The Successor of Peter, who in recent years has prophetically warned of the Third World War already in the offing, follows in the footsteps of his predecessors and stands with the innocent, fighting evil with good.
At the Angelus on Sunday, 13 March, the ninth anniversary of his election as Bishop of Rome, Francis unequivocally spoke about the “barbarity of the killing of children, of innocents” that is taking place, urging a halt to the “massacre” and an end to what he called the “unacceptable armed aggression” against Ukraine. The Pope also noted that those who support violence by justifying it with religious motives, “profane the name” of God who is “only the God of peace.”Even before the invasion by the Russian army began, Francis had said at the Angelus on Sunday, 20 Feburary, “how sad it is when people and peoples who are proud to be Christians see others as enemies and think of waging war against each other! It is very sad.” He also asked that Ash Wednesday, when the Lenten journey began, be dedicated to fasting and prayer for peace. More so, the day after the outbreak of the conflict, after the first bombings of Ukraine, the Pope personally went to the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the Holy See to present all his concerns about the war to the representative of the Kremlin, urging for the pursuit of the path of negotiation and for civilians to be spared. At the Angelus on Sunday, 6 March, Pope Francis also highlighted the reality of the hypocrisy of the Russian government, which insists on calling the ongoing war a “special military operation” masking its true and raw reality, behind word games: that of a war of aggression.To make concrete his personal closeness to the victims and to the millions of displaced persons fleeing the war, the Bishop of Rome has sent two cardinals to bring help and support to the refugees and to those who generously welcome them. Meanwhile, on several occasions, Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has expressed the Holy See’s willingness to assist in any way possible in any form of mediation, and has asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to cease attacks and to guarantee genuine humanitarian corridors. Vatican diplomacy keeps repeating that it’s never too late to initiate real negotiations, and it’s never too late for a ceasefire in a war of incalculable and unrelenting consequences that risks leading to a terrifying escalation of war.
In recent weeks, Pope Francis has been the subject of some criticism from those who hoped that in his public statements he would explicitly mention the name of Vladimir Putin and Russia, as if the words of the pastor of the universal Church were supposed to reflect the dictates of a television news set list. Since this did not happen, the voice of the Pope was not given much attention, as his appeals did not correspond to the desired cliché of the Pontiff “chaplain” of the West, ready to enlist God and bless war in his name.
There are those who have accused the Pope of “silence” for not having explicitly named Putin, forgetting that when the war began, the pontiffs never called the aggressor by name and surname, not out of cowardice or an excess of diplomatic prudence, but in order not to close the door, in order to always leave a crack open to the possibility of stopping evil and saving human lives. Even St. John Paul II, born in a martyred nation like Poland, victim of Nazism and Communism, during the war in Kosovo in 1999, never named the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing, always keeping a channel of contact open with Serbia. The Holy See believed that efforts should be made to put an end to the massacres against the Albanian population, even if it deplored the grief and wounds caused by the massive recourse to NATO bombing. Pope St. John Paul II did not even name the Western Heads of State who, in 2003, wanted to wage war against Iraq on the basis of false information about weapons of mass destruction. He tried, in some cases, to stop the attacks, the ethnic cleansing and the wars, he tried to encourage the opening of humanitarian corridors and to ensure that no stone was left unturned to avoid the use of arms. This does not mean and has never meant putting the aggressors and the attacked on the same level.
It is paradoxical, then, that we forget these pages of our recent history, wanting to explain to the Bishop of Rome what “right” words to use, after years of disregarding the words that he actually uttered countless times, warning against the race for nuclear rearmament, against arms trafficking, against war and terrorism, against an economy that discards and kills, against the destruction of Creation.
The Pope’s is a voice crying out in the desert. In the nine years of his pontificate, Pope Francis has spoken many times about the Third World War that is already underway, even if “in fragments”. So many times he spoke strongly against arms dealers, against the arms race and against war. Recently, journalist Michele Serra remarked that “fifty atomic bombs are enough to destroy humanity. But in the world atomic bombs are not fifty. They are fifteen thousand”. War “destroys,” Pope Francis had said in September 2014 at the military shrine of Redipuglia on the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, “It also ruins the most beautiful work of his hands: human beings. War ruins everything, even the bonds between brothers. War is irrational; its only plan is to bring destruction: it seeks to grow by destroying.” In this prophecy, often unheard by the great, but welcomed by many people around the world, Pope Francis follows in the footsteps of his predecessors of the last century, who like him had to deal with world wars, with wars in different areas of the planet, with violence and terrorism.
So, what can the Pope do, now that people are being shot and killed? “Perhaps nothing more than praying to the Lord,” the journalist Gianni Valente recently wrote, “begging for the miracle of shortening the pain of the poor, of ending the slaughter. But if he will be able to do something on the political diplomatic level, it will only be possible because the Russian leaders know that he is not a biased mediator, a camouflaged agent of the West, with which they have entered into an apocalyptic collision course”.
The Successor of Peter does not have the problem of making known “which side he is on”, because the Vicar of Christ, like his Lord, is always with the innocent who suffer as Jesus suffered on the cross. Every word he says, every attempt he makes, is aimed at saving human lives, at not yielding to the logic of evil, at fighting evil with good. In the heart of Europe, in this dirty war that we feel is so close to us, as well as in the peripheries of the world, where in these years forgotten wars have been fought and are being fought, with their daily grim count of dead, wounded, displaced people similar to what is now being recorded in Ukraine.
With thanks to Andrea Tornielli and Vatican News, where this article originally appeared.