counter-offensive that razed so many homes in Gaza to the ground, killing thousands of innocent Palestinians, criticism has been levelled at the attitude of the Pope and the Holy See. It is an attitude that for a long time now has been mistaken by some as “neutral”, almost as if the Vatican, due to an excess of diplomacy, were unable to assess the wrongs and motivations of the conflicting parties.
It is therefore worth recalling, once again, that the Holy See has never been “neutral” or “equidistant” in the face of war. Instead, it has always sought to be impartial, that is, not to be or appear to be involved in the conflict, and at the same time “equally close”; that is, close not to those who provoke wars but to those who suffer, to those who pay the consequences of conflicts, to the civilians killed, to the wounded, to the mothers and fathers of fallen soldiers, to the innocent victims of terrorism and of reprisals.
The Vatican media cannot but follow this same editorial line, rejecting the polarization that appears to be the characteristic feature not only of current wars, but also more generally of the world in which we live today. Keeping channels of dialogue open with everyone, never closing doors, in the hope of reaching a ceasefire and then negotiating for a just peace; being concerned about the innocent victims; reflecting on the more or less remote causes of a conflict; avoiding the use of the language of hatred and demonization, does not at all mean disregarding the fact that there is an aggressor and an aggrieved party; nor does it mean ignoring the legitimacy of self-defence. On the contrary, it means caring for the fate of the innocent, never extinguishing the feeble flame of hope for peace, seizing every small sign of openness from wherever it may come, believing in diplomacy, and above all worrying about the fate of the victims, the maimed, the displaced. It also means breaking out of the logic of polarization and one-sided thinking.
Is it possible to condemn the inhuman Hamas terrorist attack on Israeli civilians and at the same time raise doubts and questions about the armed response of Tel Aviv’s army on account of the high number of civilian casualties caused and the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza?
There are conflicts in which cheering is extremely inappropriate, and the current conflict in the Middle East is certainly among them, brought about as it is by a very complex situation where both sides bear responsibility and neither side is justified.
In reporting on ongoing wars and seeking to offer points for reflection, our guiding light is the prophetic words of the current Successor of Peter, who continues to warn all humanity of the risk of global war and self-destruction. We are attempting to engage in journalism by separating facts from opinions, and our opinions from those of others. Reporting the latter, giving voice to personalities that seem newsworthy to us, does not mean sharing those opinions. Rather, it means seeking to understand by emphasizing the most judicious and least ideological voices.