ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis on Saturday labeled the weapons industry as being a key driver of the “martyrdom” of Ukraine’s people in Russia’s war, saying even the withholding of weapons now is going to continue their misery.
Francis appeared to refer to Poland’s recent announcement that it is no longer sending arms to Ukraine when he was asked about the war during brief remarks to reporters while returning home from Marseille, France.
Francis acknowledged he was frustrated that the Vatican’s diplomatic initiatives hadn’t borne much fruit. But he said behind the Russia-Ukraine conflict was also the weapons industry.
He described the paradox that was keeping Ukraine a “martyred people” — that at first many countries gave Ukraine weapons and now are taking them away. Francis has long denounced the weapons industry as “merchants of death,” but he has also asserted the right of countries to defend themselves.
“I’ve seen now that some countries are pulling back, and aren’t giving weapons,” he said.
“This will start a process where the martyrdom is the Ukrainian people, certainly. And this is bad.” It was an apparent reference to the announcement by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieck that Poland was no longer sending arms to Ukraine as part of a trade dispute.
“We cannot play with the martyrdom of the Ukrainian people,” Francis said. “We have to help resolve things in ways that are possible.”
“Not to make illusions that tomorrow the two leaders will go out together to eat, but to do whatever is possible,” he said.
In other comments, Francis spoke about his two-day visit to Marseille, where he exhorted Europe to be more welcoming to migrants.
Francis said he was heartened that there is greater consciousness about the plight of migrants 10 years after he made his first trip as pope to the Italian island of Lampedusa, ground zero in Europe’s migrant debate. But he said the “reign of terror” they endure at the hands of smugglers hasn’t gotten any better.
Francis recalled that when he became pope, “I didn’t even know where Lampedusa was.” The Sicilian island, which is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, is the destination of choice for migrant smugglers and has seen frequent shipwrecks off its shores. Last week, the island was overwhelmed when nearly 7,000 migrants arrived in one day, more than the resident population.
Francis, who was elected pope in 2013, said he had heard some stories about the problems on Lampedusa in his first months as pope “and in prayer I heard ‘You need to go there.’”
The visit has come to epitomize the importance of the migrant issue for Francis, who has gone on to make some memorable gestures of solidarity, including in 2016 when he brought back a dozen Syrian Muslim migrants on his plane after visiting a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece.
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