Pope Francis on Monday invited young people to learn the story of Bl. Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector who was imprisoned and killed for refusing to fight for the Nazis in World War II.
“Despite cajoling and torture, Franz preferred to be killed than to kill. He considered the war totally unjustified. If all the young men called to arms had done as he did, Hitler would not have been able to carry out his diabolical plans. To triumph, evil needs accomplices,” the pope said in a communication published July 11.
Francis’ message was sent to the EU Youth Conference, taking place in Prague, Czech Republic, July 11-13. The theme of the 2022 conference, which is for teens and young adults from the European Union, is “Working Together for a Sustainable and Inclusive Europe.”
The pope invited young people, in light of the war in Ukraine, “to get to know the extraordinary figure of a young objector, a young European with ‘a broad outlook,’” Franz Jägerstätter, who was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.
“Franz was a young Austrian who, because of his Catholic faith, made a conscientious objection to the injunction to swear allegiance to Hitler and go to war,” Pope Francis said.
He explained that because of his “profound convictions,” when called to fight, Franz refused; “he felt it was unjust to kill innocent lives.”
The husband and father of four girls was eventually executed for his refusal to fight. Pope Francis pointed out that he was killed “in the same prison where his contemporary Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German Lutheran theologian and anti-Nazi, was also imprisoned and met the same tragic end.”
These two men were killed because they remained faithful to the ideals of their faith, he said.
The pope invited young people “to look upwards and beyond, to keep seeking the real meaning of your life, where you come from and where you are going, and the Truth, because we cannot live authentically if we do not seek the Truth.”
Though Ukraine is not part of the European Union, Francis urged the young adults taking part in the conference to commit themselves to promoting peace and the end of the war.
He said “it is legitimate to rebel” in cases like this, “where, as usual, a few powerful people decide and send thousands of young people to fight and die.”
The pope recalled that someone once said that “if the world were ruled by women, there would not be so many wars, because those who have the mission of giving life cannot make death choices.”
“In a similar vein, I like to think that if the world were ruled by young people, there would not be so many wars,” he added. “Those who have their whole life ahead of them do not want to ruin it and throw it away, but to live it to the full.”
He closed his message by asking young people to be “generous in generating new lives, always and only as the fruit of love.”
“The love of husband and wife, the love of family and children, but also love of Europe, so that it can be for everyone a land of peace, freedom and dignity,” he said.