Francis invites European young people to learn from the example of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to go to war for Hitler.
Pope Francis has said that the war in Ukraine calls for a rethinking of the doctrine of “just war.” In an address to young people gathered for a European youth conference, he seemed to urge more youth to be conscientious objectors.
The idea of a united Europe arose from a powerful yearning for peace in the wake of the numerous wars fought on this continent, and it led to a 70-year period of peace. Now we must all commit ourselves to putting an end to this dreadful war, where, as usual, a few powerful people decide and send thousands of young people to fight and die. In cases like this, it is legitimate to rebel!
The Pope has spoken out against war countless times, and often recalls the tragic loss of life of young people – especially, in the past, a country’s young men.
Last weekend, in an interview with Argentina’s Telam, he recalled his visits to various European war cemeteries.
“I saw the age of the dead and I cried,” he said, mourning “those dead boys.” “I’m not embarrassed to say it.”
“And during the commemoration of the Normandy landings, I thought of the 30,000 boys who died on those beaches. Troops were ordered to storm the beaches, as the Nazis were waiting for them. Is that justified? Visiting the military cemeteries in Europe helps it dawn on you.”
With your whole life before you
In his message to the European youth conference, he wondered if young people wouldn’t lead the world with fewer wars:
Someone has said that, if the world were ruled by women, there would not be so many wars, because those who have the mission of giving life cannot make death choices. In a similar vein, I like to think that if the world were ruled by young people, there would not be so many wars. Those who have their whole life ahead of them do not want to ruin it and throw it away, but to live it to the full.
A blessed objector
He then invited the youth to get to know a young father, beatified by Benedict XVI, who died for resisting service in Hitler’s army.
I would like to invite you to get to know the extraordinary figure of a young objector, a young European with “a broad outlook,” who fought against Nazism during the Second World War. His name was Franz Jägerstätter, and he was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI. Franz was a young Austrian who, because of his Catholic faith, made a conscientious objection to the injunction to swear allegiance to Hitler and go to war. As a boy, he was cheerful, likeable and carefree, but as he matured, thanks also to his wife Franziska, with whom he had three children, he changed his life and developed profound convictions. When called to arms, he refused, because he felt it was unjust to kill innocent lives. His decision triggered harsh reactions towards him from his community, the mayor, and even members of his family. A priest tried to dissuade him for the sake of his family. Everyone was against him, except his wife Franziska, who, despite knowing the price to be paid, always stood by her husband and supported him to the end. Despite cajoling and torture, Franz preferred to be killed than to kill. He considered the war totally unjustified. If all the young men called to arms had done as he did, Hitler would not have been able to carry out his diabolical plans. To triumph, evil needs accomplices.
Franz Jägerstätter was executed in the same prison where his contemporary Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German Lutheran theologian and anti-Nazi, was also imprisoned and met the same tragic end.