Cardinal: Vatican diplomats have mission to save souls, build peace

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Over the centuries, the international community has developed criteria for determining whether a war is just and for regulating conduct in combat; now it needs clearer guidelines for "humanitarian intervention" and for post-conflict reconciliation, said the Vatican secretary of state.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis' top aide and chief coordinator of the Vatican diplomatic corps, also warned against indifference toward situations of conflict around the world.

Meeting reporters before a speech at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University March 11, he called for vigilance, saying, "The greatest danger is this: that we forget the wars, and these conflicts get gangrenous and continue to provoke great suffering."

The conflict in Ukraine and the continued fighting in Syria and Iraq are no longer getting the kind of public attention they should, he said. "Unfortunately, we get used to these things" and indifference grows. "Even the conflict in Syria, which continues to be devastating, no longer attracts the attention it once did."

Parolin said as far as the war in eastern Ukraine, "we are following the situation closely," supporting all efforts "to find a negotiated and peaceful way out of the crisis."

He also told reporters that although the Vatican and China do not have diplomatic relations, they do have contact; "there is a desire to dialogue, a dialogue that has its rhythm and moments, and we hope it can lead to some kind of result."

In his speech at the university, he said too often, even with the best intentions, people approach peacebuilding and conflict resolution with a one-sided approach, ignoring how many events and situations combine to ignite a war.

If one made a word cloud of the factors, he said, it would include weapons, military spending, internal conflict, "ideological and religious tensions, racial hatred, poverty, climate change, hunger [and] natural resources," but -- unlike a classic word cloud -- none of the words would be significantly larger than the others.

Vatican diplomacy, as a mission motivated by a spiritual concern for people who are created in God's image, tries to take a holistic approach and address the multiple factors that can put lives in danger, he said.

The Vatican's full diplomatic relations with 179 nations, the European Union and the Palestinian State, plus its observer status at the United Nations and related agencies, he said, is evidence of its multifaceted approach.

Over the centuries, he said, international law -- with contributions from popes, Vatican ambassadors and Christian thinkers -- has developed criteria for determining when recourse to armed force is justified and what behavior in war is acceptable.

The changing dynamics of war, especially with the growth of terrorism and terrorist groups waging full-scale war, make it urgent, he said, for the international community: to elaborate norms to prevent war -- including, perhaps, by forcing sides in conflict to a kind of binding arbitration; to spell out norms for humanitarian intervention, including how to certify the need for international military action aimed at defending helpless civilians; and, finally, to design comprehensive programs to promote reconciliation and justice once a conflict has ended.

"When peace is at stake," he said, "questions to be faced in the post-conflict phase are very clear" and include the return of displaced people; helping local and central governments resume functioning; promoting economic recovery; and safeguarding the artistic and cultural heritage, including religious art and architecture.

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