Francis declares 'the world is at war' after French priest's slaying

Pope Francis stands next to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, as he speaks to journalists aboard his flight from Rome to Krakow, Poland, July 27. (CNS/Paul Haring)
This article appears in the Francis in Poland feature series. View the full series.

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE TO POLAND — Pope Francis has responded to the brutal killing of a French priest by two terrorists aligned with the so-called Islamic State by declaring that the world is in a state of war.

In brief remarks to journalists aboard the papal plane Wednesday afternoon, the pontiff said that while many speak of a situation of "insecurity" around the world "the true word is war."

"For some time we can say that the world has been at war, piece by piece," said Francis, speaking in solemn tones about the slaying Tuesday of an 85-year-old parish priest during a celebration of the Mass in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France.

Comparing the current situation to World Wars I and II, the pope said: "It is perhaps not as organic, but it is organized and it is war."

"This holy priest who died in the moment of offering the prayer for the whole church is one but how many Christians, how many innocents, how many children?" the pontiff asked.

"Let's not be afraid to say this truth," said Francis. "The world is at war."

Francis was speaking Wednesday about the death of Fr. Jacques Hamel, who was killed by two attackers wielding knives Tuesday. The attackers held three other worshippers hostage before being killed by French security forces.

Related: Police raise security threat level in Krakow but say no concrete danger​ (July 26, 2016)

The Islamic State group has called the attackers "agents." French authorities said one had attempted to reach Syria last year but was arrested in Germany and was returned to France, where he was place under surveillance.

The pontiff clarified at the end of his remarks on the plane that he was not speaking of a religious war.

"There is war of interests, there is war for money, there is war for natural resources, there is war for domination of peoples," said the pope. "These are the wars."

"Someone could think that I was speaking of a war of religion," he continued. "No. All religions want peace."

The pope also praised the response of French President Francois Hollande to the attack, saying the leader had acted "like a brother" in his response.

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

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