Pope Francis has suggested that World War III is already in progress, as evidenced by “intertwined elements” at work in the Russia-Ukraine crisis and other conflicts across the globe.
“A few years ago, it occurred to me to say that we are experiencing a third world war fought piecemeal,” the head of the Catholic Church said in a May 19 interview with Jesuit media outlets that was published on Tuesday. “Today, for me, World War III has been declared.”
The Pope noted that while the fighting in Ukraine “pricks our sensibilities more,” wars also are ongoing in such places as northern Nigeria and Myanmar, “and nobody cares.” He added, “The world is at war. This is something that should give us pause for thought.”
What is happening to humanity that has had three world wars in a century … ? You have to think that in a century there have been three world wars, with all the arms trade behind it.
Acknowledging criticism for his failure to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin and his past comments suggesting that NATO expansion onto Russia’s doorstep might have provoked the crisis, the pontiff denied being “pro-Putin.” He said such a claim would be “simplistic and erroneous.”
“I am simply against turning a complex situation into a distinction between good guys and bad guys, without considering the roots and self-interests, which are very complex,” he said. “While we witness the ferocity and cruelty of Russian troops, we should not forget the problems and seek to solve them.”
Asked how the Jesuit editors should report on the Eastern European conflict in a way that contributes to a peaceful future, Francis replied, “We have to get away from the common mindset of Little Red Riding Hood. Little Red Riding Hood was good, and the wolf was the bad guy. Here, there are no metaphysical good guys and bad guys, in the abstract. Something global is emerging, with elements that are closely intertwined with each other.”
He also cautioned against focusing only on the “brutality and ferocity” of the conflict. “The danger is that we only see this, which is monstrous, and miss the whole drama that is unfolding behind this war, which was perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented. I also note the interest in testing and selling weapons. It is very sad, but at the end of the day, that is what is at stake.”
Fancis praised the heroism of the Ukrainian people in defending their country, but he pointed to outside interests putting them in peril. “What is before our eyes is a situation of world war, global interests, arms sales, and geopolitical appropriation, which is martyring a heroic people,” he said.
The pontiff reiterated his concern, first made public in an interview last month, that NATO may have instigated Moscow’s military offensive against Kiev. He recalled a conversation with a head of state, whom he identified only as “a wise man,” a couple of months before the fighting began. “He told me that he was very concerned about the way NATO was acting. I asked him why, and he said, ‘They are barking at the gates of Russia, and they don’t understand that the Russians are imperial and they will not allow any foreign power to approach them.’”
Francis also warned that after many of Ukraine’s Western backers “opened their hearts” to the women and children fleeing the country in the early days of the conflict, support for its refugees is already “cooling down.” He added, “Who will take care of these women? We need to look beyond the concrete action of the moment and see how we will support them so that they don’t fall into human trafficking or end up being used, because the vultures are already circling.”