Pope Francis has warned that a return of 1930s era nationalism and populism is undermining the hard-won peace and international alliances of the post-war period.
The 82-year-old Argentinian Pontiff made his remarks during his annual “state of the world” address to ambassadors accredited to the Vatican representing the 183 states who have diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
During the speech, the Pope referred back to the League of Nations, an international alliance established after the devastation of the First World War but whose failure was down to the growth of ideological nationalism that sparked the Second World War.
In pointed remarks to European leaders, he urged the old continent not to “forget” the benefits that the “friendship and rapprochement” between countries in the post Second World War period, which saw the creation of the European Union.
In 2019, however, the Pope said the “multilateral system” - of which the United Nations and the EU are main players - is once again experiencing difficulty due to the “resurgence of nationalistic tendencies” at odds with the “vocation” of international bodies.
“Some of these attitudes go back to the period between the two World Wars, when populist and nationalist demands proved more forceful than the activity of the League of Nations,” the Pope told the diplomats gathered in the Sala Regia hall inside the Vatican’s apostolic palace.
“The re-appearance of these impulses today is progressively weakening the multilateral system, resulting in a general lack of trust, a crisis of credibility in international political life, and a gradual marginalisation of the most vulnerable members of the family of nations.”
Francis’ speech comes after a year which saw a rising tide of populism in Italy, parts of Germany, in the Latin American Catholic heartland of Brazil, and in majority Catholic countries such as Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic.
Populist and nationalistic tendencies were also cited as behind Britain’s referendum vote in 2016 to leave the European Union, and the election of President Donald Trump, who has pursued an America-First policy while in the White House.
But the Pope warned that nationalist policies and “reactive, emotional and hasty solutions” might be able to “garner short-term consensus” but will not solve deeper problems.
While criticising the rising tide of nationalism, Francis also said this was down to a failure of the United Nations and others from offering “effective solutions” to disputes and global problems and was a reaction against globalisation proceeding at too fast a pace.
“The global dimension has to be considered without ever losing sight of the local,” he said.
Francis concluded his speech by pointing out that 2019 will mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which he said marked the end of the legacy of the Second World War.
“The countries east of the Iron Curtain recovered freedom after decades of oppression, and many of them set out on the path that would lead to membership of the European Union,” the Pope said.
“In the present climate, marked by centrifugal tendencies and the temptation to erect new curtains, may Europe not lose its awareness of the benefits - the first one which is peace - ushered in by the journey of friendship and rapprochement between peoples begun in the postwar period.”
The Pope also quoted his predecessor, Paul VI - who was canonised in October - who told a gathering of the United Nations in 1965: “Never again war! Never again war! It is peace, peace that has to guide the destiny of the nations of all mankind!”
Elsewhere, Francis warned against attempts to “foment conflict” between Muslims and Christians, telling ambassadors that his forthcoming trips to the United Arab Emirates - the first by a Pope to the Arabian peninsula - and to Morocco will be aimed at building inter-religious dialogue.
Although there had been quarrels over the centuries between Christians and Muslims “in different areas of the Middle East they have long lived together in peace.”