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Pope decries warfare, civilian deaths, in ‘State of the World’ address

January 08, 2024

Pope Francis deplored the rising number of civilian casualties in warfare, called for an end to fighting in Ukraine and the Holy Land, and condemned human rights abuses—including the “deplorable” practice of surrogate motherhood—in a January 8 address to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See.

The Pope’s annual address, often described by reporters as a “State of the World” address, included a sweeping survey of the world’s trouble spots. He called attention to bloody conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, Myanmar, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Sudan and South Sudan, Cameroon, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pope Francis repeated his oft-voiced observation that we are seeing a third world war, being fought piecemeal.

“It is the responsibility of the Holy See within the international community to be a prophetic voice and to appeal to consciences,” the Pontiff told the assembled diplomats. In that context he made pleas for disarmament—especially nuclear disarmament—and for efforts to address the fundamental causes of international conflict, including poverty and environmental disasters that he attributed to climate change.

The Pope charged that in current military conflicts “it appears that the distinction between military and civil objectives is no longer respected,” with the result that “there is no conflict that does not end up in some way indiscriminately striking the civilian population.” He insisted that civilian victims should be seen as real people rather than written off as “collateral damage.”

In a passage that drew particular interest from American secular journalists, the Pontiff said that the cause of peace requires a defense of the dignity of human life, “starting with the life of the unborn child in the mother’s womb.” He then went to say: “I deem deplorable the practice of so-called surrogate motherhood, which represents a grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child.”

Pope Francis also continued his campaign against the manufacture and sales of weapons, claiming that “it is illusory to think that weapons have deterrent value.”

In his survey of the regions scarred by military conflict the Pontiff mentioned every continent except the Americas, noting that in the Western hemisphere “there are no open wars” but some areas of “serious tensions.” In the latter category he mentioned the “troubling” situation in Nicaragua, but did not make any explicit complaint against the Ortega regime, which has imprisoned or exiled dozens of bishops and priests.

In an apparent response to criticism of his public statements about the war in Gaza, Pope Francis mentioned the October 7 massacre by Hamas and said: “I renew my condemnation of this act and of every instance of terrorism and extremism.” He balanced his statement, however, by saying: “Indeed, the attack provoked a strong Israeli military response in Gaza that has led to the death of tens of thousands of Palestinians, mainly civilians, including many young people and children, and has caused an exceptionally grave humanitarian crisis and inconceivable suffering.”


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