Pope Francis warned against the destructive indifference towards our brothers and sisters that arises from ideologies of war during a Mass celebrated on Saturday, Sept. 13 for the victims of all wars.
“Whereas God carries forward the work of creation and we men and women are called to participate in his work, war destroys. It also ruins the most beautiful work of his hands: human beings. War ruins everything, even the bonds between brothers,” the Holy Father said.
“War is irrational; its only plan is to bring destruction: it seeks to grow by destroying.”
These words came during the Pontiff's visit to Redipuglia to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. Located in the northeast of Italy’s Province of Friuli Venezia Giulia; it was the site of heavy fighting between Italian forces and the Central Powers during that war.
The region holds particular significance for Pope Francis, in that his own grandfather fought in Italy's 1915 to 1917 offensive against the Austro-Hungarian empire, the battlefields of which are commemorated at the Redipuglia memorial.
The Pope began the day with a visit to Austro-Hungarian Cemetery of Fogliano di Redipuglia, the site where some 14,000 soldiers are buried, and offered a silent prayer.
He then moved to the nearby Italian Military Memorial of Redipuglia, the final resting place of 100,187 fallen soldiers in WWI, where he celebrated Mass for the victims of all wars.
In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the entrance of the cemetery, where “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. Humanity said, 'What does it matter to me?'”
“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?'”
“After experiencing the beauty of traveling throughout this region,” he continued, “where men and women work and raise their families, where children play and the elderly dream… I now find myself here, in this place, able to say only one thing: War is madness.”
He added that the prevailing attitude of indifference — “Am I my brother's keeper?” — is in complete contradiction to the Gospel message, which teaches that Jesus is in the least of our brothers. We are therefore called to care for all those who hunger, thirst, are strangers, sick, or in prison. “The one who cares for his brother or sister enters into the joy of the Lord; the one who does not do so, however, who by his omissions says, 'What does it matter to me?', remains excluded.”
Reflecting on the wars that continue to rage throughout the world, the Pope said that “perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction.”
Pope Francis said these wars are driven by “interests, geopolitical strategies, lust for money and power, and there is the manufacture and sale of arms.”
“The merchants of war perhaps have made a great deal of money,” he said, “but their corrupted hearts” engraved with the words “What does it matter to me?” — “have lost the capacity to cry.”
“It is the task of the wise to recognize errors, to feel pain, to repent, to beg for pardon and to cry,” he said.
Referring again to the question posed in Genesis, “Am I my brother's keeper?”, the Pope reflected on the “shadow of Cain” which “hangs over us today in this cemetery.” This shadow “is seen here. It is seen from 1914 right up to our own time. It is seen even in the present.”
Pope Francis concluded his homily by appealing for “a conversion of heart,” one which changes from the apathetic attitude represented by the words “What does it matter to me?” to tears “for each one of the fallen of this 'senseless massacre', for all the victims of the mindless wars, in every age.”
“Humanity needs to weep,” he said, “and this is the time to weep.”