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Pope Francis: ‘I believe it is time to rethink the concept of a just war’

"A war may be just, there is the right to defend oneself. But we need to rethink the way that the concept is used nowadays”

In an interview published Friday, Pope Francis said that he believes it is time to rethink the concept of “just war.”

“I believe it is time to rethink the concept of a ‘just war.’ A war may be just, there is the right to defend oneself. But we need to rethink the way that the concept is used nowadays,” Pope Francis said.

“I have said that the use and possession of nuclear weapons are immoral. Resolving conflicts through war is saying no to verbal reasoning, to being constructive. … War is essentially a lack of dialogue.”

The pope spoke in an interview that was conducted on June 20 by Télam, Argentina’s national news agency. A 1-hour video of the interview was published on July 1. 

In response to a question about how the lack of dialogue is an aggravating factor in the current state of world affairs, the pope said that there is “an entire infrastructure of arms sales” that supports war today.

“A person who knew about statistics told me, I don’t remember the numbers well, that if weapons were not manufactured for a year, there would be no hunger in the world,” he said.

Pope Francis described how he cried during visits to war cemeteries in Europe, including the Redipuglia World War I memorial and Anzio World War II cemetery in Italy.

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“And when the anniversary of the landing in Normandy was commemorated, I thought of the 30,000 boys who were left dead on the beach. They opened the boats and said, ‘get off, get off,’ they were ordered while the Nazis waited for them. Is that justified? Visiting military cemeteries in Europe helps one realize this,” he said.

The pope also said that the situation in Europe today shows that the United Nations “has no power” to stop a war.

“After World War II, trust was placed in the United Nations. It is not my intention to offend anybody, I know there are very good people working there, but at this point, the UN has no power to assert,” he said.

“It does help to avoid wars — and I am thinking of Cyprus, where there are Argentine troops. But to stop a war, to solve a conflict situation like the one we are living today in Europe, or like the ones lived in other parts of the world, it has no power.”

Church teaching on the morality of war is based on a theory expounded by St. Augustine in the 4th century known as just war theory and recognizes a potentially just reason to engage in war under certain conditions.

Theologians told CNA in 2019 that applying this theory to modern warfare, which often involves missile and air strikes rather than pitched battles between troops, is more complicated, yet normative.

The papal interview touched on a number of themes, including the Covid-19 pandemic, intergenerational dialogue, and climate change.

“You can rest assured that God always forgives, and we, men, forgive every now and then. But nature never forgives. It pays us back. If we use nature for our profit, it will bear down on us. A warmed-up world prevents the construction of a fraternal and just society,” the pope said.

When asked about the Catholic Church in Latin America, the pope said that it has a long history of being “close to the people.”

Pope Francis said: “In a way, this is the experience of the Latin American Church, although there have been attempts of ideologization, such as the use of Marxist concepts in the analysis of reality by Liberation Theology. That was an ideological exploitation …”

“There is a difference between the people and populisms,” he added.

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