“The innocent pay [the price of] war, the innocent!” The voice of Pope Francis seems to be the one who cries out in the wilderness, six months on from the beginning of the senseless and horrible aggression against Ukraine: destruction, death and the spectre of nuclear conflict. “I think of so much cruelty,” said the Pontiff at the end of the General Audience, “of so many innocents who are paying [the price of] madness, the madness of all sides, because war is madness and no one at war can say: ‘No, I am not mad.’ The madness of war.”
We cannot get used to what is happening, after months of shocking images of death and destruction caused by modern weaponry and the very high price in terms of innocent human lives sacrificed, families annihilated, homes and businesses destroyed, neighbourhoods razed to the ground. The voice of Peter has never failed to express solidarity with the aggrieved and all those suffering the consequences of war, but also to urge the leaders of the nations involved to seek a negotiated solution.
The balance sheet of this half-year conflict between two nations in the heart of Europe is tragic. Mass graves, dead and wounded children, Ukrainian and Russian mothers mourning their very young sons who died at the front, millions of displaced persons, the risk of famine and environmental devastation, attest to the impotence of Heads of State and international organisations and the inability to apply — with courage and creativity — what the Pope calls the ‘scheme of peace.’ In fact, many people, too many, continue to reason according to the ‘scheme of war’ and consider as the only viable response the strengthening of the old military alliances and the mad race for rearmament. The world, already scarred by so many wars that make up the ‘pieces’ of that Third World War of which Pope Francis has spoken so often, is plunging back into a new Cold War. Not to mention the serious economic consequences, in terms of energy supply, expected in the short and medium term for many countries.
Is it possible to discern signs of hope in this panorama of devastation? Yes, it is possible. One seed of hope is the generosity with which so many people have opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees, personally brought aid, involved themselves in humanitarian initiatives without allowing themselves to be overcome by the ‘globalisation of indifference.’ Another seed of hope is the organisations, associations, and groups that have engaged in actions and initiatives for peace, for dialogue, for negotiation, taking personal risks in visiting war-torn Ukraine. A seed of hope is the growing awareness which is more widespread among the people than among their leaders and political leaders, of the urgent need to stop the slaughter through truce and negotiation. Because if the response to the emergence of new conflicts continues to be on the basis of old patterns instead of daring to attempt to build a new international coexistence, the fate of humanity risks being unfortunately sealed. Finally, there is a seed of hope that for the believer is the first and most important. Those who believe know that wars begin in the human heart, that God intervenes in history, and that prayer — especially that of the humble, the simple, the suffering — can influence and change the destinies of humanity.
By Andrea Tornielli