On war, Pope Francis says, ‘never again’

Pope Francis’ tweet foreshadows what we can expect in regards to just war – or just peace – during his Papacy.

Like 159,000 other people, I follow Pope Francis (@Pontifex) on Twitter—in Latin. I enjoy the chance to refine my declensions and conjugations while pausing in reflection on the beautiful words of Franciscus.

But Monday’s first tweet offered no succor. “Numquam plus bellum! Numquam plus bellum!” shouted my Twitter feed, like a shrill alarm on a groggy holiday morning. The cry of “Never again war!” worked, at least on me. In fact, I was the target audience for this one. Over the past few days, this pope, whose namesake is a favored saint of peacemaking, has been trying to wake up complacent Americans.

To Catholics cognizant of their history, the tweet echoed the speech of Pope Paul VI before the United Nations General Assembly in 1965. On October 4, the Feast of St. Francis, Paul VI implored the assembly: “It is the word you are expecting from us and we cannot utter it without being conscious of its gravity and solemnity: never again one against another, never, never again! Is it not to this end above all that the United Nations was born: against war and for peace?”

Thus Pope Francis is not innovating by his prophetic denouncements of proposed military interventions, such as that contemplated by the United States in Syria. The substance of his remarks harmonizes with Pope John Paul II’s attempts to dissuade George H. W. Bush from invading Kuwait in 1991 and George W. Bush from invading Iraq in 2003.

The “just war” tradition of the Catholic Church focuses on principles such as just cause, proportionality, last resort, and serious prospect of success, among others. In recent years, some have developed the principle of “responsibility to protect” as a corollary to the received tradition. Some usually progressive American Catholic voices, such as Michael Sean Winters, have argued that military intervention in Syria does qualify as just.

But from Pope Francis’s statements and previous writings, he leans away from the “just war” discourse and toward the just peacemaking school of thought—or outright pacifism. Conflict has been present from the time of Cain and Abel, he said in On Heaven and Earth, but “I believe that war must never be the path to resolution.” The recurrent human attraction to war is exacerbated, he believes, by “the media’s way of putting things, in black and white,” which “is a sinful tendency that always favors conflict over unity.”

Many of those who oppose sending missiles toward Syria would concur with Francis’s analysis. In the particular situation of war-torn Syria, there are not two sides but many. Beyond his humanitarian concern, Francis is especially fearful because the Christian leaders “on the ground” in Syria and neighboring countries oppose a military action from abroad. Bishops both Catholic and Orthodox—the ones who have not been kidnapped—have spoken out against it.

Even a small group of Trappist nuns in Azeir, Syria penned a rueful open letter to President Obama. They await “A word from Obama? Will the Nobel Peace Prize winner drop his sentence of war onto us? Despite all justice, all common sense, all mercy, all humility, all wisdom?” While American commentators have been speaking of “credibility” and the need to “do something,” these nuns decry the passing off of “the need to appear [strong] and to wield power” as a “moral responsibility not to look away.”

Like these nuns, Pope Francis embodies prophecy and prayer. His call for a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for Syria on Saturday, September 7, struck a chord with even the Grand Mufti of Syria. Ahmad Badreddin Hassou, the spiritual leader of Sunni Islam in Syria, expressed fervent desire to join with the vigil in Rome.

While that joint prayer is not likely to happen, the sentiment was significant. And though prayer does not seem a realistic response for many in positions of power, it is the way being led by Pope Francis. Prayerful, prophetic denunciation of war is one papal tradition that the reform-minded Francis will not be changing. Numquam.


Michael Peppard is assistant professor of theology at Fordham University in New York. He is on Twitter (in English, usually) at @MichaelPeppard.

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  • Openletter2004

    The hypocrisy here is glaring.
    Russia makes war on GBLT’s and the Popes stands silent.
    The Pope encourages nations to make war on women by forcing them to die of pregnancy for the glory of a “GOD” they might not even believe in and be held captive to the will of the MALES regarding when, if, and how many children the woman will attempt to have.
    And here he holds himself out as a man of “peace” and “justice” and “tolerance”??

    He is the leader of one of the most tyrannical religious ever conceived by the mind of man. Never missing an opportunity to try and curry favor with politicians to get power for the Church. His goal is the same as that of the 19 hijackers on 9/11. To have a one world religion that oppresses women, GBLT’s and all others who refuse to bow and kiss his ring.

  • Lynd

    Sigh. How much disinformation is in all of that? Christ and his Church has always stood for Love, Peace & Justice. No hypocrisy there if you have a little education on Church’s teachings.

    You’re equating the bombing of innocent Syrian civilians w/ Russia’s efforts to curb gay agenda/ propaganda towards minors? That’s the tyranny of moral relativism for you. Slandering religious workers as 9/11 terrorists when they are the unsung heroes of social work that toil daily to cater to the marginalized in society? Where is the fairness and proportionality of this comment? Or just your daily quota of Catholic-bashing?

    I’ll include you in my prayers/ fast for peace this Saturday Sept 7. And may you do your part to stop the scourge of war even if you hate the Church.

  • DrDan20001

    Let us join every night for ten nights in a prayer of peace and imagine we are all praying to the same god and we will received grace a blessing beyond anticipation… so that we will recognize that God is One.

  • jempy

    No one has the right to start a war for “his credibility” or a so called “moral responsibility”. Violence call for violence and finally war … I know that Obama has to distract americans from something else, like NSA, but not by killing other people. It’s something that was be done by Hitler. By the way don’t the US have some of those chemicals … for what purpose?

  • BrianX9

    I realize that haters gotta hate.
    I empathize with but do not support you in your holy vocation, trying to destroy the one institution in the world that stands most consistently for peace, hope and truth.

    My Church HAS done great evil in the past, has perpetrated evil hypocrisy, and we deserve reprobation for that.
    But you also hate us for recognizing the obvious, for recognizing the value of life, for recognizing the right to life each of us is endowed with.
    Your hyperbole undermines your point.
    “War” means something in particular, and you have misused the word.

    May God bless and heal you of your consuming hatred.

  • mindfulness

    A quality, thoughtful article. Thank you for citing the often-ignored fact that this pope and previous popes have called for an approach to international challenges that calls into question the militarism of American foreign policy.

    If only more American Catholics were aware of the strains of pacifism and just-war ethics within their own tradition!

  • ZZimian

    “But from Pope Francis’s statements and previous writings, he leans away from the “just war” discourse and toward the just peacemaking school of thought—or outright pacifism.”

    I don’t hate people like that, but I think we have a duty to shoulder them aside when there’s men’s work to be done. They can cower in the basement with the women and children.

  • ZZimian

    Openletter2004 wrote: “The hypocrisy here is glaring. …He is the leader of one of the most tyrannical religious ever conceived by the mind of man.”

    Pshaw, how many divisions has the Pope?

    If you can be “tyrannized” by an old man in a white robe, you deserve whatever’s coming to you.

  • Rongoklunk

    God is none.

  • Farmer Jim

    There would be NO Rwandan Tustsi’s today had the Catholic Paul Kagame heeded this advice. They’d all be dead, with only the trace remnants who lived in diaspora. Pacifism “Peace in our Time” wiped out 50% of the world’s Jews. And to add insult to injury, Christians beleive these victims, after being killed, will be tossed in an eternal lake of fire.

  • jempy

    This morning, 7 th september, I went to church to do the only that I can do for peace in Syria: Pray. I would also pray to become able to solve problem with love instead of violence.

  • vbanow

    “Cristians believe…lake of fire” Where does this come from? It sounds like Nazi propaganda. They would say anything to promote their genocide.