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Popes help end international conflict
The Pope stands in the international arena as a unique authority without traditional elements of influence that countries hold. In place of an impressive military or a large economy, the Pope controls the hearts and minds of 1.28 billion Catholics globally.

Over the course of the past century, various Popes have stepped up in international discussions as mediators, condemned human rights violations and organized days of prayers and fasting for those caught in conflict zones. Here are the five most well-known examples of how Popes helped end international conflict.

Pope Benedict XV and WWI

Pope Benedict initially attempted to stop Italy from entering WWI and, when that failed, he offered papal peace mediation throughout the war. He wrote up the 1917 Papal Peace Appeal, which focused on free seas, war reparations, disarmament and Belgian independence. It emerged as a skeleton of a treaty that the leaders of the various states would expand upon, the negotiations in which “the Holy See would not necessarily itself be involved.” In the end, the Treaty of Versailles copied the points of the Papal Peace Appeal two years prior but excluded the Pope from talks.

Pope John Paul II and Poland’s Solidarity

As a native Pole, Pope John Paul became personally invested in the swift conclusion of martial law in Communist Poland in 1981. The Pope directed the Primate of Poland to meet with the Polish Prime Minister at the time, Wojciech Jaruzelski, to broker peace talks between the worker union Solidarity and the government. Additionally, John Paul II published a letter in which he substantiated this meeting and supported the goal of peace.

Pope John Paul II, Israel and Palestine

In 1993, after three years of negotiations, the Pope established diplomatic relations with Israel under the condition the country invite him to regional summits. When talks broke down between Israel and Palestine after the 1994 mosque massacre in the West Bank, the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin asked Pope John Paul II to help restart the discussions. Unfortunately, the Palestine Liberation Chairman, Yasser Arafat, rejected this offer of mediation due to his resolute stance that he would not resume talks unless the Israelis guaranteed that Palestinian women, children and holy sites would have protection. By 2000, the Holy See legitimized Palestinian territory, stopping just short of fully recognizing it. This put the Vatican on extremely good terms with both Israel and Palestine and strengthened its sway in the region.

Pope Francis, Israel and Palestine

In a continuation of the previous Pope’s work in the region, Pope Francis invited the leaders of Palestine and Israel to the Vatican for a day of prayer in 2014. He requested both sides to live in peace together, advocating for the two-state solution. Rather than force politically charged discussions, the Pope simply brought the two leaders together for a prayer summit followed by a private discussion. Years later, Francis’ 2018 Christmas Address further urged for peace in the region.

Pope Francis and South Sudan

South Sudan, with 70 percent of its population Christian, plunged into civil war in 2013 after an alleged coup that the vice president designed. Two years into the conflict, Pope Francis privately met with South Sudanese President Kiir in Uganda while he was visiting the region. In a similar manner to how other Popes helped end an international conflict before them, Francis aimed to create an open dialogue between the warring factions. In 2019, Pope Francis invited President Kiir to the Vatican to discuss and encourage the implementation of the 2019 ceasefire agreement.

By wielding their immense power in these five instances, these popes helped end international conflicts. At the very least, their efforts as a neutral party created opportunities for hostile forces to move towards peace. While this list highlights major interventions by recent popes, these men also influence international politics every day in extraordinarily subtle and powerful ways.

Daria Locher
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Vatican CityHome to the St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Apostolic Chapel, Vatican City is one of the most sacred places in Christendom.

The sovereign city-state is contained within a walled enclave inside the city of Rome, giving it the distinction of being the world’s smallest country.

Main water resources in the city-state include the surface water from rivers and wetlands, groundwater from rocks and soil and treated government water supply. Water quality in Vatican City is good, thanks to the proliferation of drinking water fountains that take water directly from the mountains above the city.

Called “Nasoni” in Italian, the drinking water fountains in Rome are seen as inexpensive, environmentally-friendly options. The water is reportedly tested by the authorities about 250,000 times every year, ensuring that water quality in Vatican City is completely safe. Conveyed by an aqueduct to the drinking water fountains, an abundance of water means that a single family has more than 140 gallons to drink.

However, as recently as July 25, Vatican City decided to shut off all of its 100 decorative and drinking water fountains for conservation purposes because of a drought in Italy.

“The drought that is affecting the city of Rome and the surrounding areas of the capital has led the Holy See to take measures to save water,” the Vatican City’s website said. The statement also noted that the water-saving move was “in line with the teachings of Pope Francis.”

Pope Francis has repeatedly emphasized the issue of water security and water quality in Vatican City and around the world.

Earlier this year, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of Vatican City and the Catedra Del Dialogo y La Cultura Del Encountro of Argentina convened a diverse panel of experts from all over the world in a conference titled, “Human Right to Water: An interdisciplinary focus and contributions on the central role of public policies in water and sanitation management.” Members explored solutions to the global water challenges, including how to make drinking water safe and accessible to the neediest of people and communities.

At the conference, Pope Francis highlighted the importance of water and noted an important distinction between providing life-giving water and water that is safe and of good quality. Noting that every day, thousands of children die due to water-related illnesses, he urged scientists, government leaders, businesspeople and politicians to foster a shared “culture of care and encounter” and hear “the cry of the earth for respect and responsible sharing in a treasure belonging to all.”

Furthermore, Pope Francis’ comprehensive encyclical, Laudato Si’ (On Care For Our Common Home), explains the Holy See’s views about the importance of good water quality: “In fact, access to safe drinking water is an essential, a fundamental and universal human right, because it determines the survival of people, and this is a requirement for the exercise of other human rights.”

As Italy struggles to respond to the drought crisis, both in and outside the Vatican City, Pope Francis has already inspired a global conversation centered on the values of the planet’s single most precious resource: water.

Mohammed Khalid

Photo: Flickr

Pope Francis Visit Spotlights Human Trafficking in Europe
Slavery persists in the modern age all over the world, in fact, many first world countries fall victim to human trafficking, yet these instances are rarely publicized.  Human trafficking in Europe is both under reported and under prosecuted. In 2010, at least 2,400 victims in Italy were identified but only 14 perpetrators were convicted. Pope Francis is helping to open the discussion of human trafficking and making headlines with his visit to 20 women forced into prostitution. In addition to providing valuable support to the women, he is helping to garner international attention and support to this important issue.

On August 12, Pope Francis made a surprise visit to 20 women in a Church-sponsored apartment in Rome. Most of the women are about 30 years old from Nigeria, Romania and Albania. They were lured in with jobs but seriously abused and forced into prostitution. He spent over an hour listening and supporting these women. This visit was part of the Pope’s Fridays of Mercy, where he visits a suffering community.

While human trafficking is rarely discussed, the fact of the matter is, everyday people are coerced into hard labor or sex. Both individuals and organized crime groups can be the perpetrators. Gabriela Chiroiu, head of an anti-trafficking program, says that traffickers in Romania “operate as cells,” which make it difficult to find all the disconnected groups. Italy’s expansive coast make it particularly attractive for smugglers. These are only two countries heavily affected by human trafficking. There are an estimated 15,846 victims of human trafficking in Europe.

Pope Francis’ visit was not the first time he called attention to this grievous breach of human rights. Last year, he congratulated the Catholic Santa Marta Group for their work to end slavery. Earlier this summer, he emphasized at the Judge’s Summit that it was everyone’s responsibility to end modern slavery.

Fortunately, Pope Francis is not the only one fighting this important issue. Reaching Out Romania has helped 470 victims all over Europe. Not for Sale, an international organization, provides internships and job training for victims in the Netherlands and legal assistance for victims in Romania.

The fight against human trafficking in Europe and the rest of the world is quiet but alive and ongoing. Pope Francis’s visit and remarks have brought this injustice to the public eye again. The 15,846 European victims need support and assistance that can only come once human trafficking is widely recognized as a problem.

Jeanette I. Burke

Photo: Flickr

Mobile Medical Unit
Revolutionary in more ways than one, the Vatican recently donated a mobile medical unit to the people of one of the most ancient cities on the planet. The unit tours Rome’s borders and offers free health care to those in need — including but not limited to immigrants, expectant mothers and children.

Pope Francis is a prominent voice for those in need. Regularly speaking out about people living in poverty, the Pope frequently stresses the importance and impact that the impoverished have on society.

The life-saving vehicle does its best to blend in — with Vatican City license plates and the Holy See’s coat of arms (two keys topped by a papal crown), the mobile medical unit is Roman through and through. Dr. Lucia Ercoli, director of the Instituto di Medicina Solidale, said that using Vatican license plates allows migrants living in inhumane conditions to experience the closeness of the Pope and the church.

Istituto di Medicina Solidale staff, a group of volunteer doctors, health care professionals and medical students, use the RV-styled vehicle to assist people in need. The vehicle serves a diverse group of people, including many refugee children who lost their parents during the dangerous journey from their home country to Italy.

The group has been active since 2004 and partners with other nonprofit groups and the church to create makeshift clinics that offer services to the poor. In the summer of 2015, the association started providing services to a church-run center for immigrants near a city train station. In one day, hundreds of people showed up for check-ups.

In March of 2015, the Vatican opened a “clinic for the poor” located near the colonnade. The clinic offered free medical treatment and services to those unable to afford basic medical care.

Additionally, the Vatican has provided access to showers and barbershops. In October 2015, Pope Francis and his fellow Jesuits converted an old travel agency into a dormitory for the homeless.

The Vatican mobile medical unit provides a more private setting for patients and includes more equipment. As of August 2016, the vehicle has accommodated more than 2,000 people near shanty towns and abandoned buildings while simultaneously paving the way for further developments in healthcare.

Jacqueline Venuti

Photo: Pixabay

Mother Teresa
Pope Francis will canonize Mother Teresa, a nun who committed her life to helping the poor. The Pope will do so on the 19th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta, where she did extensive work assisting the impoverished.

An article written in USA Today describes Mother Teresa as, “Affectionately known as the saint of the gutter for her unconditional love for the poor, abandoned and marginalized.” As a result of her work in India, Mother Teresa earned several international honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

Mother Teresa was born in Albania in the year 1910. At the age of 18, she joined an Irish Convent and received the name, “Sister Mary Teresa.” Months later, she moved to India, where she taught at St. Mary’s School for girls.

According to an article on the CNN website, “There, she took her Final Profession of Vows and became Mother Teresa.” Her Vatican biography stated that “nearly 20 years later, during a train ride in India, she felt a calling from Jesus to care for the poor.” She established Missionaries of Charity to serve the poorest of all.

She was beatified in 2003 by Pope John Paul II, who approved her first posthumous miracle. A USA Today report explains that beatification, recognition by the Catholic Church that a person is welcomed into heaven, requires at least one miracle, while to be sainted, requires two. Mother Teresa’s first miracle was declared after the Vatican Committee found no scientific explanation for the recovery of an Indian woman who prayed to Mother Teresa while suffering from a stomach tumor.

CNN reports that, in December of last year, Pope Francis recognized a second miracle attributed to Mother Teresa, the recovery of a Brazilian man suffering from multiple brain tumors. Pope Francis will be canonizing Mother Teresa on September 4 of this year.

Isabella Rolz

Photo: Wikipedia

Fight Inequality

Every year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) gathers the global business, political and academic elite in Davos, Switzerland to tackle the planet’s toughest issues. This year, Pope Francis was once again invited to address the group and his message was clear: fight inequality.

A cardinal from the Vatican read the Pope’s letter to forum members on Jan. 22. It began by thanking the WEF for their invitation but quickly addressed global poverty and inequality: “The financialization and technologization of national and global economies have produced far-reaching changes in the field of labor. Diminished opportunities for useful and dignified employment, combined with a reduction in social security, are causing a disturbing rise in inequality and poverty in different countries.”

The recently published Oxfam report, “An Economy For the 1%,” corroborates the Pope’s views. Increasingly fewer people control more of the world’s wealth. From 1988 to 2011, for example, 46 percent of the global increase in income went to the wealthiest 10 percent of the world’s population.

Pope Francis’s address emphasized that caring for the poor means more than empathizing with their plight. “Weeping for other people’s pain does not only mean sharing in their sufferings, but also and above all realizing that our own actions are a cause of injustice and inequality.” He called on business leaders to create an inclusive future and warned about the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” that is hindering progress to fight inequality.

The “Fourth Industrial Revolution” refers to the coming age of robotics and artificial intelligence in everyday life. On its website, the WEF explains that while this revolution will raise global income levels, it may exacerbate inequality. The Pope wishes that this transformation of society “does not lead to the destruction of the human person – to be replaced by a soulless machine – or to the transformation of our planet into an empty garden for the enjoyment of a chosen few.”

Along with this warning, Pope Francis stressed that the age of robotics also presents an opportunity. With vastly increased productivity, humans will have more resources available for “our common home.” He emphasized that business is “a noble vocation” with the ability to improve others’ lives by providing them with a living wage and meaningful work.

His message is that, besides increasing profit and productivity, business leaders must not forget their duty to create jobs. Through the creation of jobs that pay a living wage, the economic elite lift people out of poverty and provide stability for the many living precarious lives. In the drive for modernization, Pope Francis tells leaders, “Do not forget the poor!”

Since becoming Pope, he has uniquely focused on ending inequality. In his 2016 address to Davos, he urged the global elite to work with that goal in mind. The most powerful people on earth, after all, are the most powerful agents for change.

As for what he recommends, Pope Francis’ words speak for themselves. From his 2014 apostolic exhortation: “Growth in justice requires more than economic growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.” Careful planning and action are needed to fight inequality.

Dennis Sawyers

Sources: Reuters, Rome Reports, Oxfam International, The Holy See (Vatican), World Economic Forum
Photo: Merco Press

refugee_children
Pope Francis announced his support for global education for refugee children at the Jesuit Refugee Service’s 35th anniversary ceremony.

The ceremony included 15 refugees along with friends and staff of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). Pope Francis stressed the importance of education for refugee children and youth in order to build peace and improve societies. “To give a child a seat at school is the finest gift you can give,” said the Pope.

Pope Francis has formally recognized and pledged support for the JRS Global Education Initiative to increase the number of refugees served by JRS’s educational program by 100,000 by the year 2020.

“Your initiative of ‘Global Education’ with its motto ‘Mercy in Motion,’ will help you reach many other students who urgently need education which can keep them safe,” Pope Francis said.

Today there are more than 60 million people who have had to flee their homes.

The Initiative helps refugees overcome barriers to education such as overcrowding in schools and being accepted into host communities. Education can keep children safe from gender-based violence, child labor and early marriage. It can also prevent them from joining armed groups.

Only 36 percent of refugee children attend secondary school and less than 1 percent have the opportunity to pursue higher education.

“For children forced to emigrate, schools are places of freedom… Education affords young refugees a way to discover their true calling and to develop their potential,” said the Pope.

JRS works in 45 countries and 10 different regions across all faiths and nationalities to help the most vulnerable in the hardest to reach areas.

According to Independent Catholic News, JRS was founded in 1980 by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus to meet both the human and spiritual needs of refugees. JRS is currently focused on helping refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

JRS is continuing to grow and expand in order to accommodate for refugee children and their need for education.

Jordan Connell

Sources: Independent Catholic News, Jesuit Refugee Service, Vatican Radio
Photo: Flickr

What the Pope’s Encyclical Means for the World’s Poor-TBP

In June, Pope Francis aligned himself with mainstream science by accepting the truth of climate change. With the release of his 184 page encyclical that calls for immediate action on climate change, Francis has added a moral scope to the biggest problem that humanity has ever encountered.

In it, Francis cites the mindless drive toward monetary gain and economical shortsightedness as the main reasons humanity is this situation today.

While environmentalists around the world applaud the encyclical as a much needed call to action by country and individual alike, the encyclical also revealed who would be impacted the most by climate change: the poor.

Francis says the poorest have been left in the wake of consumerist ambitions of the richest nations. They are being displaced and disregarded.

He also implores that the countries mainly responsible for the climate crisis have an obligation to help the poorest countries.

Numerous studies back the words of Francis’s encyclical. In 2014, the U.N. Climate Panel released a report that found that global climate change, while affecting everyone, would affect poorer countries more and threaten human security.

The report notes the risk climate change presents to agriculture. As some regions become dryer and hotter, food yields will suffer. In an interview with The Guardian in 2014, Princeton Professor Michael Oppenheimer said that even now, the poorest countries are already struggling to adapt their agriculture methods. If climate change is left unchecked, the lack of food will result in higher prices and competition, thus causing violence and the destabilization of poor regions.

Impoverished countries also face the heightened potential for natural disasters. Natural disasters are indeed, natural, and every country is at risk for them. However, the wealth of a country plays a pivotal role in how they are responded to.

When a natural disaster goes through an impoverished region, aid response is significantly slower. More people will end up dying from malnutrition and dehydration than from the actual disaster.

Maarten van Aalst, who directs the Red Cross Climate Center and co-authored the report, said that from 2000 to 2009, the number of natural disasters tripled compared to the same period in the 1980s.

This rise is attributed to climate change.

The poorest countries were already at a disadvantage. With climate change, those same countries may have a harder time climbing out of poverty.

Professors Francis Moore and Delavane Diaz out of Stanford published a study earlier this year noting the relationship between poverty and heat.

Impoverished countries, on average, are located in significantly hotter regions than non-impoverished countries. As mentioned by the U.N. report, agriculture in these countries are already struggling with adapting to the changing climate.

Moore and Diaz note that climate change will lower per-capita GDP in poor regions from 3.2 to 2.6%, making it harder to grow economically. This directly supports the findings in the U.N. report.

Wealthy countries are expected to continue economical growth.

With his encyclical, Pope Francis has not so subtly nudged the developed world to action on the environmental crisis. In doing so, extreme poverty may also be confronted as well.

– Kevin Meyers

Sources: The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, New York Times
Photo: Grist

 

Bolivian-Coca
Coca leaves have been consumed by natives in Bolivia for centuries. The native Bolivian population used coca to treat many medical conditions such as fatigue and altitude sickness as well as hunger and thirst. In many other countries, however, coca consumption is frowned upon and the substance is considered a narcotic.

When Pope Francis recently visited South America in early July, he drank a brew of chamomile, anise and coca leaves — an ancient South American elixir that wards off altitude sickness. This led to some stir on the internet regarding his consumption of coca.

Bolivia is considered a lower-middle-income country, where the gross national income in 2014 was USD $2,830 per person, according to the World Bank. Coca production in Bolivia contributes greatly to the economy and is a means of livelihood for many farmers. It is the second largest producer of coca leaves behind Peru.

During the 1980s, coca production and trade amounted to USD $1 billion in annual exports, according to analysis by the United States Library of Congress. That number is much higher today: in 2014, Bolivia’s GDP was $34.18 billion, according the World Bank.

There is, however, a dark side to coca leaves. It is the main ingredient used to process cocaine. Bolivia supplied over 15 percent of the cocaine that reached the streets of the United States in 1980s, making it a strong target of international criticism from Congress.

At the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, coca was outlawed and Bolivia’s use of coca was greatly limited and restricted. The treaty commanded Bolivia and other Andean nations to ban the consumption of coca leaves amongst their citizens.

In its natural state, the coca leaf is not scientifically harmful, and consuming it is a benign practice that is central to the cultural practice of millions of indigenous South American people. The treaty, however, declares that the exportation of coca is restricted; most countries outside of South America consider the trade and exportation of coca illegal, even in its natural state.

Bolivian prime minister Evo Morales held up a coca leaf at a U.N. narcotics assembly in 2012, defending the practice of chewing coca and urging the council to reconsider its stance on the leaf. He told the council, “Producers of coca leaf are not drug dealers; consumers of coca leaf are not drug addicts.”

But the outlawing of coca over 50 years ago has led to many continuous problems in Bolivia, including the illegal smuggling of coca paste throughout South America in order to process cocaine. The cocaine trail is a lucrative business that entices poor farmers to sell a portion of their crops to support their families.

Drug cartels hold citizens hostage, run prostitution rings and force violence wherever they are operating. In order to profit through the black market, It is in their best interests to see that nations do not work together to solve problems such as legal coca trade.

In 2011, the Obama administration rejected Bolivia’s proposed amendment to change the treaty and allow citizens to chew coca. A change in policy and cooperation between the United States and Bolivia would not only increase popularity among the nation’s people, but would also strengthen drug prevention efforts throughout the region.

The move would allow farmers to legally sell their goods, encouraging them to not trade their crops to drug traffickers. The sales would boost the economy of Bolivia and other South American countries, allowing more resources to be allocated to fighting the real violent criminals.

In turn, the United States would also get more cooperation from the Bolivian government, gain trust and better strategically combat cartels. Not all of the problems with drugs can be solved with a single policy, but together, by working to carefully reform international coca laws, the United States can help reduce poverty and illegal drug operations that are plaguing North and South America.

Adnan Khalid

Sources: About Coca Leaf, CNN, Library of Congress, The Guardian, UNTC, Washington Office on Latin America, World Bank
Photo: Indian Country Today Media Network

Pope Brings Strong Poverty Focus to Latin American Tour-TBP
Pope Francis has been entertaining a wide variety of topics on his current Latin American tour, but poverty has remained at the top of his list.

“Do we realize that something is wrong in a world where there are so many farm workers without land, so many families without a home, so many laborers without rights, so many persons whose dignity is not respected?” the Pope said in Spanish at a stop in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. “Do we realize that that system has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature?”

The Pope’s focus on poverty rings especially true for many living in the countries he’s speaking in. In Ecuador, over 25% of the population lives below the poverty line; that number jumps all the way up to 60% in Bolivia.

According to the Vatican, the overarching theme of the Pope’s visits is to bring “the Church for the poor.” The Pope is reaching out to the poverty-stricken people and regions of his native South America.

“The human environment and the natural environment are degrading together, and we can’t adequately confront human and social degradation without paying attention to the underlying causes,” the Pope said at a stop in Quito, Ecuador. “In today’s world, among the most abandoned and abused poor, we find the most oppressed and damaged land.”

– Alexander Jones

Sources: Big News, CNN, Telesur
Photo: BBC