The only goal now for the Pope is to stop the war
The Pope is trying to do his best to stop the war with a realistic peace, which would consider justice and resolve – says Andrea TORNIELLI
Michał KŁOSOWSKI: Why Pope Francis has never mentioned Wladimir Putin as responsible for the war in Ukraine?
Andrea TORNIELLI: The fact that the pope has never named an aggressor during any war in the last two centuries is quite natural. Even saint John Paul the Second never done it. For example the war in the Balkans – John Paul the Second never mentioned Milosevitc, even though he committed many war crimes. The western media even named him „ The Balkan Hitler”.
It is not in the tradition and role of the church to name who is the aggressor. But, what the Pope has done is definitely he considered it wrong to call what’s going on in Ukraine a „military special operation” from the very beginning. Francis clearly stated it is a war, Russian aggression.
This is the first major military ground conflict on such scale in Europe since the World War II. If not naming who is guilty and who is not, what is Pope Francis’s goal for dealing with this ‚situation’?
The only goal now for the Pope is to stop the bombing, stop killing people. Simply: to stop the war. Secondly, He’ll try to get countries to think differently in the system of international relations. To have cooperation instead of deterrence. Thinking in terms of deterrence will only lead to World War 3, which will wipe out the human race – because of the existence of the nuclear weapon.
I’ll also add that it’s difficult to build long term peace in Europe without Russia…
Wladimir Putin’s goal is clearly not negotiating, but talking. After seeing what his troops are doing in Ukraine it is clear that he wants to destroy and overtake Ukraine and its people. Do you think it is possible to talk with someone who simply doesn’t want to talk?
The situation is difficult. We have to be very careful – Russia has nuclear weapons. We have to be creative. We cant only think in a fighting manner. We need to talk of peace. We need to think in a manner that won’t make any side feel like it’s being fought. As unfortunate and difficult as it sounds, this is the only way, even if one side doesn’t want to talk. We must keep trying. If we won’t – what will happen next?
It is very important to underline that this is not a conflict only between two states, not only between two countries. Also thats’s why it is hard for me to believe this will be resolved by Mr Putin and Mr Zelensky. This is a global conflict. Europe began speaking in a common voice now which is also very important. Hopefully this will keep bringing states together. Closer, and closer to keep peace in the future.
Why did Pope Francis go to the Russian embassy and why has he met by videocall with patriarch Cyryl on the first days of the war? Do you think there is a larger plan between these two events?
I understand that the decision to go to Russia’s embassy in the Vatican maybe seen as strange for many, because usually it’s the other way around, almost always in fact. It is the ambassadors that go and visit the Pope in the Vatican. But he wanted to go personally to the Russian ambassador. Pope Francis went to the ambassador because he is the representative of the Russian people. He wanted to underline the public message to Putin – simply to stop the war. To spare the lives of civilians.
There are questions: „Why the Pontiff didn’t went also to the Ukrainian Embassy?”
Well, the Pope has not gone to the Ukrainian embassy, because going there the same day would send a wrong message, that it means to put in the same level the aggressor and the victim of the aggression. Nonetheless, the Pope has and will express grief for the Ukrainian people.
About the video-meeting with Cyryl- I think that the explanation is simple: the Popes can’t ever close the relationship with brothers of other Christian confessions. They always have to keep some form of contact. Even if it is hard.
It has been almost two months since this war has been going on now. What other things can the Pope do to build peace?
He can simply focusing on the message of peace. You can see it in the gestures of the Pope, condemning the attacks, showing the Ukrainian flag, etc. But if you’re hoping the Pope will condemn Putin officially, I think it won’t happen. He will try and focus on building peace after the war. To have the situation de-escalate and the countries cooperate once all of this is finished. The Pope tries to keep a realistic and arbitral view, so that both sides can have a trustworthy institution that will help build peace.
Surely there is somewhat of an escalation of the steps the Pope Francis is taking in the gestures he makes. Do you think we can expect a pilgrimage of the Pope to Kiev any time soon? He has mentioned it’s an option during the conference he gave on a plane back from Malta.
I think it’s possible. He has explained on the plane from Malta that it is an option, that it is „on the table”, but it all depends on the circumstance. Only if his gesture will help stop the war for good; not for an hour or two, it will happen. If his arrival would bring peace for good, he is all for it. He is not worried about his own safety. Having been in many war torn places – for example in Iraq in March 2021 – he doesn’t care about that. The Pope is trying to do his best to stop the war with a realistic peace, which would consider justice and resolve. If only that were possible, he’d go.
In 2015 during one of his pilgrimages, the Pope said in Bosnia, that “the third world war is already going on”, yet no one really listened. How to communicate peace and evangelical values when the world outside does not want to receive them?
I think that the Pope’s idea of World War III and peace is difficult for us to comprehend. The Pope has a lot more information gathered from his sources. There are wars going on now all over the world. The catholic church needs to have a global view. So the communication needs to be similar in all cases. The Pope needs to save the possibility of dialogue with everybody. The responsibility is to show a clear message of peace, away from eastern or western propaganda. The church needs to have the possibility to doubt in good faith.
When there is a war you have to pick a side in some way. Even by not choosing a side, you are choosing a side. It is right to name good – as good and evil – as evil. Do you see a historical correlation between the way Pope Francis is responding to the situation and to the way Pope Pius XII acted during the time of World War II?
I think it’s not possible to compare. The Second World War did not have nuclear weapons, the UN, etc. I don’t think we can compare Putin to Hitler. Sometimes to help people you need to maintain dialogue and an open door with all the sides of the conflict, even if you know who is the aggressor and who is the victim. The goal is to have stable and long term peace.
As strange as it may sound, due to the fact that Pope Pius XII did not openly and directly spoke about the tragedy of the Holocaust, Piuses main goal was to save as many lives as possible. He was thinking that his opposition would only bring more death. That’s why he acted the way he acted.
.The Pope is analyzing everything and trying to make the best possible decision to create peace. Not out of diplomatic or interest reasons, but only because he wants to do his best for peace.
Interview by Michał Kłosowski