The world is on the “brink” of nuclear war, Pope Francis warned on Monday, as he set off on a trip to Chile and Peru that threatens to become overshadowed by sexual abuse scandals.
“Yes, I am really afraid. We are on the brink. We only need an accident to trigger war,” Francis said in in-flight comments to reporters, as quoted by the ANSA news agency.
“If we go on like this the situation risks precipitating.
So, we need to destroy the weapons and to strive for nuclear disarmament,” he added.
On Francis’ instructions, reporters on the papal plane were each given a picture of a child survivor of the Nagasaki bomb carrying his dead brother, with the inscription: “the fruit of war.”
The same picture has been circulated by the Vatican over the Christmas and New Year period, in a show of the pope’s concerns about a new nuclear conflict.
The pope’s appeal came as North and South Korea held working-level talks on Monday, raising hopes that months of rising tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes may be easing.
Francis said Jan. 10 that the global community must “support every effort at dialogue” with North Korea.
Francis was expected to arrive in the capital Santiago de Chile late on Monday, and to travel on Thursday to neighbouring Peru, where an earthquake killed one person and injured dozens on Sunday.
The pope’s visit was preceded by six arson attacks against Chilean churches or parishes.
A leaflet left at a parish in Santiago de Chile criticised “the domination” the Catholic Church wanted to exercise over people.
Chile is the Latin American country where the pope is least valued, receiving an approval rating of 5.3 out of 10, according to a poll by the non-governmental organization Corporacion Latinobarometro.
Latinobarometro director Marta Lagos said Francis’ popularity had declined over the case of Chilean priest Fernando Karadima, whom the Vatican finally found guilty of abusing minors in 2011, after years of accusations.
The pope has been criticised for his 2015 appointment of Juan Barros as bishop of Osorno, Chile, in spite allegations that Barros had protected Karadima.
The Vatican has meanwhile tried to mitigate the repercussions of another sexual abuse scandal in Peru, announcing Jan. 10 that it was taking over a Catholic movement based there, Sodalicio, whose founder prosecutors want to arrest over alleged abuses.
Thousands of believers were travelling from neighbouring countries to Chile to see the pope, whose programme includes visits to Temuco in the centre and Iquique in the north.
Francis, an Argentine, is making his sixth visit to Latin America.
He has been to Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Cuba, Mexico, and Colombia, but, much to the chagrin of his compatriots, never to his homeland.