Pope Francis on Middle East: War should never be considered normal

Bari, Italy, Feb 23, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- War is madness, Pope Francis told bishops gathered in the Italian city of Bari Sunday in a speech that warned against populist sentiments and condemned countries that sell weapons that fund wars in the Middle East.

“War can never be mistaken for normality or accepted as an inescapable way to regulate divergences and opposing interests. Never,” Pope Francis said Feb. 23 in Bari, Italy.

“The international community has been content with military interventions, whereas it should have built institutions that can guarantee equal opportunities and enable citizens to assume their responsibility for the common good,” he said.

The pope also denounced “the serious sin of hypocrisy” committed by “many countries,” who at international conferences and meetings “talk about peace and then sell weapons to countries that are at war.”

Pope Francis addressed more than 50 bishops from 19 Mediterranean countries gathered in the coastal city of Bari for the “Mediterranean, Frontier of Peace” meeting taking place Feb. 19-23.

The Italian bishops conference who organized the five-day meeting have described it as a “synod” for bishops from North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe to discuss issues pertinent to the Mediterranean region.

Pope Francis, who traveled by helicopter to participate in the last day of the meeting, used the opportunity to underline the importance of working toward peace through dialogue in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The Mediterranean region is currently threatened by outbreaks of instability and conflict, both in the Middle East and different countries of North Africa, as well as between various ethnic, religious or confessional groups,” he said. “Nor can we overlook the still unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, with the danger of inequitable solutions and, hence, a prelude to new crises.”

“The preaching of the Gospel cannot be detached from commitment to the common good; it impels us to act tirelessly as peacemakers,” Pope Francis said.

“For our part, brothers, let us speak out to demand that government leaders protect minorities and religious freedom. The persecution experienced above all – but not only – by Christian communities is a heart-rending fact that cannot leave us indifferent,” he said.

The pope also spoke out on behalf of migrants and refugees, including the many who have died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea by boat in recent years.

“What use is a society of constant technological progress, if it becomes increasingly indifferent to its members in need? In preaching the Gospel, we hand on a way of thinking that respects each person by our unremitting effort to make the Church a sign of special care for the vulnerable and the poor,” he said.

“In the Mediterranean region, these include all who are fleeing war or who have left their homelands in search of a humanly dignified life. The number of these brothers and sisters – forced to abandon their loved ones and their lands, and to face conditions of extreme insecurity – has risen as a result of spreading conflicts and increasingly dramatic environmental and climatic conditions,” Francis added.

The pope called on the bishops to see the “cemetery” of the Mediterranean Sea as “a place of future resurrection” for the entire region.

“We can never resign ourselves to the fact that someone who seeks hope by way of the sea can die without receiving help, or that someone from afar can fall prey to sexual exploitation, be underpaid or recruited by gangs,” he said.

Pope Francis said that a sense of fear of “what is instrumentally painted as an invasion” fuels the rejection of others.

“The rhetoric of the clash of civilizations only serves to justify violence and fuel hatred,” he added.

“Of course, hospitality and dignified integration are stages of a difficult process; however, it is unthinkable to be able to face it by raising walls. It frightens me when I listen to some speeches by some leaders of the new forms of populism, and it makes me hear speeches that sowed fear and then hatred in the 1930s of the last century,” Pope Francis said.

“All too often, history has known conflicts and struggles based on the distorted notion that we are defending God by opposing anyone who does not share our set of beliefs,” he said. “Indeed, extremism and fundamentalism deny the dignity of the human person and his or her religious freedom, and thus lead to moral decline and the spread of an antagonistic view of human relationships.”

To counter this, the pope said: “we need to develop a theology of acceptance and dialogue leading to a renewed understanding and proclamation of the teaching of Scripture.”

Francis said that amid deep divisions in societies, Catholics are called to offer witness of unity.

“Just as Jesus lived and worked in a context of differing cultures and beliefs, so we find ourselves in a multifaceted environment scarred by divisions and forms of inequality that lead to instability. Amid deep fault lines and economic, religious, confessional and political conflicts, we are called to offer our witness to unity and peace. We do so prompted by our faith and membership in the Church, seeking to understand the contribution that we, as disciples of the Lord, can make to all the men and women of the Mediterranean region,” he said.

Pope Francis met the Mediterranean bishops in Bari’s Basilica of St. Nicholas, where he prayed in the crypt, venerating the relics of the saint.

In his Angelus address in Bari, Pope Francis prayed particularly for the people of Syria who have suffered from many years of war.

“While we are gathered here to pray and reflect on peace and the fate of the peoples facing the Mediterranean, on the other side of this sea, particularly in the northwest of Syria, a huge tragedy is taking place,” he said.

Violence in northwestern Syrian province of Idlib has displaced more than half a million people, primarily women and children, since December. Pope Francis has repeatedly called for peaceful negotiation and humanitarian protections during the Russian-backed Syrian government’s offensive Idlib, Syria’s last rebel-held territory, which borders Turkey.

The pope said Feb. 23 that the international community has been silent in the face of the tears of suffering children, and called on all actors involved to “put aside calculations and interests to safeguard the lives of civilians and many innocent children who pay the consequences.”

Pope Francis told the Italian bishops that war is madness because “it is crazy to destroy houses, bridges, factories, hospitals, and to kill people and destroy resources rather than building human and economic relationships.”

“There is no reasonable alternative to peace, because every attempt at exploitation or supremacy demeans both its author and its target. It shows a myopic grasp of reality, since it can offer no future to either of the two. War is thus the failure of every plan, human and divine,” the pope said.

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