Pope Francis said Wednesday that the image of Noah’s flood is “gaining ground in our subconscious” as the world considers the possibility of a nuclear war “that will extinguish us.”
“Our imagination appears increasingly concentrated on the representation of a final catastrophe that will extinguish us — what may happen with a possible nuclear war,” Pope Francis said March 16.
“The ‘day after’ — if there will still be days and human beings — we will have to start again from scratch.”
Speaking to pilgrims seated in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for his live-streamed general audience, the pope said that people today “are under pressure, exposed to opposing stresses that confuse us.”
“On the one hand, we have the optimism of an eternal youth, kindled by the extraordinary progress of technology, that depicts a future full of machines that are more efficient and more intelligent than us, that will cure our ills and devise for us the best solutions so as not to die: the world of robotics,” he said.
Yet, on the other hand, there is the possibility of nuclear war.
“I do not want to trivialize the idea of progress, naturally. But it seems that the symbol of the flood is gaining ground in our subconscious,” the pope said.
“Besides, the current pandemic puts a heavy weight on our carefree representation of the things that matter, for life and its destiny.”
A litany prayer for Ukraine
The pope’s words came on the 21st day of the war in Ukraine, at the start of which Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian nuclear forces to be put on high alert, raising fears of the possibility of a nuclear war.
Pope Francis said at the end of the general audience that he wanted everyone to pray together in the pain of the war, asking the Lord for forgiveness and peace.
The pope then read a prayer written by Archbishop Domenico Battaglia of Naples.
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners. Lord Jesus, born under the bombs of Kyiv, have mercy on us. Lord Jesus, who died in his mother’s arms in a bunker in Kharkiv, have mercy on us,” he prayed.
In the pope’s messages to pilgrims from different countries, he also asked people to pray for peace in Ukraine.
“This week we will celebrate St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church. May he, during this month of March which is dedicated to him, be an intercessor for the peace that the world so badly needs,” Pope Francis said in his greeting to French pilgrims.
The pope also asked young people to pray for their peers in Ukraine who are suffering. He was speaking during a brief meeting with Catholic school students from Milan, northern Italy, in St. Peter’s Basilica just before the general audience.
He said: “I ask you to think, let’s think of so many children, boys and girls, who are at war, who today in Ukraine are suffering. They are like you, six, seven, 14 years old. You have before you a future, a security of growing up in a society in peace. Instead, these little ones, even little ones, have to flee from the bombs. They are suffering so much with that cold that it is there.”
“Let each of us think of these kids, boys and girls, who are suffering today, 3,000 kilometers [1,800 miles] from here. Let us pray to the Lord, I will make the prayer, you pray with me with your heart and mind.”
The pope then prayed for “all the children who are living under the bombs, who see this terrible war, who have no food, who must flee, leaving home, everything. Lord Jesus, look upon these children, these children, they are the victims of the pride of us, the adults. Lord Jesus, bless these children and protect them. Together we pray to Our Lady to protect them.”
Noah and the Flood
In his general audience address, Pope Francis offered a reflection on chapter six of the Book of Genesis on the flood that struck the world in the time of Noah.
“The Bible narrative — with the symbolic language of the time in which it was written — tells us something shocking. God was so embittered by the widespread wickedness of humans, which had become a normal style of life, that he thought he had made a mistake in creating them and decided to eliminate them. A radical solution,” he said.
“It might even have a paradoxical twist of mercy. No more humans, no more history, no more judgment, no more condemnation. And many predestined victims of corruption, violence, injustice would be spared forever.”
Pope Francis said that in modern times, too, people can be “overwhelmed by the sense of powerlessness against evil or demoralized by the ‘prophets of doom,’” which makes people “think it would be better if we had not been born.”
“Should we give credit to some recent theories, which denounce the human race as an evolutionary detriment to life on our planet? All negative? No,” Francis said.
Pope Francis highlighted how in the biblical account of the flood, God entrusted an elderly person, Noah, with the task of saving life on Earth. Noah is an example of righteousness for older people, in particular, he said.
“Noah does not preach, he does not complain, he does not recriminate, but rather he takes care of the future of the generation that is in danger … He builds the ark of acceptance and lets people and animals enter it,” Francis said.
“In his care for life, in all its forms, Noah obeys God’s commandment, repeating the tender and generous gesture of creation, which in reality is the very thought that inspires the command of God: a new blessing, a new creation.”
Much of the pope’s general audience reflection focused on the topic of corruption.
Quoting the Gospel of Luke (17:26-27), Pope Francis said: “Jesus, speaking about the end times, says, ‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.’”
The pope noted that “eating and drinking, taking a husband or wife, are very normal things and do not seem to be examples of corruption.”
“In reality, Jesus stresses the fact that human beings, when they limit themselves to enjoying life, lose even the perception of corruption, which mortifies their dignity and poisons meaning … And they even live corruption in a carefree way, as if it were a normal part of human wellbeing,” he said.
“The goods of life are consumed and enjoyed without concern for the spiritual quality of life, without care for the habitat of the common home. Without concerning themselves with the mortification and disheartenment of which many suffer, nor with the evil that poisons the community. As long as normal life can be filled with ‘wellbeing,’ we do not want to think about what makes it empty of justice and love,” the pope said.
Pope Francis added that when people think only of themselves, it is a “gateway to corruption.” He said that “ungodly carefreeness” weakens and “dulls our consciences.”
Taking Noah as a model, the pope proposed that older generations have a responsibility to help young people to renounce corruption.
“And we, women and men of a certain age -- not to say old, because some are offended -- do not forget that we have the possibility of wisdom, to say to others: 'Look, this path of corruption leads nowhere.' We must be like good wine that in the end when old can give a good message and not a bad one," Pope Francis said.
"I make an appeal today to all people who are of a certain age, not to mention old … You have the responsibility to denounce the human corruption in which we live and in which this totally relative way of life of relativism continues, as if everything were lawful. … We ask the Lord for the grace of wisdom.”