04/28/2015 02:42 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Can Pope Francis Help Avoid a 'Third World War'?

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"Following Francis" is a monthly blog on the latest happenings of Pope Francis. It is prepared exclusively for The WorldPost by Sébastien Maillard, Vatican Correspondent for La Croix, Rome

ROME -- Up until now, news about Pope Francis -- including on this blog -- has been mostly on Church-related affairs: how he is slowly reforming the Roman Curia, how he is trying to get bishops to address family situations of all kinds or how his ways of speaking, behaving and just simply living are deeply renewing from within one of the oldest institutions in the world.

Increasingly this pope, as popular as ever, is not just focusing on his Church. He is addressing the world at large with some of the toughest issues. He is beginning to speak out loud on war, on the environment and on social justice.

'Third World War'

On war, he keeps on describing our time as one of "a Third World War which is being fought piecemeal."

He does not, of course, mean a world war in the sense of many countries throughout the globe fighting against one another, but rather certain areas, inside various countries, being terrorized by organizations coming from other areas, namely in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria or Kenya, among many. It is the collection of these conflicts that make up what the pope calls a "Third World War." Such an expression may seem inaccurate and exaggerated, but it is meant to open our eyes to what Jorge Bergoglio sees as the real state of the world.

Another very strong term he used recently, for the same purpose, is "genocide." He pronounced that word during a mass for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, celebrated on April 12th in St. Peter's Basilica. He did not do so for the sake of re-launching an endless debate and creating a diplomatic crisis with the Erdogan administration in Turkey. He said so in order to highlight a "sort of genocide" unfolding today against religious minorities, including Christians.

The pope is very outspoken against contemporary Christian persecutions, which he claims are worse than those during Antiquity. But the Holy See is also careful not to spark some religious wars and asks all religious leaders to clearly condemn any use of violence in the name of God.

What worries the pope most about ongoing conflicts and the cruelty displayed is the "indifference" among world leaders.

"It seems that the enthusiasm generated at the end of the Second World War has dissipated and is now disappearing," he pointed out in that same speech of April 12th. He already showed concern for this lack of enthusiasm regarding European integration, when he visited European institutions in Strasbourg, France on Nov. 25th.

He could make the same observations when he will address all world leaders gathered at the UN General Assembly in New York next September.

'Human Ecology'

The other issue he will likely raise there is climate change. Pope Francis has not yet spoken much publicly on this issue so far. But he intends to do so. By the end of June or at the beginning of July, he is to publish an encyclical -- one of the highest standing documents released by the Catholic Church -- dedicated to "human ecology." It is not meant to stand as a scientific statement, nor will it tackle only climate change as such. I'm told it will connect this challenge with the fight against poverty and all the marginalized. But its short-term objective is to raise awareness on environmental issues before COP21, the intergovernmental conference on climate change scheduled in Paris next December.

The Vatican is hosting its own event on April 28th with top climate scientists, development experts and religious leaders for what is regarded as a major curtain-raiser for the upcoming encyclical.

Another big world issue that Pope Francis is trying to raise awareness on is human trafficking, or what is also referred to as "modern slavery" (prostitution, forced labor). This connects to his fight against the Italian mafia and to his long-standing support for migrants struggling to reach the shores of Europe across the Mediterranean Sea.


Jorge Bergoglio doesn't have some magic solution to prevent a "Third World War," to stop climate change and to eradicate human trafficking all at once. But he wants his Church to step into those struggles, get into the arena and help find some answers. He does not want the Church to stand aside in a world of its own, where only dogmatic and theological disputes seem to really matter.

In order to be involved and listened to, he knows the Church has to become more "credible" -- a word he often uses these days. While sharing his sorrow for what he reads in the news, he has to finish the job of getting his own house in order so that it can play an even more active role.

"This is not the time to be distracted; on the contrary, we need to be vigilant and to reawaken in ourselves the capacity to see what is essential," he said when presenting the Jubilee of Mercy, on April 11th in Rome.

The launching of this event was his surprise initiative to get his Church on the move: to reform not just the Roman Curia but the whole organization worldwide. In times of war, he's using all his leadership capacity by calling on everyone of "good will" to do what they can to avert these travails of our contemporary historical moment.

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