Pope to European youth: Make less war, eat less meat

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ROME – Pope Francis told young Europeans Monday that it is “legitimate to rebel” when a “few powerful people” decide to send them to “fight and die” in a war. He defined the fighting in Ukraine as “senseless,” and argued that if younger generations governed today, there wouldn’t be as many global conflicts.

Francis, who hails from Argentina, known for its beef production and consumption, also said that in some parts of the world, it would be a good idea to “consume less meat” to help save the environment.

Rebelling against war

Addressing participants of a European Youth Conference, the pope said the “senseless” conflict in Ukraine, “which is not in the EU, but is Europe,” and numerous conflicts taking place in different parts of the world, shows that an educational pact that promotes fraternity is “urgent.”

“The idea of a united Europe arose from a powerful yearning for peace in the wake of the numerous wars fought on this continent, and it led to a 70-year period of peace,” he said. “Now, we must all commit ourselves to putting an end to this dreadful war, where, as usual, a few powerful people decide and send thousands of young people to fight and die. In cases like this, it is legitimate to rebel!”

Francis also pointed out that even though it is true that there wouldn’t be so many wars if the world was ruled by women – “because those who have the mission of giving life cannot make death choices” – the same would be true if the rulers were young people, because they wouldn’t want the future awaiting them to be thrown away.

The pontiff referred to Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian layman who was tortured and murdered by the Nazis because he was a conscientious objector and wouldn’t swear allegiance to Hitler and go to war.

“Despite cajoling and torture, Franz preferred to be killed rather than to kill,” Francis said. “He considered the war totally unjustified. If all the young men called to arms had done as he did, Hitler would not have been able to carry out his diabolical plans. To triumph, evil needs accomplices.”

Jägerstätter was declared blessed, one step from being recognized as a saint, by Pope Benedict XVI.

In his message to European youth, Francis encouraged them to walk “with their feet firmly on the ground,” but with their eyes “open to heaven” and also to go to World Youth Day next year in Lisbon. There they will be able to share their “most beautiful dreams with young people from all over the world.”

The July 11-13 event is taking place in Prague, Czechia.

Pope Francis’s comment on Ukraine being part of Europe but not the EU is notable given that the country has long tried to become a member of the political and economic union of 27 member states.

Even though the pontiff has avoided voicing an opinion regarding Ukraine’s application to the EU, Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has publicly expressed his support. In June, when the country was granted “candidate status” to join the union, Parolin told Crux that he was “very pleased with this decision.”

“I think it is a very important move: Ukraine belongs to Europe, and Europe belongs to Ukraine,” Parolin said.

RELATED: Vatican’s chief diplomat ‘very pleased’ after Ukraine becomes EU ‘candidate’

In his appeal to young Europeans to try to transform “the old continent” into a “new” one, Francis encouraged them to follow the proposals outlined in the Global Education Pact, an alliance among educators around the world launched in September 2019.

“Make your voice heard! If they don’t listen to you, shout even louder, make noise, you have every right to have a say in what concerns your future,” he told them, later inviting them not to be afraid “to be demanding,” because they have the right “to receive the best for yourselves, just as your educators have the duty to give the best of themselves.”

Save the planet: Eat less meat

The pontiff also praised the young people for being “capable of concrete initiatives” on issues where previous generations “talked a lot and concluded little.”

This includes the care for God’s creation. Francis argued that if young generations don’t succeed in turning the world’s ongoing “self-destructive trend around, it will be difficult for others to do so in the future.”

“Don’t let yourselves be seduced by the sirens that propose a life of luxury reserved for a small slice of the world,” he said, inviting them to instead have a “broad outlook” that can take in all the rest of humanity, “which is much bigger than our little continent.”

He invited them to lead a life of “dignity and sobriety,” empty of luxury and waste, so that everyone can lead a dignified existence.

“There is an urgent need to reduce the consumption not only of fossil fuels but also of so many superfluous things,” he said. “In certain areas of the world, too, it would be appropriate to consume less meat: This too can help save the environment.”

Even though there have been several leading voices in support of a reduction in meat consumption, this is the first time the Argentine pontiff has made such proposal. It was absent, for instance, from his environmental manifesto Laudato Si’.

Argentines eat the most meat in all of South America, around 230 pounds per person per year, and have the third biggest appetite in the world behind only Australians, 260 pounds, and Americans, who eat an average of 270 pounds of meat a year.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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