The Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin says in an interview: “We are falling back into the past instead of daring to take steps towards a different future, a future of peaceful coexistence. Unfortunately, it must be acknowledged that we have not been able to build, after the fall of the Berlin Wall”. The Holy See, he repeats, is available for any kind of mediation.
“War is madness, it must be stopped.” Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin spoke to Vatican Media about the escalation of war in the heart of Europe. “We would have to possess a heart of stone in order to remain impassive and allow this havoc to continue, as rivers of blood and tears continue to flow”.
Your Eminence, first of all, can you summarize the position of the Holy See on the current conflict?
The position of the Holy See is what the Pope has repeated several times: a strong ‘no’ to war; war is madness, it must be stopped. Appealing to the consciences of all, we ask, that the fighting cease immediately. We have before our eyes the terrible images coming from Ukraine. The victims among the civilians, women, elderly people, and defenceless children who have paid with their lives for the folly of war. The anguish grows as we see cities with gutted houses, no electricity, sub-zero temperatures, lack of food and medicine, as well as millions of refugees, mostly women and children, fleeing the bombs. Over the last few days, I have come across a group of them, who arrived in Italy from various parts of Ukraine: blank stares, faces without smiles, endless sadness... What is the fault of those young mothers, what is the fault of their children? We would have to possess a heart of stone in order to remain impassive and allow this havoc to continue, as rivers of blood and tears continue to flow. War is a barbarity! It is significant that at the Angelus on Sunday, 27 February, the Holy Father referred to Article 11 of the Italian Constitution which states: “Italy repudiates war as an instrument of aggression against the freedom of other peoples and as a means for the settlement of international disputes”. Those who wage war rely on the diabolical logic of weapons and forget humanity: how many examples do we have of the truth of these words! We often forget them, sometimes because they concern wars that we consider to be “far away”, but which in reality, in our interconnected world, are never really far away.
Why did the Pope, in an unprecedented gesture, visit the Russian Embassy the day after the start of the attack by Moscow’s army in Ukraine?
You are right to call that gesture of Pope Francis an unprecedented one. The Holy Father wanted to express to the authorities in Moscow all his concern about the escalation of the war that had just begun, and he decided to take a personal step in this direction, going to the diplomatic mission of the Russian Federation to the Holy See.
In recent days, you had a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. What did you say to each other?
I repeated the Pope’s appeal for an immediate ceasefire. I asked for an end to the fighting and for paths that may lead to a negotiated solution to the conflict. I insisted on respect for the civilian population and on humanitarian corridors. I also reiterated, as the Pope had already done last Sunday at the Angelus, the Holy See’s complete availability for any kind of mediation that could facilitate peace in Ukraine.
Despite appeals for weapons to be silenced, we are facing an escalation that shows no sign of abating. Why?
War is like a cancer that grows, expands and feeds on itself. It is an adventure with no return, to use the prophetic words of Saint John Paul II. Unfortunately, we have to recognize it: we have fallen into a vortex that can have incalculable and ill-fated consequences for everyone. When a conflict is underway, when the number of defenceless victims grows, it is always difficult to turn back, even though, it is not impossible, when there is a real will to do so. It is difficult to make every effort to pursue negotiations, to follow every possible path towards a solution, to be tenacious in undertaking peace initiatives. We must not give in to the logic of violence and hatred. Nor must we give in to the logic of war and be resigned to it, extinguishing any glimmer of hope. We must all cry out together to God and to mankind to silence the weapons and restore peace, as the Pope is doing.
The world has changed completely in the span of a few days: now there is a lot of talk of rearmament, of new military spending, of the need to return to coal-fired power stations, stifling the ecological transition...
Yes, in just a few days, the world, our world, already sorely tried by the pandemic, seems to have changed. Let us recall the courageous words spoken by the Holy Father in Hiroshima in November 2019. He said: “It is my humble desire to be the voice of the voiceless, who witness with concern and anguish the growing tensions of our own time: the unacceptable inequalities and injustices that threaten human coexistence, the grave inability to care for our common home, and the constant outbreak of armed conflict, as if these could guarantee a future of peace”. He added: “With deep conviction I wish once more to declare that the use of atomic energy for purposes of war is today, more than ever, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home. The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral”. Today we see that in the face of what is happening in Ukraine, many people are talking about rearmament: new and huge sums of money are being allocated to armaments, the logic of war seems to prevail, the distance between nations is increasing. Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten the lessons of history, of our recent history. I once again quote Saint John Paul ii, when he pleaded not to go to war with Iraq: we see the conditions of that country even today, almost 20 years after that conflict. We have evidence upon evidence before our eyes of the devastation and instability that war produces.
What path can be followed that does not only involve the elimination of the other?
The Social Doctrine of the Church has always recognized the legitimacy of armed resistance in the face of aggression. However, I believe that faced with what is happening, it is essential to ask ourselves: are we doing everything possible to reach a truce? Is armed resistance the only way forward? I understand that these words, in the face of the killing of women and children, in the face of millions of displaced persons, in the face of a country being destroyed, may sound utopian. But peace is not a utopia, there are so many human lives in danger that need to be saved immediately! This is why there is a need for wide-ranging political-diplomatic initiatives to achieve a ceasefire and the start of negotiations to find a non-violent solution. The Holy See is willing to do everything possible in this regard.
The Pope has explicitly said that what is happening in Ukraine is a war and not “a military operation”. Why?
Words are important, and to define what is happening in Ukraine as a military operation is to fail to recognize the reality of the facts. We are facing a war, which unfortunately claims many civilian victims, as all wars do.
In your opinion, has Europe and the West in general done everything necessary to prevent this escalation of war?
I do not like to make this kind of speculations. The question certainly provides interesting food for thought. We remember the existing conflict situation in Donbass, the insufficient implementation of the Minsk agreements and what happened with Crimea. But no crying over spilt milk! Rather, a new determination is needed to ensure that these crises are resolved with everyone’s help.
What role does politics play? And what role does diplomacy play at the moment?
When I said there was a need for political and diplomatic initiatives, I was referring precisely to this need for politics and diplomacy. We are falling back into the past instead of daring to take steps towards a different future, a future of peaceful coexistence. Unfortunately, it must be acknowledged that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we were unable to build a new system of coexistence between nations that goes beyond military alliances or economic convenience. The current war in Ukraine makes this defeat clear. But I would also like to say that it is never too late, it is never too late to make peace, it is never too late to retrace one’s steps and find an agreement.
What is the role of the Churches?
In the face of looming threats, the role of Christians is first and foremost to convert. Yesterday — I was told — in the presence of Cardinal Krajewski, the Pope’s special envoy to Ukraine, an ecumenical prayer was held in which first of all forgiveness was asked of the Lord for the hardness in our hearts, for our sins that feed the evil that is in the world. And then to pray that God may grant peace, enlighten the minds of those who wage war and spare the suffering of the innocent. The Churches are giving a great witness of solidarity in helping refugees. I believe it is also very important that they insist on asking for an end to the fighting: there can be no justification for war, hatred and violence.
By Andrea Tornielli