For a second time Pope Francis has spoken of a third world war. On his flight back from Korea the Holy Father lamented the rise of anarchic violence around the world saying, “Today we are in a world at war everywhere. A man said to me, ‘Father, we are in World War III, but spread out in small pockets everywhere.’ He was right.”
On this centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, Pope Francis visited a war memorial in Northern Italy and spoke again of a third world war, “Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction.”
He said, “War is madness!…War is irrational; its only plan is to bring destruction: it seeks to grow by destroying…greed, intolerance, the lust for power. These motives underlie the decision to go to war and they are too often justified by an ideology ….”
The Catholic Church says “No!” to war and the Lord Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Must Christians then be pacifists? In the Middle Ages, theologians developed the just war theory, but many believe that guidelines for medieval culture and technology are impossible to apply in today’s global, hi-tech society. When a drone, in the mountains of Afghanistan, capable of firing missiles is controlled by a man in front of a computer in Arizona at the orders of another man in Washington, what hope is there of discussing the limitations of war with a medieval theory? When war is fractured into isolated violence which might flare up anywhere, can theories about the deployment of armies and mass warfare apply?
In the flight home from Korea, Pope Francis admitted that armed force is permitted to stop unjust aggressors, but he spoke out against bombs because they kill innocent civilians, and he stressed that the point was to stop the injustice, not to completely destroy the aggressor. He also emphasized that such an effort needed to be undertaken by an international coalition.
In a new book “Jesus Christ Peace Maker,” Terrence Rynne argues that Catholics are turning away from the just war theory and moving toward becoming a proactive force in making and maintaining peace. While the Catholic just war theory may be too antique for modern conflicts, the irony is that the Catholic Church with her global reach is the one entity that might have the local contacts and confidence to network with enemies and work toward peace.
Aid workers have long since discovered that the Catholic Church has troops on the ground. We have a global infrastructure which penetrates to the grassroots level. Relationships of trust and confidence exist between Catholics and the surrounding communities through our charitable and faith-based works. These same structures can be used not only to minister to those wounded and displaced by war, but also for active peacemaking and reconciliation.
In this spirit, Pope Francis has sent Cardinal Fernando Filoni to Iraq to deliver spiritual and financial support to the Christian and Yazidi minorities. The Pope has also met with the exiled Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Amel Shimoun Nona, and used the megaphone of the papacy for Archbishop Nona to deliver his message. The Archbishop warns the developed nations of the West that Muslims do not share the same values of the equality of all humans: religious freedom, and tolerance. He warns liberal Westerners, saying, “If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed into your home.”
In another peacemaking effort, Pope Francis has called on Muslim leaders to denounce persecution by the Islamic State— threatening to break relations with those who do not. The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue said, “The situation of the Christians, Yazidis and other [minorities] demands that religious leaders, and above all Muslim religious leaders, people engaged in interreligious dialogue, take a clear and courageous stance. All must be unanimous in unambiguous condemnation of these crimes and denounce the invoking of religion to justify them.”
In the face of a third world war that is being fought through thousands of flare-ups, the path forward is neither pacifism nor massive military response. Instead, Catholics should be on the front line bringing the compassion of Christ to those who are suffering, and offering the forgiveness and peace of Christ to those who desperately need to be reconciled.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s latest book is The Romance of Religion—Fighting for Goodness, Truth and Beauty. His blog is www.dwightlongenecker.com.