ROME – Although most times of the year Pope Francis comes off as an upbeat, smiling figure, holiday seasons sometimes seem to bring the Old Testament prophet out of him – denouncing injustice, lamenting suffering, and openly anguishing along with the broken hearts of a fallen world.
It shouldn’t be any surprise, therefore, that Francis, for this holiday period, asked that a small card be printed and distributed, which on its reverse side carries the inscription, “The fruit of war,” running above the pope’s signature.
The front side of the card displays a picture taken by American photographer Joseph Roger O’Donnell, a Marine who worked for four years after the atomic blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki documenting their impact. The shot shows a young Japanese boy standing in line at a crematorium with his dead younger brother on his back.
“The young boy’s sadness is expressed only in his gesture of biting his lips, which are oozing blood,” the inscription on the pope’s card says.
The gesture is consistent with Francis’s effort since his election to speak out against what he describes as a “Third World War” today, being fought in piecemeal fashion in various parts of the world. The pontiff has also spoken about the disproportionate suffering children often experience in conflicts, including the risk of being enrolled as child soldiers.
The gesture with the photo of Nagasaki also comes at the close of a year in which the threat of nuclear conflict once again had the world on edge, in light of North Korea’s threat to use nuclear weapons, and U.S. President Donald Trump’s vow that America would unleash “fire and fury” should that happen.
In November, the Vatican hosted a major international summit on nuclear disarmament gathering 11 Nobel Peace Prize winners, in which Francis warned against “the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices.”
“International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms,” he said.
Nuclear weapons, Francis said, “create nothing but a false sense of security,” adding that “the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is firmly to be condemned.”
Though release of the photo in the run-up to New Year’s does not add anything substantive to the pontiff’s positions, it’s nevertheless the first time Francis has asked that a specific image be circulated in the holiday season, suggesting he believes its message is especially relevant at the moment.