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9 Searing ways Pope Francis speaks of war



Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 03/27/24

Since his election in 2013 Pope Francis has repeatedly called for peace across the world, remembering various countries experiencing conflicts.

On March 27, 2023, eleven years ago, Pope Francis held his first general audience in St. Peter’s Square. That day, he made an appeal for peace in the Central African Republic. Rebel forces had taken over the government in a coup a couple of days earlier, resulting in violence and divisions.

Since that first general audience, Pope Francis has — week after week — remembered conflicts and wars affecting many nations across the globe, through speeches, letters, statements, and more. 

According to Vatican News, the Pope made 130 appeals for peace for Ukraine and 60 for the Middle East from 2023 to 2024 alone, for example.

Sometimes he has even caused controversies in his statements regarding certain conflicts. But above all, the Pope has incessantly assured his closeness to those who suffer.

As the world continues to be plagued by wars 11 years after Pope Francis’ election, Aleteia rounded up some quotes that represent some of the Pontiff’s recurring themes when addressing conflict. 

A third World War fought piecemeal

Throughout his pontificate Pope Francis has often repeated that our contemporary world is already living through a third World War; it is simply being fought in pieces scattered across the world. One of the earliest examples of him using this expression was on his trip to Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina in June 2015. 

“Even in our time, the desire for peace and the commitment to build peace collide against the reality of many armed conflicts presently affecting our world. It is kind of a third World War being fought piecemeal and, in the context of global communications, we sense an atmosphere of war.

Some wish to incite and foment this atmosphere deliberately, mainly those who want conflict between different cultures and societies, and those who speculate on wars for the purpose of selling arms. […] You know [war] well, having experienced it here: How much suffering, how much destruction, how much pain!” 

War is always a defeat

The Pope has also insisted on numerous occasions that war is always a defeat — and not just for the losing country, but for all parties involved. Even the “winners” are left to face the destruction and suffering war causes. At a prayer vigil for peace organized only a couple of months after his election, on September 7, 2013, he said: 

“Look upon your brother’s sorrow – I think of the children: look upon these … look at the sorrow of your brother, stay your hand and do not add to it, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this achieved not by conflict but by encounter! May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. […] Brothers and Sisters, forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation – these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world!” 

At the general audience on March 23, 2022, he said: 

“There is no victory in a war: everything is defeated. May the Lord send His Spirit to make us understand that war is a defeat of humanity, to make us understand that instead we need to defeat war. May the Spirit of the Lord free us all from this self-destructive need that is manifested in waging war.”

Remembering the mothers and wives

In many speeches, the Pope has spared a thought for the mother and wives who lose sons, husbands, and fathers, who are more likely to be on the frontlines of wars. During his visit to Rome War Cemetery on November 2, 2023, for All Souls Day he said:

“I thought of the parents, of the mothers who received that letter: ‘Madam, I have the honour of informing you that your son is a hero.’ ‘Yes, a hero — but they have taken him away from me.’ So many tears in those lives cut short. And I could not but think of today’s wars. The same thing is happening today too: so many people, young and not so young …” 

Or in a message sent to the sixth edition of the “Forum de Paris sur la paix” in November 2023: 

“No war is worth the tears of a mother who has seen her child mutilated or killed; no war is worth the loss of the life of even one human being, a sacred being created in the image and likeness of the Creator; no war is worth the poisoning of our common home; and no war is worth the despair of those who are forced to leave their homeland.” 

Remembering the children

The Pope has also always thought about the younger members of society, whose childhoods are stolen as they grow up in the shadow of war. As is the case with many social issues he speaks about, the Pope shows that the issue does not affect “anonymous humanity,” but rather real individual people, each with their own stories.

He has often met children from war-stricken countries, either at general audiences, by visiting hospitals, or on other occasions. In his letter to the Ukrainian people, published in November 2022, he said: 

“I think often of the many tragic stories that I have heard, especially those involving little ones: How many children have been killed, wounded or orphaned, torn from their mothers! With you, I weep for every child killed in this war, like Kira in Odessa, like Lisa in Vinnytsia, like hundreds of other children. In each of them, our very humanity has been deeply scarred. Now they are in God’s arms; they see our struggles and pray that they may soon be ended.” 

Don’t forget all the conflicts across the world

The Pope has also often called people to not forget the conflicts that are ongoing but that do not make as many headlines. In 2019 he said in a meeting with foreign journalists in Italy: 

“There comes to my heart and to my memory a question that one of you asked me a short while ago: ‘What do you think about the forgotten wars?’ Those wars that are ongoing but which people forget about, that are not the order of the day in the newspapers, in the media. Be careful: Do not forget reality, because now ‘the blow has passed.’ No, reality continues, we continue. This [remembering] is a good service. The wars forgotten by society, but which are still ongoing.”

In 2022 he told the members of the Pontifical Institute for foreign missions : 

“Today we are all worried, and it is right that we should be, about a war here in Europe, at the door of Europe and in Europe, but there have been wars for years: for more than ten years in Syria, think of Yemen, think of Myanmar, think of Africa. These don’t come to mind, they are not part of cultured Europe … Forgotten wars, it is sinful to forget them like that.” 

The issue of the arms trade

One element of war consistently receives the Pope’s most forceful criticism: the arms trade and those who profit from the killing, even seeking to stoke it so the money continues coming in. Pope Francis has often denounced the market involved in the fabrication of weapons for destruction. In a meeting with refugees and disabled people in Jordan, during his visit to the Holy Land in 2014, the Pope said:

“I ask myself: Who is selling arms to these people to make war? Behold the root of evil! Hatred and financial greed in the manufacturing and sale of arms. This should make us think about who is responsible for this situation, for providing arms to those in conflict and thereby sustaining such conflict. Let us think about this and with sincere hearts let us call upon these poor criminals to change their ways.”

Beware of becoming indifferent

A frequent warning from Pope Francis on a varying number of subjects is “the globalization of indifference” — this apathy that brings people away from their fellow human beings who may be suffering. When the Pontiff visited the Military Memorial of Redipuglia in northern Italy in 2014, on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, he said: 

“Greed, intolerance, the lust for power. … These motives underlie the decision to go to war, and they are too often justified by an ideology; but first there is a distorted passion or impulse. Ideology is presented as a justification and when there is no ideology, there is the response of Cain: ‘What does it matter to me? Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (cf. Gen 4:9). War does not look directly at anyone, be they elderly, children, mothers, fathers. … ‘What does it matter to me?’

Above the entrance to this cemetery, there hangs in the air those ironic words of war, “What does it matter to me?” Each one of the dead buried here had their own plans, their own dreams … but their lives were cut short. Why? Why did humanity say, ‘What does it matter to me?'”

Don’t get used to war

In remembering ongoing conflicts, especially during the Pope’s weekly appointments such as the general audience or the Angelus/Regina Caeli prayer, Francis often encourages people to not get used to wars occurring in long-suffering areas. During the Regina Caeli prayer on May 21, 2023, the Pontiff remembered Sudan:

“Dear brothers and sisters, it is sad, but, a month after the outbreak of violence in Sudan, the situation continues to be serious. […] Please, let us not get used to conflict and violence. Let us not get used to war.”

Similarly, at the Angelus prayer on June 12, 2022, he highlighted the situation in Ukraine:

“The thought of the people of Ukraine, afflicted by war, remains vivid in my heart. May the passage of time not temper our pain and concern for that suffering population. Please, let us not grow accustomed to this tragic reality! Let us always keep it in our hearts. Let us pray and strive for peace.”

Please stop

Pope Francis’ repeated calls for peace often reveal the intensity of his emotion, as he pleas for an end to war:

Today war is in itself a crime against humanity.

War is madness. War is always a defeat.

Enough, please! Let us all say it: Enough, please! Stop!

Holy LandPope FrancisUkraineWar
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