Like the recent pontiffs before him, Pope Francis traveled to Nettuno, Italy, on Thursday to visit the burial ground of the 7,860 American soldiers who died liberating southern Italy and Rome during World War II.
There, he told several thousand people at Mass that he believed the world was heading into what could be its biggest war yet, according to Reuters. Commemorating the young soldiers who died in World War II was of particular significance today, he said, because “the world once more is at war and is preparing to go even more forcefully into war.”
Francis did not elaborate on what he meant in saying the world is heading “more forcefully into war.” But the ominous statement comes as antagonism between leaders in the United States and North Korea raises fears of a nuclear confrontation, and as violence and instability around the world have led to more profound human suffering and loss of innocent lives.
Amid the escalating tensions and rhetoric between the United States and North Korea, President Trump leaves for a trip to Asia Friday. In a recent speech at the United Nations, Trump said that, if necessary, he would “totally destroy” North Korea, which continues to carry out its missile and nuclear programs.
The pope spoke as part of a yearly commemoration held every Nov. 2, the day Roman Catholics honor their dead, according to Reuters. He also laid white roses on about a dozen graves of soldiers buried at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, located about 40 miles south of Rome.
“Please Lord, stop. No more wars. No more of these useless massacres,” he said in an improvised homily, according to Reuters.
After visiting the cemetery, Francis stopped at the Ardeatine Caves, where in March 1944 Nazi soldiers killed 335 Italians in retaliation for an Italian partisan attack the previous day that killed 33 German soldiers. The Nazi troops rounded up the Italian men and boys, who included Jews, Roman Catholics and political prisoners, and trucked them to the caves, where the victims were shot in the back of the head.
Before visiting the U.S. military cemetery Thursday, Francis on Monday warned that “humanity risks suicide” with the increased danger of nuclear war between the United States and North Korea, the Associated Press reported. As part of the Vatican’s efforts to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons, the Vatican will host a two-day conference starting Nov. 10 of several Nobel peace laureates, international ambassadors and top U.N. and NATO officials.
Francis will address the conference on its opening day, and speakers will include Masako Wada, a notable disarmament activist who survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. Other speakers include Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, and Rose Gottemoeller, an American diplomat and NATO’s deputy secretary-general. It’s unclear whether North Korea will be represented at the conference, according to the Associated Press.
The White House announced Tuesday that Trump will not be visiting the demilitarized zone dividing the Korean Peninsula, and will instead visit Camp Humphreys, a military base about 40 miles south of Seoul, to highlight the U.S.-South Korean partnership. Officials said Trump’s tight schedule could not accommodate both stops.
Reuters reported in April that Francis said a third country like Norway could mediate the conflict between the United States and North Korea. A third country, Francis said, could “cool a situation” that had become “too hot.”
At the U.S. military cemetery Thursday, Francis acknowledged the pain of mothers and wives who lost their loved ones in past wars, according to Reuters.
“Humanity must not forget,” he said.
Andrew deGrandpre contributed to this report.