Pope Francis: After a Nuclear War, Humanity Would Have to ‘Start From Scratch’

Pope Francis said at the end of the general audience that he wanted everyone to pray together in the pain of this war, asking the Lord for forgiveness and asking for peace.

Pope Francis prays for children in Ukraine, March 16, 2022.
Pope Francis prays for children in Ukraine, March 16, 2022. (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA / EWTN)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said Wednesday that the image of Noah’s flood is “gaining ground in our subconscious” as the world considers the possibility of a nuclear war “that will extinguish us.”

“Our imagination appears increasingly concentrated on the representation of a final catastrophe that will extinguish us — what may happen with a possible nuclear war,” Pope Francis said March 16.

“The ‘day after’ — if there will still be days and human beings — we will have to start again from scratch.”

Speaking to pilgrims seated in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for his general audience, the pope said that people today “are under pressure, exposed to opposing stresses that confuse us.”

“On the one hand, we have the optimism of an eternal youth, kindled by the extraordinary progress of technology, that depicts a future full of machines that are more efficient and more intelligent than us, that will cure our ills and  devise for us the best solutions so as not to die,” he said.

Yet, on the other hand, there is the possibility of nuclear war.

“I do not want to trivialize the idea of progress, naturally. But it seems that the symbol of the flood is gaining ground in our subconscious,” the pope said.

“Besides, the current pandemic puts a heavy weight on our carefree representation of the things that matter, for life and its destiny.”

A Litany Prayer for Ukraine

The Pope’s words came on the 21st day of the war in Ukraine, at the start of which Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian nuclear forces to be put on high alert, raising fears of the possibility of a nuclear war.

Pope Francis said at the end of the general audience that he wanted everyone to pray together in the pain of this war, asking the Lord for forgiveness and asking for peace.

The Pope then read a prayer written by Archbishop Domenico Battaglia of Naples.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners. Lord Jesus, born under the bombs of Kyiv, have mercy on us. Lord Jesus, who died in his mother's arms in a bunker in Kharkiv, have mercy on us,” he prayed.

In the Pope’s messages to pilgrims from different countries, he also asked people to pray for peace in Ukraine. 

“This week we will celebrate St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church. May he, during this month of March which is dedicated to him, be an intercessor for the peace that the world so badly needs,” Pope Francis said in his greeting to French pilgrims.

The Pope also asked young people to pray for their peers in Ukraine who are suffering. He was speaking during a brief meeting with Catholic school students from Milan in St. Peter’s Basilica just before the general audience.

He said: “I ask you to think, let’s think of so many children, boys and girls, who are at war, who today in Ukraine are suffering, they are like you, 6, 7, 14 years old. You have before you a future, a security of growing up in a society in peace, instead these little ones, even little ones, have to flee from the bombs. They are suffering so much with that cold that it is there.” 

“Let each of us think of these kids, boys and girls, today who are suffering, 3,000 kilometers from here. Let us pray to the Lord, I will make the prayer, you pray with me with your heart and mind.” 

The Pope then prayed for “all the children who are living under the bombs, who see this terrible war, who have no food, who must flee, leaving home, everything. Lord Jesus, look upon these children, these children, they are the victims of the pride of us, the adults. Lord Jesus, bless these children and protect them. Together we pray to Our Lady to protect them.” 

Noah and the Flood

In his general audience address, Pope Francis offered a reflection on chapter six of the Book of Genesis in the Bible on the flood that struck the world in the time of Noah.

“The Bible narrative — with the symbolic language of the time in which it was written — tells us  something shocking. God was so embittered by the widespread wickedness of humans, which had  become a normal style of life, that he thought he had made a mistake in creating them and decided to  eliminate them. A radical solution,” he said.

“It might even have a paradoxical twist of mercy. No more humans, no  more history, no more judgment, no more condemnation. And many predestined victims of corruption, violence, injustice would be spared forever.”

Pope Francis said that in modern times, too, people can be “overwhelmed by the sense of powerlessness against evil or demoralized by the ‘prophets of doom,’” which makes people “think it would be better if we had not been born.”

“Should we give credit to some recent theories, which denounce the human race as an evolutionary detriment to life on our planet? All these are negative,” Francis said.

Pope Francis highlighted how in the biblical account of the flood, God entrusted an elderly person, Noah, with the task of saving life on Earth. Noah is an example of righteousness for older people, in particular, he said.

“Noah does not preach, he does not complain,  he does not recriminate, but rather he takes care of the future of the generation that is in danger … He builds the ark of acceptance and lets people and animals enter it,” Francis said.

“In his care for life, in all its forms, Noah obeys God’s commandment, repeating the tender and generous gesture of creation, which in reality is the very thought that inspires the command of God: a new blessing, a new creation.”


Much of the Pope’s general audience reflection focused on the topic of corruption.

“Jesus, speaking about the end times, says, ‘As it was in the days of  Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in  marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all,’” Pope Francis said, quoting the Gospel of Luke (17:26-27).

The Pope noted that “eating and drinking, taking a husband or wife, are very normal things and do not seem to be examples of corruption.”

“In reality, Jesus stresses the fact that human beings, when they limit themselves to enjoying life, lose even the perception of corruption, which mortifies their dignity and poisons meaning … And they even live corruption in a carefree way, as if it were a normal part of human wellbeing,” he said.

“The goods of life are consumed and enjoyed without concern for the  spiritual quality of life, without care for the habitat of the common home. Without concerning themselves with the mortification and disheartenment of which many suffer, nor with the evil that poisons the  community. As long as normal life can be filled with ‘wellbeing,’ we do not want to think about what makes it empty of justice and love,” the Pope said.

Pope Francis added that when people think only of themselves, it is a “gateway to corruption.” He said that “ungodly carefreeness” weakens and “dulls our consciences.”

Taking Noah as a model, the pope proposed that older generations have a responsibility to help young people to renounce corruption.

This was the Pope’s third reflection in a cycle of catechesis focused on seeking inspiration in the Word of God on the meaning and value of old age, which began on Feb. 23.

“We must be like good wine, that we can give a good message. I make an appeal to all people of a certain age, you have the responsibility to denounce human corruption,” Pope Francis said.