Francis cries out for end to 'true world war fought piecemeal'

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Outlining the world's armed conflicts and struggles one-by-one to the national ambassadors accredited to the Vatican on Monday, Pope Francis cried out for an end to what he called a global "culture of rejection" that is causing "a true world war fought piecemeal."

"Today I wish to repeat a word quite dear to us: peace!" Francis exclaimed at the beginning of his address, saying that peace is hindered by the "tragic reality" of a global rejection culture "that severs the deepest and most authentic human bonds."

Adapting his frequent criticism of a "throwaway culture" for a geopolitical audience, Francis then told the ambassadors that such rejection "gives rise to a humanity filled with pain and constantly torn by tensions and conflicts of every sort."

"We see painful evidence of this in the events reported daily in the news, not least the tragic slayings which took place in Paris a few days ago," the pontiff continued.

"It saddens us to see the tragic consequences of this mentality of rejection and this 'culture of enslavement' in the never-ending spread of conflicts," said Francis. "Like a true world war fought piecemeal, they affect, albeit in different forms and degrees of intensity, a number of areas in our world."

"Here, in your presence, I appeal to the entire international community, as I do to the respective governments involved, to take concrete steps to bring about peace and to protect all those who are victims of war and persecution," Francis continued later in the address.

The pope was speaking Monday to the some 180 ambassadors accredited to the Holy See in an annual event hosted by the Vatican for the exchange of New Year's greetings between them and the pontiff.

Continuing on themes that have marked his papacy, particularly the need for encounter and dialogue between peoples, Francis spoke to the ambassadors for about 35 minutes.

Outlining the global conflicts before then moving to what he said had been examples of the "fruits of peace" in the past year -- including as one of those fruits his own role in the reopening of dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba -- Francis seemed to be reaffirming the Vatican's unique diplomatic role in the various parts of the world.

The pontiff also forcefully recalled the words of his predecessor Pope Paul VI to the United Nations in 1965, acknowledging that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the international organization.

Quoting at length from Paul's remarks then -- "never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations of all mankind" -- Francis said "this is likewise my own hope-filled prayer for this new year."

The first conflict Francis addressed Monday was the continuing violence in Ukraine, which he called a "dramatic theatre of combat." The pontiff said it was his hope that "through dialogue the efforts presently being made to end the hostilities will be consolidated, and that the parties involved will embark as quickly as possible ... upon the path of mutual trust and fraternal reconciliation."

Francis spoke then widely of the situation of the Middle East, addressing both the stalled Israeli/Palestinian peace process and the continuing violence throughout the region.

While not referring to the so-called Islamic State by name, Francis pointedly critiqued religious fundamentalism, saying it is "a consequence of the throwaway culture being applied to God."

"Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext," said the pope.

"In the face of such unjust aggression, which also strikes Christians and other ethnic and religious groups in the region, a unanimous response is needed, one which, within the framework of international law, can end the spread of acts of violence, restore harmony and heal the deep wounds which the ongoing conflicts have caused," he said.

The pontiff then addressed conflicts in Nigeria, Libya, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He spoke specifically of the violence suffered by many women in conflicts, saying "nor can we overlook the fact that wars involve another horrendous crime, the crime of rape."

"This is a most grave offense against the dignity of women, who are not only violated in body but also in spirit, resulting in a trauma hard to erase and with effects on society as well," he said. "Sadly, even apart from situations of war, all too many women even today are victims of violence."

Francis then spoke at length about the struggles faced by refugees and migrants around the world, saying that in addition to the uncertainties they face in leaving their homelands they also have to face "the drama of rejection" when arriving in new countries.

"A change of attitude is needed on our part, moving from indifference and fear to genuine acceptance of others," said the pope.

Francis also reemphasized his critique of certain aspects of globalization, saying it often "levels out differences and even discards cultures, cutting them off from those factors that shape each people’s identity and constitute a legacy essential to their sound social development."

"In a drab, anonymous world, it is easy to understand the difficulties and the discouragement felt by many people who have literally lost the sense of being alive," he continued.

Moving from addressing the world's conflicts to offering thanks to God "for the occasions of dialogue and encounter that he has granted us" in the past year, Francis mentioned specifically the reopening of dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba.

"One example close to my heart of how dialogue can build bridges comes from the recent decision of the United States of America and Cuba to end a lack of communication that has endured for more than half a century, and to initiate a rapprochement for the benefit of their respective citizens," he said.

Francis also expressed gratitude for examples of dialogue in Albania, the Philippines, Colombia, Venezuela, and Iran. In the last country, he expressed hope that "a definitive agreement" could be reached soon regarding Iran's use of nuclear energy for peace purposes.

Francis also said he noted "with satisfaction" the commitment of the U.S. to close its detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Ending Monday with his acknowledgement of the 70th anniversary of the U.N., Francis made special note that 2015 is supposed to see the drafting of a new international climate change agreement. Ad-libbing for the only time in his speech to the ambassadors, Francis added: "Urgent, this!"

Just hours following the conclusion of his speech Monday, Francis is taking his message of peace on the road in a weeklong trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

The seventh apostolic visit of his pontificate, Francis will first land in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo Tuesday morning, where he will visit with newly elected president Maithripala Sirisena.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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