Cardinal Pietro Parolin (Photo: Catholic Press Photo)

"The world cannot afford escalation. The Holy See is ready to mediate"

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, gave an interview to four Italian newspapers (Corriere della Sera, La Repubblica, La Stampa and Il Messaggero).
Paolo Rodari

Are there people who compare the conflict in Ukraine to the incidents that preceded the Second World War? "These references make one shudder. There is a need to avoid any escalation, stop the clashes and negotiate." Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, speaks about the escalation of violence in Ukraine, on the day that Francis calls for weapons to fall silent during the Angelus.

Your Eminence, do you perceive the risk of a widening of the conflict in Europe or a new cold war with two opposing blocs?
I don’t even dare think about it. It would be a catastrophe of gigantic proportions, even if, unfortunately, it is not an outcome that can be completely excluded. I have seen statements in recent days that have evoked the incidents that preceded and provoked the Second World War. These references make one shudder. There is a need to avoid any escalation, stop the clashes and negotiate. Even the possible return to a new cold war with two opposing blocs is a scary scenario. Such a scenario goes against the culture of fraternity that Pope Francis proposes as the only way to build a just, solidarity-based and peaceful world.

Is the Holy See willing to negotiate?

Although what we feared and hoped would not happen has happened — the war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine — I am convinced that there is always room for negotiation. It is never too late! Because the only reasonable and constructive way to settle differences is through dialogue, as Pope Francis never tires of repeating. The Holy See, which in recent years has followed the events in Ukraine constantly, discreetly, and with great attention, offering its willingness to facilitate dialogue with Russia, is always ready to help the parties to resume that path. I take advantage of this occasion to renew the pressing invitation that the Holy Father made during his visit to the Russian embassy to the Holy See, to stop the fighting and return to negotiations. First and foremost, the military attack, the tragic consequences of which we have all already witnessed, must be stopped immediately. I would like to recall the words of Pius XII on 24 August 1939, a few days before the outbreak of the Second World War: ‘Let men return to understanding. Let them resume negotiating. By negotiating with goodwill and with respect for each other’s rights, they will find that honorable success is never precluded from sincere and active negotiations.’

Francis recalled how "sad" the war between Christians is. Can the churches of the two countries play a role in calming tempers, despite everything?
In the history of the Church, unfortunately, there has never been a lack of particularities and they have led to many painful divisions, as Saint Paul testifies at the very origin of Christianity, and who at the same time exhorts us to overcome them. In this sense, we see encouraging signs in the appeals of the heads of the Orthodox Churches, who show a willingness to leave aside the memory of mutual wounds and to work for peace. They agree in expressing grave concern about the situation and in affirming that, apart from any other consideration, the values of peace and human life are what is truly at the heart of the Churches, which can play a fundamental role in preventing the situation from worsening further.

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The Pope spoke of "an exercise of a wisdom that prevents the prevalence of partisan interests" and "protects the legitimate aspirations of each person." However, this would mean recognizing that there are legitimate aspirations on both sides. How do we get out of this?
Once again we see that communication and listening to each other is necessary in order to fully know and understand the reasons of others. When people stop communicating and listening sincerely to each other, they look at each other with suspicion and end up exchanging only mutual accusations. Developments in recent months have only fuelled this mutual deafness, leading to open conflict. The aspirations of each country and their legitimacy must be the subject of a common reflection, in a broader context and, above all, taking into account the choices of citizens and respecting international law. History is full of examples confirming that this is possible.