Pope Francis calls for diplomatic solution to North Korea crisis

Pope Francis listens to a question from Vera Shcherbakova of the Itar-Tass news agency while talking with journalists aboard his flight from Cairo to Rome April 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) Pope Francis listens to a question from Vera Shcherbakova of the Itar-Tass news agency while talking with journalists aboard his flight from Cairo to Rome April 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

On the flight home from Cairo to Rome on April 29, Pope Francis insisted on the need for “a diplomatic solution through negotiation” to the developing crisis on the Korean peninsula “because it seems the situation has heated up too much.” In this situation, he said, it is “the duty” of the United Nations “to take up its leadership again.”

A reporter suggested that “the piecemeal third world war” Pope Francis has often spoken about is now concentrated around North Korea after U.S. President Trump dispatched naval ships to the area in response to missile testing by the regime of North Korean President Kim Jong-Un. Many now worry of the risk of a nuclear confrontation.

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Pope Francis emphasized that the preferred path to resolving such disputes to him “is the road of negotiation, the diplomatic solution.”

There are many facilitators and mediators around the world who are "always ready to help" with negotiations, the pope said.

The situation in North Korea, he added, has been heated for a long time, "but now it seems it has heated up too much, no?"

Pope Francis said, “I always call for the resolution of problems by the diplomatic way, by negotiation, for the future of humanity because an extended war would destroy, I don’t say half of humanity, but a good part of humanity and of culture too.

The situation in North Korea, he added, has been heated for a long time, "but now it seems it has heated up too much, no?"

“It would be terrible,” he said. He said he did not think humanity today “would be capable of bearing it.”

Noting those countries that are “suffering internal conflicts, where there are hotspots of war—in the Middle East, but also in Africa, the Yemen,” he said, “Let’s stop; let’s look for a diplomatic solution. And here I think the United Nations has the duty to take up once again its leadership because it has been watered down, it has been watered down.”

Asked about whether he and Mr. Trump would meet, Pope Francis said, “I have not yet been informed by the Secretariat of State that a request has been made, but I receive every head of state that asks for an audience.”

At the end of his eventful visit in Cairo, Francis came to the back of the papal flight to meet the media a little after take-off and, despite turbulence at times, he responded to several questions.

A journalist with German media asked the pope about the controversy he sparked April 22 for saying some refugee camps are like concentration camps.

“For us Germans obviously that is a very, very serious term. People say it was a slip of the tongue. What did you want to say?” the reporter asked.

“No, it was not a slip of the tongue,” Pope Francis said, adding that there are some refugee camps in the world—but definitely not in Germany—that “are real concentration camps.”

Questioned about what more the Holy See could do to help resolve the explosive political crisis in Venezuela, Francis said the Holy See is moving “to facilitate” a solution there, but he did not explain what new steps were being taken. He said he “loves” the country, but noted that a solution was not easy as the opposition “is divided.” He mentioned that the group of four ex-presidents from Spain, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Colombia were seeking ways to relaunch negotiations toward a resolution to the crisis in Venezuela, but, he said, “The conditions must be much clearer.”

The pope was asked if the case of Giulio Regeni came up in his meeting with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt. Mr. Regeni was a young Italian doctoral student from Cambridge studying trade unionism in Egypt when he was abducted in February 2016. His body was soon discovered in a ditch outside of Cairo showing signs of extreme torture. Pope Francis said that the parents of Mr. Regeni had appealed to him for help and the Holy See had subsequently intervened in this case, and he added that he was personally very concerned about it. But Pope Francis refused to disclose what he had talked about with the Egyptian leader.

On another question regarding his use of the word “concentration camp” to describe the dramatic situation of refugees in holding centers in Europe, Pope Francis again spoke about the inhuman conditions that many were living in and made clear that while he had praised Italy and Greece for what they were doing, his use of the term in no way referred to Germany.

This report includes reporting from Catholic News Service.

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