Interview with the President of Caritas Internationalis on the war in Ukraine, Europe’s great test of solidarity and the testimonies of humanity that give hope, even in a time marked by suffering and pain.
Under the bombs, but working non-stop. This is how Caritas operators are bringing help to those in need in Ukraine, devastated by the Russian military aggression. Despite the difficulties on the ground, Caritas Ukraine and Caritas-Spes Ukraine continue to serve the population. Since the beginning of the conflict, assistance has been provided to over 160,000 people. It ranges from food distribution to the provision of housing, but also psychological assistance. Also extraordinary is the commitment of all of Europe’s local Caritas offices, and in particular in those countries — such as Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary and Slovakia — which have received the largest number of refugees fleeing the war. We asked the President of Caritas Internationalis and Prefect of “Propaganda Fide”, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, about this commitment in a world that is caught in the grips of a pandemic and wars and finds it difficult to look to the future with confidence.
Cardinal Tagle, for two years now humanity has been grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic. Now the war in Ukraine, unleashed by Russia and the fear — of many — of a new world conflict. Where to find hope in the face of a time that seems so distressing?
As Christians, we must trust that hope is always in God. In this season of Lent, the Church — through the Readings — invites us to renew our hope in Jesus Christ. And this hope means the triumph of love, of mercy. We now see concrete signs of this hope. No gun can kill hope, the goodness of the spirit in the human person. There are so many testimonies to this. The hope in Jesus Christ and His Resurrection is true and is seen precisely in the testimony of so many people.
During last Sunday’s Angelus (13 March), Pope Francis spoke of “an unacceptable armed aggression.” On 6 March he had said that this “is a war,” not “a special military operation.” As a Filipino, therefore not a European, what emotions does a war in the heart of Europe stir within you?
First of all, sadness. I feel sad seeing the images, hearing the news and being close to this place where there is war. I feel sad and also a bit confused because humanity has not learned the lessons of history! After so much war and destruction, we remain so hard at heart! When I listen to the stories of my parents who lived through World War II, I can’t imagine — not even imagine! — the poverty, the suffering they endured. That generation continues to carry the wounds of war in their bodies as well, and they still have a wounded state of mind. When, when will we learn? These are my feelings. Let’s truly hope that we will learn from the lessons of history.
Caritas Internationalis was born 70 years ago to address the humanitarian needs that emerged from World War II. Today, what is the biggest challenge for the Caritas network with respect to the conflict in Ukraine?
It seems to me that the biggest challenge of the Caritas family network is what is precisely inscribed in its mission. The mission to always remind the world that every conflict, every disaster has a human face. Caritas’ response is always humanitarian. For example, the war in Ukraine and conflicts in other countries of the world are generally presented as political, military conflicts but people are forgotten! With our mission, Caritas reminds the world that war is not a military, political issue, but it is, first of all, a human issue.
The Ukrainian people are giving an incredible testimony of courage, while neighbouring countries — in particular, Poland, Romania — are offering a testimony of exceptional solidarity. What lesson can we learn, we who are “near” but still far from this war in Ukraine?
We must be grateful for the witness of the people in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries and even of those further away who are sending aid and offering assistance. The lesson for me is this: in the desert of violence, the human person has the capacity to be good. The lesson for me is that even in a bad situation like war, a better humanity can emerge. But there is a challenge: the formation of the heart, of the mind. Conflicts, how do they begin? In the heart, in the decision of people. The lesson lies in the way families form their children in the values of respect for others, of listening, of compassion, of choosing a path of justice, of dialogue instead of revenge, of violence.
Is there a story, an image from this war — we are hearing about and seeing so many — that has struck you in a particular way, that somewhat represents the pain but also the strength, the goodness of people?
It is difficult to choose, but — perhaps as a Christian and as a bishop — the images that struck me most are those of people praying. This faith of the mothers kneeling before the Sacrament. Prayer, the network of prayer that unites humanity, for me, is a sign of hope despite the war. The Lord is with us. the Lord loves his family.
By Alessandro Gisotti