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Amidst a war involving the world’s foremost nuclear powers, Pope Francis has been a lonely voice for peace. For his pains, he has been criticized by commenters on left and right and by leaders in both Russia and Ukraine. Yet he has continued to speak. There is a great deal at stake in whether the world heeds his words—not just countless lives, but the fate of a deeply humane way of thinking about the nature of war and peace.

Francis has decried “the violent aggression against Ukraine,” exclaiming, “there is no justification for this!” He regularly asks for prayers for the country’s “martyred people” and has called on Vladimir Putin to end the “spiral of violence and death.” He has backed up his words with deeds. At the behest of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, the pope has sought to arrange the return of Ukrainian children who have been taken to Russia from occupied ­territory—the sort of sensitive mission in which the Vatican has a record of success. He has launched a secretive peace effort that, whatever its prospects, shows his laudable commitment to ending the war.

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