Pope Francis denounces arms race, death penalty and Ukraine war in speech to diplomats
January 09, 2023
Pope Francis greets George Poulides, ambassador of Cyprus to the Holy See and dean of the Vatican diplomatic corps, during his annual meeting with diplomats accredited to the Holy See at the Vatican Jan. 9 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
Pope Francis, on Jan. 9, denounced in the most forceful terms possible the war in Ukraine, now in its 320th day, and the weakening of democracy in many countries, including Brazil. “Today, the third world war is taking place in a globalized world, where conflicts involve not only certain areas of the planet directly, but in fact involve them all,” he said, in his New Year’s address to ambassadors from the 183 states that have full diplomatic relations with the Holy See. “The closest and most recent example is certainly the war in Ukraine, with its wake of death and destruction, with its attacks on civil infrastructures that cause lives to be lost not only from gunfire and acts of violence, but also from hunger and freezing cold.”
Pope Francis also flatly rejected that there is a “right to abortion” and hit out strongly against what he called “ideological colonization” as well as gender theory. In a 4,600-word talk delivered in Italian, Francis called for full respect for the rights of women and their universal access to education, for an end to the war in Ukraine and an end to the arms race. He urged that the resources used for arms be invested in education. Pope Francis also called for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty, flatly rejected that there is a “right to abortion” and hit out strongly against what he called “ideological colonization” as well as gender theory. He called for the urgent reform of the United Nations so that this body can truly be a force for peace in the world.
Greeting the ambassadors in the Hall of Benedictions, he extended his greeting to their families and the peoples and governments of the countries they represent. He also thanked them “for the messages of condolence sent for the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and for the closeness shown during his funeral.”
Pope Francis also called for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. Then, in a talk in which he used the word peace no fewer than 27 times, he recalled that this year marks the 60th anniversary of St. John XXIII’s encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” and said “the threat of nuclear war,” sparked by the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962, was “very much present in [his] mind” when he wrote it two months before his death. “Sadly, today too,” Francis said, “the nuclear threat is raised, and the world once more feels fear and anguish.” He declared yet again that “the possession of atomic weapons is immoral” and called for “the resumption” of the Iran nuclear deal, and the finding of a solution “as quickly as possible” to the stalled negotiations. Then, alluding to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, he quoted the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” which said that “every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and humanity which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.” The pope reminded the ambassadors that “the present third world war” is being “fought piecemeal” in other “theaters of tension and conflict." Francis added: “Nor can we forget that war particularly affects those who are most fragile—children, the elderly, the disabled—and leaves an indelible mark on families.” He reminded the ambassadors that “the present third world war” is being “fought piecemeal” in other “theaters of tension and conflict.” He mentioned Syria, where the conflict started in 2011, and called for “constitutional reforms” there and for ensuring that sanctions do not hit ordinary people.
On the Vatican’s controversial agreement with China, the pope said: “In the context of a respectful and constructive dialogue, the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China have agreed to extend for another two-year period the validity of the Provisional Agreement regarding the appointment of Bishops, stipulated in Peking in 2018. It is my hope that this collaborative relationship can increase, for the benefit of the life of the Catholic Church and that of the Chinese people.”
Israel-Palestine Conflict Pope Francis expressed “concern” at “the increase of violence between Palestinians and Israelis, sadly resulting in a number of victims and complete mutual distrust.” He appealed for respect for “the status quo” in Jerusalem so that “access and liberty of worship in the holy places will continue to be guaranteed and respected.” Notwithstanding the fact that Israel now has the most right-wing government in its history, Francis appealed to the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to “recover the courage and determination to dialogue directly for the sake of implementing the two-state solution in all its aspects,” in conformity with international law and the pertinent U.N. resolutions. He called for respect for the cease-fire in the south Caucasus between Armenia and Azerbaijan (over Nagorny Karabakh), and the exchange of prisoners as a step to a peace agreement. He also called for respect of the truce in Yemen and continuation of the peace process in Ethiopia. He appealed for peace in West Africa, where terrorist violence is creating major problems in Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria. He appealed for peace in West Africa, where terrorist violence is creating major problems in Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria. He expressed hope that “the processes of transition under way in Sudan, Mali, Chad, Guinea and Burkina Faso will take place with respect for the legitimate aspirations of the populations involved.” He called on the international community to work “for reconciliation” in Myanmar, now two years into a conflict that causes suffering and death, and also prayed for “good will and commitment to concord in the Korean peninsula,” which he visited in 2014.
He confirmed to the ambassadors that he will go “as a pilgrim of peace” to the Democratic Republic of Congo “in the hope that violence will cease in the east of the country. From there, he said, “my pilgrimage will continue in South Sudan, where I will be accompanied by the Archbishop of Canterbury and by the General Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Together we desire to unite ourselves to the plea for peace by the country’s people and thus contribute to the process of national reconciliation.”
How Can We Bring Peace in the World?
Looking at the ambassadors seated in rows in front of him, Francis remarked: “At a time of such great conflict, we cannot avoid wondering about how we can weave anew the threads of peace.
Where do we begin?” He told them that St. John XXIII “was convinced that peace is possible in respect to four fundamental goods: truth, justice, solidarity and freedom,” which he outlined in “Pacem in Terris.” Pope Francis said these four “serve as the pillars that regulate relationships between individuals and political communities alike.” Referring to the first pillar (peace in truth), Francis said: “To build peace in truth means above all to respect the human person with his or her ‘right to life and to physical integrity,’ and to guarantee his or her ‘freedom in investigating the truth and to freedom of speech and publication.’” “To build peace in truth means above all to respect the human person with his or her ‘right to life and to physical integrity.” He noted that “despite the commitments undertaken by all states to respect human rights and the fundamental freedoms of each person, even today, in many countries, women are considered second-class citizens. They are subjected to violence and abuse, and are denied the opportunity to study, work, employ their talents, and have access to healthcare and even to food.” Pope Francis said: “Peace requires before all else the defense of life, a good that today is jeopardized not only by conflicts, hunger, and disease, but all too often even in the mother’s womb, through the promotion of an alleged ‘right to abortion.’” He declared: “No one, however, can claim rights over the life of another human being, especially one who is powerless and thus completely defenseless.” For this reason, he appealed “to the consciences of men and women of good will, particularly those having political responsibilities, to strive to safeguard the rights of those who are weakest and to combat the throwaway culture that also, tragically, affects the sick, the disabled and the elderly.”
He called for the abolition of the death penalty and denounced its use in Iran in recent days following “the recent demonstrations demanding greater respect for the dignity of women.” He drew attention to “the emergence of a ‘fear’ of life that translates in many places into a fear of the future and a difficulty in creating families and bringing children into the world.” He encouraged Italians to have more children. He reminded the ambassadors that “fears are fueled by ignorance and prejudice, and thus easily degenerate into conflicts” and said: “Education is the antidote to this.” He denounced as “unacceptable that part of a people should be excluded from education, as is happening to Afghan women.”
Then, in what appeared to be intended as a challenge to gender theory, Francis said, “The work of education always requires showing integral respect for the person, and for his or her natural physiognomy (fisionomia naturale), and avoiding the imposition of a novel and confused vision of the human being.” In what appeared to be intended as a challenge to gender theory, Francis said, “The work of education always requires showing integral respect for the person, and for his or her natural physiognomy.”
Francis said, “Peace also calls for the universal recognition of religious freedom” and expressed concern “that people are being persecuted simply because they publicly profess their faith, and in many countries religious freedom is limited.” He denounced the fact that “about a third of the world’s population lives under these conditions” and noted that according to some statistics “one out of every seven Christians experiences persecution.” He also noted that “governments have the duty to protect this right,” which cannot be reduced only to the right to worship.
Speaking about the second pillar, “peace in justice,” Francis emphasized the need for a radical reform of the United Nations organization and the multilateral system of diplomacy. He reminded the ambassadors, and through them their governments, that “great good can be achieved by working together”; but, he said, “in recent times, the various international forums have seen an increase in polarization and attempts to impose a single way of thinking, which hinders dialogue and marginalizes those who see things differently.”
He said, “There is a risk of drifting into what more and more appears as an ideological totalitarianism that promotes intolerance towards those who dissent from certain positions claimed to represent ‘progress,’ but in fact would appear to lead to an overall regression of humanity, with the violation of freedom of thought and freedom of conscience.” He added, “In addition, more and more resources have been spent on imposing forms of ideological colonization, especially on poorer countries, and directly connecting the provision of economic aid to the acceptance of such ideologies.” “In the name of that solidarity,” he said, “we must return to dialogue, mutual listening and negotiation, and foster shared responsibility and cooperation in the pursuit of the common good.” “It is a source of concern that in many parts of the world there is a weakening of democracy.” The third pillar to peace is “peace in solidarity,” Francis said. He told the ambassadors: “The paths of peace are paths of solidarity, for no one can be saved alone. We live in a world so interconnected that, in the end, the actions of each have consequences for all.” He highlighted three areas “where greater solidarity is needed”: migration, the economy and work, and the care of our common home.
Referring to the fourth pillar for peace (“peace in freedom”), Francis said, “building peace requires that there be no place for ‘violation of the freedom, integrity and security of other nations, no matter what may be their territorial extension or their capacity for defense.’ “It is a source of concern that in many parts of the world there is a weakening of democracy.” He noted that “women or ethnic minorities often pay the price for this, as too do entire societies in which unrest leads to social tensions and even armed clashes.”
He referred to “the various countries of the Americas where political crises are laden with tensions and forms of violence that exacerbate social conflicts” and mentioned the “recent events in Peru, and in these last hours Brazil, and the worrying situation in Haiti, where steps are finally being taken to address the political crisis that has been underway for some time.” He emphasized that “There is a constant need to overcome partisan ways of thinking and to work for the promotion of the common good.” In this context he referred to Lebanon, still awaiting the election of a new president, and said, “I trust that political leaders will make every effort to enable the country to recover from the dramatic economic and social situation it is presently experiencing.” Concluding his address, he remarked, “How wonderful it would be if, just once, we were to gather simply to thank the Lord Almighty for his constant blessings, without having to list all the tragic events plaguing our world.” He said he wished to end with the words of John XXIII, who said, “We nonetheless remain hopeful that, by establishing contact with one another and by a policy of negotiation, nations will come to a better recognition of the natural ties that bind them together as men and women.”
The ambassadors applauded warmly when he finished, and then each one greeted him individually and exchanged a few words.