Pope: In face of nuclear threat and risks to freedom, let us build peace together

In his address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis calls for an "immediate end to this senseless conflict" in Ukraine and the abolition of the death penalty, reiterates the two-state solution in the Holy Land, underscores the threat of nuclear war, and makes an appeal on behalf of women and against abortion.

By Salvatore Cernuzio

Pope Francis addressed a host of international themes in his annual new year's meeting with the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. He highlighted key challenges facing our world and affecting everyone, such as the war in Ukraine and the "wake of death and destruction" it leaves behind, with people dying not only from bombs but also from hunger and cold. He mentioned the political and social tensions in Brazil, but also in Peru and Haiti, the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, the death penalty in Iran, and the exclusion of women from education in Afghanistan. He devoted attention to crises around the world: war-torn Syria and Yemen with populations dealing with deadly landmines; terrorism in Africa; the conflicts in the South Caucasus; the social, economic and political crisis in Lebanon; and the tragedy of migration that has turned the Mediterranean into a graveyard.

World War III

In his extensive address to the diplomats held traditionally at the beginning of the new year, the Pope gave an overview of the global situation, mentioning the troubled areas where conflicts and tensions are taking place today on the five continents. The reality that emerges is one of a "third world war", truly global in nature, "where conflicts involve only certain areas of the planet directly, but in fact involve them all."

Democracy weakening

Faced with this world scene, the Pope called on everyone to build peace together and reinvigorate democracy which, due to "heightened political and social polarization," is weakening in various countries, along with "the breadth of freedom that it enables, albeit with all the limitations of any human system." Peru, Haiti and in recent hours Brazil, as seen with yesterday's assault on institutional buildings, are examples of situations "laden with tensions and forms of violence" that such polarization brings.

 "There is a constant need to overcome partisan ways of thinking and to work for the promotion of the common good."

China agreement

Pope Francis' reflections, "a call for peace in a world that is witnessing heightened divisions and wars," as he described it begins with gratitude to the ambassadors for their messages of condolence on the death of Benedict XVI. He also mentions the extension of the Provisional Agreement regarding the appointments of Bishops between China and the Holy See, "in the context of a respectful and constructive dialogue."

"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."

Nuclear threat

The Pope's thoughts then turned to the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, now marking its 60th anniversary, written by John XXIII while the threat of a nuclear war over the Cuban missile crisis was still alive. The Pope underscored that, "humanity would have been only a step away from its own annihilation, had it not proved possible to make dialogue prevail...Sadly, today too, the nuclear threat is raised, and the world once more feels fear and anguish." 

He then reaffirmed that "the possession of atomic weapons is immoral" because, as Pope John XXIII observed, "there is no denying that the conflagration could be started by some chance and unforeseen circumstance." He underscored the risks nuclear weapons pose and "the appalling slaughter and destruction that war would bring in its wake."

In this area, Pope Francis expressed particular concern about the stalemate in negotiations over the Iran nuclear agreement and hopes for an immediate solution for "the sake of ensuring a more secure future."

Ending war in Ukraine

The Pope then focused his thoughts on Ukraine and condemned attacks on civilian infrastructure that "that cause lives to be lost not only from gunfire and acts of violence, but also from hunger and freezing cold."

"Today, I feel bound to renew my appeal for an immediate end to this senseless conflict, whose effects are felt in entire regions, also outside of Europe, due to its repercussions in the areas of energy and food production, above all in Africa and in the Middle East."

Abolishing the death penalty

The Pope looked at other areas of the world where there are areas of tensions. He mentioned Iran, where the death penalty is still practised (a few days ago the latest executions), following demonstrations calling for greater respect for the dignity of women.

"The death penalty cannot be employed for a purported State justice, since it does not constitute a deterrent nor render justice to victims, but only fuels the thirst for vengeance. I appeal, then, for an end to the death penalty, which is always inadmissible since it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person, in the legislation of all the countries of the world. We cannot overlook the fact that, up until his or her very last moment, a person can repent and change."

Two-state solution

The Pope then turned his attention to Syria, a land still plagued by poverty and sanctions: "The rebirth of that country must come about through needed reforms, including constitutional reforms," said the Pope.  With the same anguish, he recalled the increasing violence between Palestinians and Israelis, causing victims and "complete mutual distrust." The called for the status quo of Jerusalem to be guaranteed and respected, and at the same time, reaffirmed a position already expressed by the Holy See:

"I express my hope that the authorities of the State of Israel and those of the State of Palestine can 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 all the pertinent resolutions of the United Nations."

Challenges in Africa, the Caucasus and Middle East

Continuing is address, Pope Francis called attention to the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he will travel at the end of January as a "pilgrim of peace" and where he hopes the violence in the east of the country will cease. Likewise, he added his voice to the cry for peace of the people of South Sudan.

He then urged a "ceasefire" in the South Caucasus, calling for "the release of military and civil prisoners." Regarding Yemen, he denounced the deaths of civilians due to landmines, despite the ceasefire, while on Ethiopia, he urged the international community to strengthen its commitment to tackle the humanitarian crisis.

The Pope voiced his concerns of the crises experienced by the peoples of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Nigeria, with hopes that the transition processes underway in Sudan, Mali, Chad, Guinea and Burkina Faso will take place "in respect for the legitimate aspirations of the populations involved." 

Turning to Asia, the Pope expressed his worry over Myanmar, "which for two years now has experienced violence, suffering and death," as well as for the Korean peninsula, where good will and commitment will strengthen "for the sake of achieving greatly-desired peace and prosperity for the entire Korean people."

Integral disarmament

"All conflicts nonetheless bring to the fore the lethal consequences of a continual recourse to the production of new and ever more sophisticated weaponry, which is sometimes justified by the argument that peace cannot be assured except on the basis of an equal balance of armaments," the Pope affirmed.

"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."

Respect for women

To "weave anew the threads of peace," the Bishop of Rome invites us to start again from truth, justice, freedom and solidarity. First of all, he says, we must respect the human person's "right to life and to physical integrity." He said this concerns especially women who even today, in many countries, are considered "second-class citizens" or 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.".

"Women can offer their unique contribution to the life of society and to be the first allies of peace."

No to abortion

And peace also demands that we defend life, a good today endangered "all too often even in the mother’s womb, through the promotion of an alleged right to abortion,” says the Pope. "No one, however, can claim rights over the life of another human being, especially one who is powerless and thus completely defenseless." His appeal is 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."

Fear of life

Basically, the Pope observes, there is a "fear of life," the same one that causes fear in creating a family and bringing children into the world. Italy is an example of "a dangerous fall in the birthrate," the Pope points out. "Fears are fueled by ignorance and prejudice, and thus easily degenerate into conflicts," he added.

Education, antidote to fear

The antidote is education: "The work of education always requires showing integral respect for the person, and for his or her natural physiognomy, and avoiding the imposition of a novel and confused vision of the human being." 

"It is unacceptable that part of the population should be excluded from education, as is happening to Afghan women."

While addressing the topic of education, the Pope made a strong appeal to nations to "find the courage to reverse the embarrassing and disproportionate relationship between public funding for education and expenditures on armaments!"

Religious Freedom

The Pope also strongly called for the universal recognition of religious freedom, because "troubling that people are being persecuted simply because they publicly profess their faith." And this happens even in countries where Christians are not a minority.

"Religious freedom, which cannot be reduced simply to freedom of worship, is one of the minimum requisites for a dignified way of life. Governments have the duty to protect this right and to ensure that each person, in a way compatible with the common good, enjoys the opportunity to act in accordance with his or her own conscience, also in the public sphere and in the exercise of their profession."

Religion, in fact, "provides genuine opportunities for dialogue and encounter between different peoples and cultures," the Pope affirmed, recalling the Document on Human Fraternity signed in 2019 in Abu-Dhabi.


With dialogue, what this divided world needs is justice, the Pope pointed out, which in concrete terms translates into multilateralism, something also in crisis, as the conflict in Ukraine has made clear: "This demands a reform of the bodies that allow it to function effectively, so that they can be truly representative of the needs and sensitivities of all peoples, and avoid procedures that give greater weight to some, to the detriment of others."

"It is not a matter of creating coalitions, but of providing opportunities for everyone to be partners in dialogue."

Ideological colonization

"Great good can be achieved by working together," Pope Francis assured, recalling "praiseworthy initiatives" in favor of migrants and disarmament, or combatting poverty and climate change. "Yet, 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." The risk is "drifting into what more and more appears as an ideological totalitarianism, " the Pope warned, "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."

These are what Pope Francis has called in the past "forms of ideological colonization". They, he says, can directly link "the provision of economic aid to the acceptance of such ideologies."  And they strain the internal debate in international organizations, setting up "the basis of power relations."

Of colonization, the Pope also speaks of the dramas experienced by the indigenous populations. This suffering, the Pope recalled, he was able to experience first-hand during his July trip to Canada." "Efforts to preclude or veto discussion will only fuel further divisions," he says.

Helping migrants

In conclusion, the Pope called for a shared solidarity because, as the pandemic showed us, "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." In particular, the Pope called for a greater and more focused commitment on the migration issue. He said migration is not an issue upon which we can "move ahead at random," saying we only need to look at the Mediterranean, where "those lost lives are emblematic of the shipwreck of civilization."

"In Europe, there is a pressing need to reinforce the regulatory framework through the approval of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, so as to put in place suitable policies for accepting, accompanying, promoting and integrating migrants," said the Pope.

Work and the environment

The Pope also called for "restoring dignity to business and work, combating all forms of exploitation that end up treating workers as a commodity" and to work for our common home, given the effects of climate change producing devastation, as happened witnessed in Pakistan.  

Our neighbor, brothers and sisters

"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," the Pope concluded. And "this can come about only 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."

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09 January 2023, 11:39