As he addressed thousands of visitors gathered in St Peter’s Square for his Sunday blessing on March 13, Pope Francis roundly condemned the war waged against the people of Ukraine by Russia.
Citing the barbaric bombing of civilians and of hospitals, he called for an immediate halt to the aggression, to the “massacre” which has seen more than two million Ukrainians displaced from their homes and their country and thousands of victims killed.
The widespread and indiscriminate destruction of residential areas and direct attacks on fleeing civilians contravene every humanitarian principle.
The killing of innocent children, of disabled, infirm, and elderly people, the annihilation of families and communities and the equally senseless laying to waste of agricultural land can only be seen as the product of cruel and evil minds.
Compassion and ordinary human civility have disappeared as corpses rot in streets where rescue workers dare not try to provide decent burials.
The brutality that pervades the land is mirrored in the deliberate withholding of water, electricity, food and medical aid in the city of Mariupol where thousands of people can starve or freeze to death as they are denied any provision of aid by the aggressors.
For those fortunate enough to have found their way to neighbouring countries like Poland, there is some respite from their suffering but the horror remains as families are separated and many have lost relatives and friends to the falling bombs and mortar attacks.
As children have been sent to ‘safety’, the concern grows for their protection from predators whose most base instincts are brought to the fore as they see these hapless youngsters as fair game for their sick and twisted psyches.
Even as the world condemns Russian President Vladimir Putin for sending his armies to bring Ukraine to submission, thousands of ordinary Russian citizens have been protesting in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities.
This, despite the danger that they face for daring to protest a war, a so-called “military operation” that cannot be justified in their eyes. Many have been detained and protesters face charges of treachery and long years of imprisonment for presenting and propagating “fake news” and “disinformation”.
Truth and justice and a recognition of common humanity count for nothing in a land where oppression is once more rearing its hideous head.
Should this European conflict spread, there can be terrible, perhaps unthinkable consequences for the rest of the world. The use of chemical and biological weapons cannot be ruled out and the threat of nuclear warfare hangs like an unlikely spectre over our global heads.
Massive shortages of wheat as well as sharp increases in the cost of fuel and an aggravation in the problems of the supply chain are among the inevitable problems that await a world weary of Covid-19, hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, wildfires and other manifestations of climate change.
Seemingly far from the biggest conflict that Europe has known since the Second World War, we look in horrified wonder at a continent that had disavowed such barbarism ever again.
Even so, as a people who witness and condemn the atrocities that the media bring to our screens, we have the opportunity to examine ourselves and to seize the opportunity to root out the tendencies that we have to cruelty, injustice, and the oppression of others.
This week’s Gospel (Luke: 13:1–9) says that if the fig tree does not bear fruit, it will be cut down. May we use this Lenten season to dig around and manure our spiritual soil so that we may bear the fruit of goodness in a sometimes savage and ungodly world.