ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis supports international intervention in Iraq and is willing to go to there personally if it will help end the violence against Christians and other religious minorities.
“In these cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor,” Pope Francis told reporters aboard the Aug. 18 plane flight back to Italy from South Korea.
“I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I don’t say ‘to bomb’ or ‘make war,’ [but] ‘stop it.’”
Speaking to journalists aboard the flight, the Pope noted the Holy See’s diplomatic efforts to end the violence in Iraq, especially against Iraqi minorities.
In response to the question on Iraq posed by CNA and EWTN News Rome bureau chief Alan Holdren, Pope Francis said that a papal visit to Iraq was “one of the possibilities.”
“And in this moment, I am ready.” He added, “And right now, it isn’t the most, the best thing to do, but I am disposed to this.”
Military victories by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant have resulted in the persecution and murder of Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities. Tens of thousands have fled their homes.
Many have taken refuge in the northern region known as Kurdistan.
A papal communiqué against the violence has been sent to all the nunciatures as well as a letter written to the United Nations’ secretary general. The Pope has met with the governor of Iraqi Kurdistan and has named Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, as his personal envoy to Iraq.
Pope Francis stressed that the means to stop violence in Iraq must be evaluated and that the violence cannot be used as a pretext for other goals.
“To stop the unjust aggressor is licit. But we also have to have memory, as well. How many times, under this excuse of stopping the unjust aggressor, the powers have taken control of nations. And they have made a true war of conquest,” he said. “One single nation cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor.”
The Pope noted the establishment of the United Nations after World War II and the need to utilize it to discuss unjust aggression.
“I am only in agreement in the fact that when there is an unjust aggressor that he is stopped,” he said. “Stopping the unjust aggressor is a right that humanity has, but it is also a right of the aggressor to be stopped so he doesn’t do evil.”
Plight of Religious Minorities
The Pope stressed the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.
“They speak to me of the Christians, poor Christians and the martyrs — and yes, there are so many martyrs — but here there are men and women, religious minorities, and not all Christian, and all are equal before God, no?”
The Pope also condemned “cruelty” in warfare, especially towards children and other non-combatants.
“Today, children don’t count. Once they spoke of ‘conventional warfare.’ Today, this doesn’t count,” he lamented. “I’m not saying that the conventional war is a good thing, but, today, the bomb goes and kills the innocent with the culpable, with the child and the women and mother. They kill everyone. But we need to stop and think a bit about what level of cruelty we have reached. This should scare us.”
This comment is “not to create fear,” but, rather, a cause for more study, the Pope said.
“The level of cruelty today of humanity is a bit scary,” he added. He also vocally rejected torture.
“Today, torture is one of the almost ordinary means of acts of intelligence services, of judicial processes. And torture is a sin against humanity. It is a crime against humanity. And, to Catholics, I say that torturing a person is a mortal sin. It is a grave sin. But it’s more. It’s a sin against humanity.”
The Pope’s remarks also touched on the prayer for peace at the Vatican, where he hosted the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian state as well as the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople.
“These two men are men of peace. They are men who believe in God. They have lived so many nasty things, so many nasty things. They are convinced that the only path to resolve that situation is negotiation, dialogue, peace.”
“Was it a failure? No, I think that the door is open [to peace].”
“Now, the smoke of the bombs of the wars don’t allow us to see the door, but the door is still open from that moment,” Pope Francis said. “As I believe in God, I believe that God is watching that door and all who pray and ask that he help us.”