Published by AMerican Magazine
“World War III has been declared,” Pope Francis said in a wide-ranging conversation with the editors of European Jesuit publications on May 19, referring to Russia’s attack against Ukraine. The conversation was published by the Italian Jesuit publication La Civiltà Cattolica and the secular newspaper La Stampa on June 14 and is sure to spark discussion.
“The world is at war,” he said. “For me, today, World War III has been declared. This is something that should give us pause for thought. What is happening to humanity that we have had three world wars in a century?”
Francis spoke about the complex background to the war in Ukraine and the interests involved, including those of arms manufacturers. He denounced “the brutality and ferocity” of the Russian troops and praised the heroism and courage of the Ukrainians. At the same time, he said, “we do not see the whole drama behind the war, which was perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented.”
“For me, today, World War III has been declared. This is something that should give us pause for thought. What is happening to humanity that we have had three world wars in a century?”
The pope has faced criticism for not calling out the Russian president by name and for suggesting that “perhaps” NATO may have provoked the war “by barking at the gates” of Russia. But in the new interview, the pope said he was quoting what one head of state had told him. Even so, Francis denied that he is “pro-Putin.”
“I am simply against reducing complexity to the distinction between good guys and bad guys without reasoning about roots and interests, which are complex,” he said. “While we see the ferocity, the cruelty of Russian troops, we must not forget real problems if we want them to be solved.”
A Jesuit editor from Eastern Europe noted that “we are living through a war of attrition and write about it in our journals,” and asked the pope: “What are your suggestions for communicating the situation in which we are living? How can we contribute to a peaceful future?”
“To answer this question, we have to move away from the normal pattern of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’: Little Red Riding Hood was good and the wolf was the bad guy,” Francis responded. “Here there are no metaphysical good guys and bad guys, in an abstract sense. Something global is emerging, with elements that are very much intertwined.”
“I am simply against reducing complexity to the distinction between good guys and bad guys without reasoning about roots and interests, which are complex,” the pope said.
Regarding his comments about NATO’s role in precipitating the war, the pope revealed: that “a couple of months before the war started, I met a head of state, a wise man, who speaks very little, very wise indeed. After we talked about the things he wanted to talk about, he told me that he was very concerned about the way NATO was moving.
“I asked him why, and he said: ‘They are barking at the gates of Russia. They do not understand that the Russians are imperialists and will allow no foreign power to approach them.’ He concluded, ‘The situation could lead to war.’ This was his opinion. On Feb. 24, the war began. That head of state was able to read the signs of what was taking place.”