Pope Francis speaks on nuclear war and ‘the day after’

The Pontiff warned of a ‘final catastrophe’ that could ‘extinguish’ the human race

Pope Francis has invoked the threat of nuclear war, warning that humanity would have to “start from scratch” in the event of a thermonuclear exchange and that the world’s attention is increasingly focused on a world-ending calamity.

Speaking during his weekly address on Wednesday, the Pope said that “extraordinary” technological progress and “a future full of machines” warrant some optimism, but noted that mankind could yet take another path.

“On the other hand, our imagination appears increasingly concentrated on the representation of a final catastrophe that will extinguish us. What happens with an eventual nuclear war,” he said. “The ‘day after’ this – if there will still be days and human beings – will have to start again from scratch. Destroying everything to start again from scratch.”

Though Francis said he did not want to “trivialize the idea of progress,” he argued that “Flood” imagery is “gaining ground in our subconscious” – a reference to the Biblical flood narrative found in the Book of Genesis.

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Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in 2016
Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis discuss Ukraine

The Pope did not directly tie his remarks to ongoing conflict in Ukraine, though public discussion of a Western-backed no-fly zone and the prospect of direct hostilities with Russia has sparked ample predictions of “World War III” and atomic annihilation in even the most mainstream of venues.

While much of Wednesday’s address was centered on aging and social corruption, Francis did later dedicate a prayer to Ukraine in which he referred to the “hand of Cain” – a Biblical character who killed his own brother – but stopped short of condemning any nation in particular. He previously denounced the conflict as “madness” and said “This is not only a military operation but a war which is leading to death, destruction and misery.” 

The church leader has been criticized for failing to directly blame Moscow for the conflict, charges the Vatican has rejected, arguing the public remarks of the Pope, or “the pastor of the universal church,” should not take the tone of a “television news program.”

Francis recently met with the head of the Russian Orthodox church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, to discuss the fighting in Ukraine, namely the “humanitarian aspects of the current crisis” and how to “overcome its consequences.” The two agreed that they “must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus,” and have a “duty to be close to and help all people who are suffering from the war.”

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