Vatican City – Today, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War (13 September 1914), Pope Francis chose to celebrate Mass at the Military Monument of Redipuglia, in the Italian province of Gorizia.
The Holy Father left the Vatican by helicopter at 8 a.m. and landed shortly before 9 a.m. at the airport of Ronchi dei Legionari, where he was received by the archbishop of Gorizia, Carlo Alberto Maria Redaelli. He transferred by car to the Austro-Hungarian cemetery of Fogliano di Redipuglia, the resting place of 14,550 soldiers who fell in this area. At the entrance there is the phrase “Im Leben und im Tode vereint” (“United in Life and Death”). The Pope placed a floral wreath at the central monument to 7000 unknown soldiers.
The Pope subsequently proceeded to the Military Monument, a large cemetery dedicated to the memory of the more than one hundred thousand Italian soldiers who lost their lives in the Great War, in foothills of Mount Sei Busi, a contested territory in the early phases of the conflict and where the tomb of Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia Aosta, commander of the Third Army, is located. The monument was designed by the architect Giovanni Greppi and the sculptor Giannino Castiglioni, and building work commenced in 1933; it was inaugurated by the then head of government, Benito Mussolini, in 1938, in the presence of more than 50,000 First World War veterans.
The first reading narrated the story of Cain and Abel, and in his homily the Holy Father commented on the murder of Abel to condemn indifference in the face of war.
“After experiencing the beauty of travelling throughout this region, where men and women work and raise their families, where children play and the elderly dream, I now find myself here, in this place, near this cemetery, able to say only one thing: War is madness. Whereas God carries forward the work of creation, and we men and women are called to participate in his work, war destroys. It also ruins the most beautiful work of his hands: human beings. War ruins everything, even the bonds between brothers. War is irrational; its only plan is to bring destruction: it seeks to grow by destroying.
“Greed, intolerance, the lust for power … are the motives underlying the decision to go to war, and they are too often justified by an ideology; but first there is a distorted passion or impulse. Ideology is presented as a justification and when there is no ideology, there is the response of Cain: ‘What does it matter to me? Am I my brother’s keeper?’. War does not look directly at anyone, be they elderly, children, mothers, fathers. ‘What does it matter to me?’
“Above the entrance to this cemetery, there hang in the air those ironic words of war, ‘What does it matter to me?’ All of the dead who repose here had their own plans, they had their own dreams, but their lives were cut short. Why? Because humanity said, ‘What does it matter to me?’. Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction. In all honesty, the front page of newspapers ought to carry the headline, ‘What does it matter to me?’. Cain would say, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’.
“This attitude is the exact opposite of what Jesus asks of us in the Gospel. We have heard: He is in the least of his brothers; He, the King, the Judge of the world, He is the one who hungers, who thirsts, He is the stranger, the one who is sick, the prisoner. Those who care for their brother or sister enter into the joy of the Lord; those who do not do so, however, who by their omission say, ‘What does it matter to me?’, remain excluded.
“Here, and in the other cemetery, lie many victims. Today, we remember them. There are tears, there is mourning, there is grief. From this place we remember all the victims of every war. Today, too, there are many victims … How is this possible? It is so because in today’s world, behind the scenes, there are interests, geopolitical strategies, lust for money and power, and there is the manufacture and sale of arms, which seem to be so important! And these plotters of terrorism, these schemers of conflicts, just like arms dealers, have engraved in their hearts, ‘What does it matter to me?’
“It is the task of the wise to recognise errors, to feel pain, to repent, to beg for pardon and to cry. With this ‘What does it matter to me?’ in their hearts, the merchants of war perhaps have made a great deal of money, but their corrupted hearts have lost the capacity to weep. Cain did not weep. He was not able to weep. The shadow of Cain hangs over us today in this cemetery. It is seen here. It has been seen from 1914 right up to our own time.
“With the heart of a son, a brother, a father, I ask each of you, indeed for all of us, to have a conversion of heart: to move on from ‘What does it matter to me?’, to shed tears: for each one of the fallen of this ‘senseless massacre’, for all the victims of the mindless wars, in every age. Brothers, humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep”.
Following Mass and after greetings from the military archbishop for Italy, Santo Marciano and the Chiefs of Staff and General Commanders, the bishop of Rome presented to those in attendance the “Light of St. Francis” Lamp, which will be lit in the respective dioceses during the events commemorating the First World War. The lamp was donated by the Holy Convent of Assisi and the oil was given by the “Libera” Association of the priest Don Luigi Ciotti.
The Pope subsequently bade farewell to those present and transferred to Ronchi dei Legionari airport, where he departed for the Vatican.