WARSAW. – Pope Francis said yesterday the world was at war but argued that religion was not the cause, as he arrived in Poland a day after jihadists murdered a Catholic priest in France. “We must not be afraid to say the truth, the world is at war because it has lost peace,” the Pontiff told journalists aboard a flight from the Rome to Krakow. “When I speak of war I speak of wars over interests, money, resources, not religion. All religions want peace, it’s the others who want war.”
The brutal killing of the elderly priest during mass in France on Tuesday, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group, has cast a shadow over Francis’s trip to headline a gathering of young Catholics from across the globe in the city of Krakow.
“This holy priest who died in the moment of offering prayers for the church is one (victim). But how many Christians, innocents, children?” Francis told journalists travelling with him.
“The word we hear a lot is insecurity, but the real word is war. The world has been in a fragmented war for some time. There was the one in 14, one in 39-45 and now this,” he said referring to World Wars I and II.
A string of terror attacks targeting civilians in Europe appears to have dampened turnout for the World Youth Day festival, a week-long faith extravaganza dubbed “the Catholic Woodstock”.
Around 200 000 pilgrims attended the opening mass on Tuesday, according to Krakow police, while organisers had expected around half a million.
The murder of French priest Jacques Hamel has also complicated Francis’s aim to champion migrants, while emboldening Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and her rightwing government who have refused to take in refugees for security reasons.
The Pope (79), who voiced “pain and horror” at the “barbaric killing” of the priest, is likely to condemn the persecution of Christians while warning Europe not to succumb to xenophobia.
Poland is on high security alert, deploying over 40 000 personnel for the visit. Authorities also charged an Iraqi man on Monday with possessing trace amounts of explosive material.
But true to character, Francis is refusing to bow to security fears, and will take to the road in his open-top pope-mobile for some stages of his trip.
Meanwhile, a large truck bomb blast claimed by Islamic State killed nearly 50 people and wounded scores more in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli near the Turkish border yesterday, a monitoring group and state television reported.
The attack, which hit near a Kurdish security forces headquarters, was the deadliest of its kind in the city for years, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The blast, which took place early yesterday, killed at least 48 people. The death toll expected to rise because of the number of people seriously injured, the Observatory said. State media put the death toll at 44. Kurdish forces control much of Hasaka province, after capturing vast areas from the jihadist group last year. The Kurdish YPG militia, which has proved the most effective partner for a US-led coalition battling Islamic State, is also involved in fighting the extremists farther west, in Aleppo province. – AFP/Reuters.