CNEWA

CNEWA Connections: Confronting the Causes and Consequences of War

Over the last few months, a common refrain has been, “When will this year be over?”  Most would agree: 2020 hasn’t been easy.

At the very start of 2020, Pope Francis greeted Vatican diplomats with ominous words. “The new year,” he told them, “does not seem to be marked by encouraging signs.”  He spoke of wars, uprisings and crises facing the planet and “the present geopolitical context.” It was a reminder that the Church lives in the world, but often in a state of tension with the world.

The relationship between the followers of Jesus and the world/state goes back to the Gospel itself, where in Luke 20:22 someone tried to trick Jesus by asking whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, the Roman occupier.

We see it elsewhere, too. In his letter to the Romans (13:1-7) Paul admonishes Christians to be obedient to the Roman Empire. One has to note, however, that this was written before Nero started systematically persecuting Christians in 64. Throughout history, from Augustine’s “City of God”(413-426)to Vatican II’s Constitution “Gaudium et Spes: The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (1973), Christian thinkers have evaluated and re-evaluated how Christians — the church — can live faithfully in the world. The relationship of the church to the world and state is a dynamic one that changes with time.

On the one hand Christians live in a specific geographical space—a country with a culture and government —and time, or a point in history. And yet, at the same time they form the universal Body of Christ in which “if one part [if the body] is hurt, all the parts share its pain. And if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Those who follow the workings of the Catholic Church on the international stage have noticed that Pope Francis is concerned and has been warning about the dangers of “nationalism.” In the Italian press “nationalism” sometimes appears as soverenismo, which, in turn, sometimes gets translated (unfortunately) as “sovereignism.” Pope Francis is careful to distinguish nationalism from what is generally referred to a patriotism. In his address to the participants in the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (2 May 2019) Francis states: “The church has always encouraged love of one’s people, of country; respect for the value of cultural expressions, uses and customs and for the just ways of living in peoples.”

Francis, however, is aware how nationalism can become toxic and become “focused on exclusion and hatred of others, when it becomes hostile, wall-building nationalism, or even racism and ant-Semitism” (ibid.)  In his address to the members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See (7 January 2019) Francis recalled the 100th anniversary of the League of Nations. He noted that, while the League was unsuccessful, the same attitudes that hindered the League “are presently threatening the stability of the major international organizations.” This results in “a search for unilateral solutions and, in the end, the domination of the powerful over the weak.”

“Those who follow the workings of the Catholic Church on the international stage have noticed that Pope Francis is concerned and has been warning about the dangers of nationalism.”

Elias D. Mallon, S.A. Ph.D.

Francis realistically recognizes the weaknesses of globalization and the “inability of the multilateral system to offer effective solutions to a number of long unresolved situations…or confront…challenges in a way satisfactory to all.” Francis is in no way a wild-eyed globalist romantic. However, he also realizes that policies “determined more by the search for a quick partisan consensus than by the patient pursuit of the common good” will lead to oppression of the weak and ultimately conflict between the strong.

Nationalism in 20th century Europe led to two World Wars in 30 years and the death of between 50 and 80 million people. Nuclear weapons of mass destruction were employed only at the very end of World War II. The casualties of a nuclear World War III would be immensely greater. In an interview with La Stampa, an Italian daily newspaper on 8 September 2019, Francis stated “Sovereignism reveals an attitude toward isolation. I am concerned because we hear speeches ….. ‘Us first, We…We…’ these are frightening thoughts. Sovereignism means being closed. A country should be sovereign but not closed. Sovereignty must be defended, but relations with other countries…must also be protected and promoted. Sovereignism is an exaggeration that ends badly; it leads to war.”

Pope Francis has sometimes been called “prophetic.” One does not need to be a prophet, however, to see that when the international community is governed by the self-interests of the powerful, it is only a matter of time before two or more powerful countries have irreconcilably competing self-interests. It happened at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 and a mere 25 years later on 1 September 1939 at the Polish border. Francis sees this as a real danger, and many think he is right.

This year, the United Nations observes its 75th anniversary. It was founded after the horrific loss of life from two World Wars, the deaths of up to 80 million people and untold destruction. One did not have to argue then that there was nothing worse than war. People knew it first-hand. Some 75 years later, there have been numerous conflicts but they have been removed from the centers of political and military power. They became “other peoples’ wars.”

CNEWA has spent nearly a century serving and ministering in corners of the world that have been brutally scarred by war. The humanitarian toll has been enormous — measured in widows and orphans, but also in poverty, illness, desperation and fear. We know only too well that they are not really “other people’s wars,” but wars that touch all members of the human family. We cannot look away or walk away.  

But what about the rest of the world?  One wonders — fearfully — if that horror of war that created the United Nations still exists.

It is a concern shared by Pope Francis. In his 2020 message for World Peace Day, he wrote:

“War, as we know, often begins with the inability to accept the diversity of others, which then fosters attitudes of aggrandizement and domination born of selfishness and pride, hatred and the desire to caricature, exclude and even destroy the other. War is fueled by a perversion of relationships, by hegemonic ambitions, by abuses of power, by fear of others and by seeing diversity as an obstacle.” 

Seeing symptoms of this all around us, Francis concluded:

“Peace will not be obtained unless it is hoped for. This means believing in the possibility of peace, believing that others need peace just as much as we do. Here we can find inspiration in the love that God has for each of us: a love that is liberating, limitless, gratuitous and tireless.”

Francis is acutely aware of the dangerous realities the world is facing right now: disdain for the other, looking upon compromise as weakness, dismissal of any sacrifice for a common good, a sense of invincibility spawned of ignorance and arrogance, a sense of selfish entitlement. His words — spoken to the world on behalf of the church — are a warning.  

The question is: is the world listening?    

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