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To counter ‘third world war,’ Pope Francis proposes ‘truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom’

January 9, 2023 Catholic News Agency 2
Pope Francis addresses international diplomats to the Holy See on Jan. 9, 2023, in the Vatican’s Blessing Hall. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Jan 9, 2023 / 06:28 am (CNA).

The global community is engaged in a “third world war” marked by heightened fear, conflict, and risk of nuclear violence, but a recommitment to “truth, justice, solidarity and freedom” can provide a pathway to peace, Pope Francis told international diplomats Monday.

Citing the ongoing war in Ukraine, but also drawing on conflicts in places such as Syria, West Africa, Ethiopia, Israel, Myanmar, and the Korean Peninsula, the Holy Father said this global struggle is being “fought piecemeal,” but is nonetheless interconnected.

“Today the third world war is taking place in a globalized world where conflicts involve only certain areas of the planet direct, but in fact involve them all,” said Pope Francis, speaking in the Vatican’s apostolic palace.

The pope made these remarks as part of his annual address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. Pope Francis characterized this speech as “a call for peace in a world that is witnessing heightened divisions and war.”

Pope Francis addresses diplomats to the Holy See in the Blessing Hall at the Vatican on Jan. 9, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis addresses diplomats to the Holy See in the Blessing Hall at the Vatican on Jan. 9, 2023. Vatican Media

As part of this heightening of tensions, the Pope warned about the increased threat of nuclear warfare, drawing particular concern to the stall in negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal. He told the gathered diplomats that the possession of nuclear weapons is “immoral” and called for an end to a mentality that pursues conflict deterrence through the development of ever-more lethal means of warfare.

“There is a need to change this way of thinking and move toward an integral disarmament, since no peace is possible when instruments of death are proliferating,” the pope said.

In proposing a path towards global peace, the Holy Father drew heavily from Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”), the papal encyclical promulgated by St. John XXIII in 1962. Pope Francis said the conditions which prompted the “good Pope” to issue Pacem in Terris 60 years ago bear a striking similarity to the state of the world today.

In particular, the Holy Father drew from what John XXIII described as the “four fundamental goods” necessary for peace: truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom, values that “serve as the pillars that regulate relationships between individuals and political communities alike.”

Regarding “peace in truth,” the Holy Father underscored the “primary duty” of governments to protect the right to life at every stage of human life.

“Peace requires before all else the defense of life, a good that today is jeopardized not only by conflicts, hunger, and diseases, but all too often in the mother’s womb, through promotion of an alleged ‘right to abortion,’” said Pope Francis, also calling for an end to the death penalty and violence against women.

Speaking of the necessity of religious freedom for peace, the Holy Father noted widespread religious persecution against Christian minorities, but also discrimination in countries where Christianity is a majority religion.

“Religious freedom is also endangered wherever believers see their ability to express their convictions in the life of society restricted in the name of a misguided understanding of inclusiveness,” he said.

Regarding justice, the Holy Father called for a “profound rethinking” of multilateral systems such as the United Nations to make them more effective at responding to conflicts like the war in Ukraine. But he also criticized international bodies for “imposing forms of ideological colonization, especially on poorer countries” and warned of the growing risk of “ideological totalitarianism” that promotes intolerance towards those who dissent from certain positions claimed to represent ‘progress.’”

Pope Francis visits with international diplomats accredited to the Holy See on Jan. 9, 2023, at the Vatican. Vatican Media
Pope Francis visits with international diplomats accredited to the Holy See on Jan. 9, 2023, at the Vatican. Vatican Media

The Holy Father also spoke of the need to deepen a sense of global solidarity, citing four areas of interconnectedness: immigration, the economy and work, and care for creation,

“The paths of peace are paths of solidarity, for no one can be saved alone. We live in a world interconnected that, in the end, the actions of each have consequences for all.”

Finally, regarding “peace in freedom,” Pope Francis warned of the “weakening of democracy” in many parts of the world, and an increase in political polarization. He said peace is only possible if “in every single community, there does not prevail that culture of oppression and aggression in which our neighbor is regarded as an enemy to attack, rather than a brother or sister to welcome and embrace.”

The Holy Father’s address to the diplomatic corps, which includes representatives of the 91 countries and entities with an embassy chancellery accredited to the Holy See, also served as an opportunity to review diplomatic highlights of the past year and expectations for the year to come.

Milestones included the signing of new bilateral accords with both the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe and with the Republic of Kazakhstan. The Holy Father also briefly mentioned the provisional agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China, first agreed to in 2018 and renewed in 2022 for an additional two years.

“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.”

The next significant marker on the pope’s diplomatic docket: His trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo at the end of the month as a “pilgrim of peace,” followed by a joint visit to South Sudan with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.


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Report: Pope Francis sought to meet with Xi Jinping, but China declined

September 16, 2022 Catholic News Agency 2
President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping during the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China. / Gil Corzo/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Sep 16, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis expressed his “availability” to meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping while both men were in Kazakhstan this week, but China declined, according to a Reuters report citing an unnamed Vatican official. 

Pope Francis was in Nur-Sultan, the Kazakh capital formerly known as Astana, Sept. 13–15 for an interreligious meeting, while Xi was in the same city to meet with Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, one day after the pope did.

According to Reuters, the source said the Vatican made “an expression of availability,” and the Chinese side said they “appreciated the gesture” but that there was no free time in Xi’s schedule. 

A meeting of the two leaders would have been momentous; there has never been a meeting between a pope and a president of China. Pope Francis has said he is willing to visit China, saying on the flight from Rome to Kazakhstan on Sept. 13: “I’m always ready to go to China.”

The coinciding visits of Francis and Xi also comes as the Holy See and China determine the renewal of a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops in China and a cardinal is preparing to stand trial in Hong Kong for his role in a pro-democracy legal fund.

Xi has been harshly criticized for overseeing the persecution of religious believers of many stripes in China, including Christians and the Uyghur Muslims of the Xinjiang region.

Kazakhstan and China, which are neighbors, have close ties, with large-scale Chinese investments in the Central Asian country’s natural resources through its Belt and Road Initiative. Xi announced his plan for a “new silk road” in the Kazakh capital in 2013. The Chinese leader met with Vladimir Putin in Uzbekistan on Thursday as part of Xi’s first trip outside China since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pope Francis has said little about China’s human rights violations since the Vatican first entered into a provisional agreement with China in 2018. That deal was meant to unify the country’s 12 million Catholics, divided between the underground Church and the Communist-administered Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and clear a path for the appointment of bishops for Chinese dioceses. Despite the deal, persecution of the underground Church has continued and, according to some, intensified. That deal is expected to be renewed for another two years at the end of the month. 


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‘Hope is dying’ in Syria, nuncio says

September 3, 2022 Catholic News Agency 2
Pope Francis meets with members of the AVSI Foundation for the ‘Open Hospitals’ Project in Syria at the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Sept. 3, 2022. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Sep 3, 2022 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis’ representative in Syria has said people are losing hope as the Syrian civil war continues and widespread poverty explodes.

“I’ve seen so many people die, I’ve seen young people die too, now I see hope dying,” Cardinal Mario Zenari told CNA Sept. 2.

“It is clear that hope is there, but it is far away. Sooner or later there will also come a future for Syria but currently it is so complicated, isn’t it?” he said. “And hope is lacking, hope is dying.”

Zenari, apostolic nuncio in Syria since 2008, met Pope Francis Sept. 3 with members of AVSI, a nonprofit supporting Project Open Hospitals in Syria.

Pope Francis praised the initiative, which supports free services through three Syrian hospitals and four walk-in clinics, calling it “the ‘creativity of charity,’” a phrase of Saint John Paul II.

“International observers tell us that the crisis in Syria continues to be one of the most serious worldwide, in terms of destruction, growing humanitarian needs, social and economic collapse, and poverty and famine at dire levels,” the pope said Sept. 3.

“In the face of such immense suffering,” he said, “the Church is called to be a ‘field hospital’ and to heal wounds both physical and spiritual.”

Speaking to CNA a day ahead of the papal meeting, Zenari explained that while “fewer bombs are falling,” especially in the north of Syria, another, noiseless, bomb has detonated, that of a poverty crisis.

The nuncio said more than 90% of the population is living under the poverty threshold and statistics show that many children are going hungry or are malnourished.

In his speech Saturday, Pope Francis thanked the group for the gift of an icon of Jesus the Good Samaritan.

“The man in the Gospel parable, beaten, robbed and left half-dead by the side of the road, can serve as another tragic image of Syria, beaten, robbed and abandoned for dead on the roadside,” Francis said.

Yet Syria has not been forgotten or abandoned by Christ, he continued, nor by the many “Good Samaritans” — individuals, associations, and institutions — which have lended a hand.

Cardinal Zenari recalled that “some of these Good Samaritans,” as many as a few hundred according to the United Nations, were killed while working or volunteering in Syria.

“And these are beautiful signs of hope,” he said. 

A priest and Franciscan friar belonging to the Custody of the Holy Land told CNA Friday that Syria is in need of people who work with the sick, the hungry, traumatized children, and those suffering from depression because of the civil war.

“So right now we need Good Samaritans in Syria,” Father Fadi Azar said.

Azar has been serving in Syria since 2015. For the last three years he has been based in the port city of Latakia, where his parish has grown from 200 to 750 families, he said, due to the influx of Syrians fleeing other parts of the country. 

The priest, who was born and raised in Jordan to Palestinian parents, understands the plight of refugees.

Father Azar also helps run one of the walk-in medical clinics supported by Project Open Hospitals.

“Everyday life is becoming more difficult for the people and a lot of them are dying because they cannot afford to buy their medications,” he explained, calling Project Open Hospitals “an intervention of Divine Providence,” and “a miracle.”

“Our work as religious should be only spiritual,” Azar said, “but right now we are operating in humanitarian [needs].”

Pope Francis said: “When we think of Syria, there comes to mind the verse of the Book of Lamentations: ‘Vast as the sea is your ruin; who can heal you?’ (2:13). Those words refer to the sufferings of Jerusalem, but they also make us think of the suffering endured by the Syrian people in these twelve years of violent conflict.”

“If,” he said, “we consider the number of the dead and wounded, the destruction of entire quarters and villages, as well as important infrastructures, including healthcare institutions, it is natural to ask: ‘Syria, who can now heal you?’”