According to Pope Francis, the “tragedy of the war” taking place in the heart of Europe “leaves us astonished,” and it is threatening humanity, all because of a “perverse abuse of power” that is condemning innocent people to endless suffering.
The “heartbreaking” cry for help of the Ukrainian people is a call not only to serious reflection but also to action, to “share the anguish” of those whose identity, history, and tradition have been wounded.
“The blood and tears of children, the suffering of women and men who are defending their land or fleeing from bombs shake our conscience,” he said. “Once again humanity is threatened by a perverse abuse of power and partisan interests, which condemns defenseless people to suffer all forms of brutal violence.”
Faced with this situation, all are called to pray so that those who “hold the fate of nations will leave no stone unturned to stop the war and open a constructive dialogue.”
Pope Francis’s remarks came on Friday, as he addressed the 3rd European Catholic Social Days, taking place in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. Bishops, clergy and lay people of all ages have come together from all over Europe to address and discuss the major issues of concern to the church, while considering how to best meet the “joys and hopes, fears and aspirations” of men and women of goodwill in today’s world, according to the website.
The March 17-20 summit is organized by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) and the Slovakian Bishops’ Conference, in collaboration with the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, headed by Jesuit Cardinal Michael Czerny, ad-interim prefect. Listed among the participants was Zuzana Čaputová, president of Slovakia.
The pope also thanked all those present for their “prompt and choral response” in helping the fleeing population, guaranteeing material aid, welcome and hospitality, something Europe cannot “grow weary” of, while at the same time, invoking peace from both God and men.
Condemning war as a “failure of politics and humanity, a shameful surrender to the forces of evil,” Francis said that those who seek peace are called to make possible a world community capable of seeing that fraternity starts from peoples and nations that live in social friendship. In this sense, war, “which leaves the world better off,” may provoke an opposite reaction, “a commitment to reestablish an architecture of peace at the global level, in which the European house, born to guarantee peace after the world wars, has a primary role.”
The gathering was originally called to be a reflection on what to do as the world begins to overcome the global health crisis, hence the title, “Europe beyond the pandemic: a new beginning.” Reflecting on this “situation marked by suffering,” the pontiff said that “fears have grown, poverty has increased, and loneliness has multiplied; while many have lost their jobs and are living precariously, the way of relating to others has changed for everyone.”
As Christians and as European citizens, those gathered are called to courageously implement what one of the founding fathers of the European Community, Alcide De Gasperi, said when he spoke of “the common good of our European homelands, of our homeland Europe.” Europe and the nations that compose it, Francis said, are not opposed to each other, and building the future does not mean unifying, but uniting in respect for diversity.
For Christians, rebuilding the common house means “becoming artisans of communion, weavers of unity at every level: not by strategy, but by the Gospel,” he said, starting at the very heart of the Gospel, Christ.
Some 300 people took part in the summit: representatives chosen by the bishops’ conferences of Europe and also European and national politicians, academics, young people and members of Catholic social organizations.
“There is therefore a resistance of humanity even in places of conflict, where barbarism seems to prevail, where the fate of so many innocents is decided,” Czerny said in his homily while celebrating the Mass on Friday.
The Czechoslovakian-born Canadian cardinal is currently in Slovakia, where he crossed the border into Ukraine. This is his second trip in as many weeks to the country, both times as a special papal envoy.
“There is not only black and white. History is always complex and the difference, often, is made by nuances,” he said. “And in itinere let us confess that something is already in our power: If we still lack the strength of martyrdom, we can already stammer the word of mediation, intervene to reduce evil, interrupt the race of madness, injecting into the social body the strength of compassion.”
Fraternity, he pointed out, is something written in humanity by God, and as such, “There is no devil, no evil, no injustice that can completely obscure the original love that shines in the eyes of my sister, my brother. They are the mirror of my dignity and the reminder of the common home address.”
During his speech later that morning, Czerny denounced that it is a “mirage” to endorse war as a valid response to a situation of imbalance or tension.
“Most often, illegitimate intentions and sordid ulterior motives — such as hegemonic ambitions, abuses of power, and ethnic, racial or religious prejudices — lurk behind the official rationale for war,” he said.
The prelate also pointed out that today’s ultra-sophisticated weaponry have become so automated that war is often waged by remote control and virtually: “When a high-tech soldier fires a missile at a hospital or people fleeing, what does he see on his screen? It looks like a video game.”
Quoting Francis, Czerny said that the third world war is currently being fought piecemeal, and that it is important not to forget the many other conflicts still ongoing, such as Yemen, Syria, and Ethiopia. The war in Syria, for instance, begins its 12th consecutive year this month.
The hearts of all must be moved by the tragedies endured by civilians, the cardinal said, connecting with everyone’s pain, from death to refugees, orphans and those who suffer mutilation in body and spirit, often considered “an inevitable or collateral side effect of these events.”
He closed by proposing an examination of conscience, to both Christians and non-Christians, laity and clergy: “How do we contribute to peace in Europe? Are we showing love of neighbor? Are we influencing the European Union, NATO and national governments to do so too? Conversely, how have we contributed – and continue to contribute — to war in Europe?”
Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg, acknowledged that the encounter is taking place in a reality quite different than the one which inspired it: COVID is not so much at the center of the conversation, but the war in Europe, something that hadn’t happened since the end of World War II.
“We are deeply saddened by the bombing of human corridors, by the besieging of cities, which leads to thirst and hunger, to famine, diseases and death,” said Hollerich, the President of COMECE.
Yet participants are still called to come together and, from a Christian perspective, rediscover their vocation to fraternity and reflect on how to move forward towards a just recovery in Europe through a rebuilding process that “leaves no one behind.”