“The Pope speaks against rearmament, but... The Pope does what the Pope should, but... The Pope cannot but say what he says, but...”.
There is always a “but” that in many embarrassing comments accompanies the unequivocal “no to war” declared by Pope Francis, in order to contextualize and downplay the Pope’s statements.
Since they cannot interpret the words of the Bishop of Rome in the desired sense, and since they cannot in any way “bend” them in support of the accelerated rearmament race that followed the war of aggression unleashed by Vladimir Putin against Ukraine, they elegantly distance themselves from it, saying that the Pope can only say what he says, but then politics must decide.
And the politics of Western governments are deciding to increase the already many billions being spent on new and increasingly sophisticated weapons. Billions that could not be “found” for families, for healthcare, for work, for welcoming and for the fight against poverty and hunger.
In the footsteps of his immediate predecessors, particularly Saint John Paul ii , Pope Francis repeats that war is an adventure with no return. Pope Wojtyla ’s words on the occasion of the two wars in Iraq and the war in the Balkans were also “contextualized” and downplayed, even within the Church. The Pope who, at the beginning of his pontificate, urged us “not to be afraid” to open “the doors to Christ,” pleaded in vain in 2003 with three Western leaders intent on overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime, asking them to stop. Almost twenty years later, who can deny that the anti-war cry of that Pontiff was not only prophetic but also imbued with deep political realism? It is enough to look at the ruins of martyred Iraq, for a long time transformed into the reservoir of all terrorism, to understand how far-sighted the gaze of the holy Polish Pontiff was.
The same thing is happening today, with a Pope who does not surrender to the inevitability of war, to the tunnel with no exit represented by violence, to the perverse logic of rearmament, to the theory of deterrence that has flooded the world with so many nuclear weapons capable of annihilating all of humanity several times over.
“I was ashamed”, Pope Francis recently said, “when I read that a group of states has committed to spending two percent of their gdp on the purchase of weapons, as a response to what is happening now. The madness! The real answer is not more weapons, more sanctions, more political-military alliances, but another approach, a different way of governing the now globalized world — not by being menacing, as is the case now — a different way of setting up international relations. The model of care is fortunately already in place, but unfortunately, it is still subservient to that of economic-technocratic-military power”.
Pope Francis’ “no” to war, a radical and convinced “no”, has nothing to do with so-called neutrality nor can it be presented as a partisan position or motivated by political and diplomatic calculations. In this war, there are the aggressors and there are the attacked. There are those who attacked and invaded, killing unarmed civilians, hypocritically masking the conflict under the guise of a “special military operation”; and there are those who strenuously defend themselves by fighting for their own land. The Successor of Peter has said this several times in very clear words, condemning without qualification the invasion and martyrdom of Ukraine that has been going on for more than a month.
This does not mean, however, that he “blesses” the acceleration of the arms race, which, moreover, had already begun some time ago, given that European countries increased their military spending by 24.5% as of 2016: because the Pope is not the “chaplain of the West” and because he repeats that today, being on the right side of history means being against war and seeking peace without ever leaving any stone unturned. Certainly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church considers the right to self-defence. However, it lays down conditions, specifying that recourse to arms must not cause evils and disorders that are more serious than the evil to be eliminated, and it recalls that in the evaluation of this condition, “the power of modern means of destruction” carries great weight. Who can deny that humanity is on the brink of the abyss today precisely because of the escalation of conflict and the power of “modern means of destruction”?
“War,” Pope Francis said at the Angelus on Sunday, "should not be something inevitable. We should not accustom ourselves to war! We need to convert today’s indignation into tomorrow’s commitment because if, we will emerge from these events, the way we were before, we will all be guilty in some way. Before the danger of self-destruction, may humanity understand that the moment has come to abolish war, to erase it from human history, before it erases humans from history”.
There is therefore a need to take seriously the cry, the appeal of the Pope. It is an invitation addressed precisely to politicians to reflect upon and to commit to.
There is a need for firm politics and creative diplomacy, to pursue peace, to leave no stone unturned, to stop the perverse spiral that in a few weeks is waning the hope of an ecological transition and is giving renewed energy to the big business of trade and trafficking in arms. It is a wind of war that, by turning back the hands of the clock of history, takes us back to an era that we hoped had been definitively abandoned after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
by Andrea Tornielli