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‘Third world war’ is under way, Pope Francis warns

13 January 2023


Pope Francis greets members of the Vatican diplomatic corps on Monday

Pope Francis greets members of the Vatican diplomatic corps on Monday

THE Pope has warned that a “third world war” is already under way, requiring “profound reforms” in the international system, as well as efforts to counter growing “ideological totalitarianism” and the imposition of a “single way of thinking”.

“This third world war is taking place in a globalised world where conflicts involve only certain areas of the planet directly, but in fact involve them all,” he said.

“The closest and most recent example is certainly the war in Ukraine, whose effects are felt in entire regions, also outside of Europe, owing to its repercussions in the areas of energy and food production . . . This has made all the more evident the crisis long affecting the multilateral system, which needs a profound rethinking if it is to respond adequately to the challenges of our time.”

The Pope delivered the appeal on Monday to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, in an address setting out key concerns for the new year.

He said that April 2023 would mark the 60th anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s peace encyclical, Pacem in Terris. This was issued during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when tenions between Russia and the US raised the nuclear threat to a high level.

The risk of “chance and unforeseen circumstance”, Pope Francis said, made the possession of nuclear weapons immoral, and he urged a swift resolution of problems over the stalled Iranian nuclear agreement: “A continual recourse to new and ever more sophisticated weaponry is sometimes justified by the argument that peace cannot be assured except on the basis of an equal balance of armaments.

“There is a need to change this way of thinking and move towards an integral disarmament, since no peace is possible where instruments of death are proliferating.”

Although it is the world’s smallest state, spread over just 110 acres, the Holy See has diplomatic ties with 184 countries, and a presence in 40 international organisations, including the United Nations and its agencies. The Roman Catholic Church’s global membership had doubled over three decades to 1.35 billion, and it is the world’s largest non-governmental provider of education and health care.

In his address, the Pope said that a 2018 provisional agreement with China on episcopal appointments had recently been extended for another two years. China has no formal ties with the Vatican.

He called for continued peace efforts in Syria, Yemen, Israel, Myanmar, and the Korean peninsula, as well as in West African countries “plagued by terrorist violence”. He confirmed that he would be visiting South Sudan in late January with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Peace would be possible, as Pope John XXIII had foreseen, through truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom, backed by education, respect for religious freedom, and “dialogue and encounter between different peoples and cultures”, Pope Francis said.

“The various international forums have seen an increase in polarisation and attempts to impose a single way of thinking. 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 conscience.”

Despite human-rights commitments by all states, women were often “considered second-class citizens”, the Pope said, while peace was also threatened by “the promotion of an alleged right to abortion”, and a “throwaway culture” that devalued the sick, the disabled, and the elderly.

He appealed again for an end to the death penalty, which merely attacked human “inviolability and dignity”, and an end to exploitation at work and to “heightened political and social polarisation”, which risked weakening democracy.

“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,” Pope Francis told the diplomats.

“It can be said that diplomacy is an exercise of humility, since it demands that we sacrifice something of our self-regard in order to build a relationship with others, to understand their thinking and points of view, and thus to oppose the human pride and arrogance that are the cause of every will to wage war.”

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