ROME – During his Easter message on Sunday, Pope Francis said it was “scandalous” that despite the pandemic still spreading, causing a severe social and economic crisis, armed conflicts are still ongoing and military arsenals are being strengthened.
The list of ongoing conflict is long.
The civil war in Syria, that marked it’s 10th year anniversary in mid-March, is still ongoing, and there’s political instability in Iraq that could at any given time devolve into conflict; and Islamist militancy continues to wreak havoc in in Pakistan.
There’s an ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, supported by Russia; there’s the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Boko Haram continues to hold a deadly grip in northeastern Nigeria; political instability often translates to military-civil clashes in Myanmar, Venezuela and Nicaragua; and criminal violence in Mexico is almost as deadly as any war.
But the list continues still: there’s a civil war in Libya; a war in Yemen that in Francis words has been met with “a deafening and scandalous silence”; violence in the Central African Republic and in the Democratic Republic of Congo; South Sudan continues to be at war with itself; Nagorno-Karabakh is far from being a peaceful region; and Islamic terrorist group Al-Shabab is crippling Somalia.
Global defense spending is also on the rise: Despite the economic crunch that has led to a 3.5 percent contraction in global economic output in 2020, military expenditure is up, particularly in Europe.
In November, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a 10 percent annual increase in military spending over the next four years, considered the largest boost in real terms in 30 years. If it goes according to plan, by March 2025 the UK will have a defense budget of $87 billion.
Pope Francis on Sunday also noted it was the International Day for Mine Awareness, calling antipersonnel landmines “insidious and horrible devices … how much better our world would be without these instruments of death!”
According to a statement released by the United Nations on April 4 — in addition to indiscriminately killing and maiming thousands globally — landmines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices hamper social and economic development, keep farmers from their fields, close schools, hinder reconstruction, and block safe delivery of humanitarian aid.
“Children are at a higher risk of severe injury and death, as they often mistake the deadly explosives for toys,” the UN argued.
Last but not least, as Francis noted in his remarks, many Christians have celebrated Easter under severe restrictions, and in some places, they weren’t even able to attend religious celebrations. This was not only due to COVID-19 restriction, but also due to safety concerns: Just to give one example, on Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week, two terrorists blew themselves up outside a cathedral in Indonesia.
Many around the globe experienced 2020 as an annus horribilis, and eagerly awaited to ring the new year. But as the ongoing conflicts and the increase expenditure in military equipment and personnel show, 2021 will likely, and unhappily, be a year many will want to forget too.
Hence, Francis message becomes all the more relevant in this season of Easter: “Amid the many hardships we are enduring, let us never forget that we have been healed by the wounds of Christ. In the light of the Risen Lord, our sufferings are now transfigured. Where there was death, now there is life. Where there was mourning, now there is consolation.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma