Pope Francis on attack on French priest: 'The world's at war' – but not a religious one

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During his tenure in the Vatican, Pope Francis has frequently found himself caught in the position of condemning fundamentalist violence without appearing to blame Islam itself.

On Wednesday, reacting to the killing of a Catholic priest in the French town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray by two men who may have been inspired by ISIS, the Argentinian pontiff went further in his condemnation than ever before.

“Let’s not be afraid to state this reality: The world is at war,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal. Because, he added, “It has lost the peace.”

The pope spoke to reporters on the papal plane en route from Rome to Poland. “This holy priest, who died just at the moment that he offered the prayer for the whole church, is one (victim). But how many Christians, how many innocents, how many children?” Francis said, referring to attacks on Christians in places like Nigeria.

The killing of Rev. Jacques Hamel in a Normandy church on Tuesday added to security fears surrounding Francis' five-day visit for the World Youth Day celebrations, which were already high due to a string of violent attacks in France and Germany. Polish officials say they have deployed tens of thousands of security officials to cover the event.

After making those comments, the pope quickly clarified that when he spoke of war, he meant "a war of interests, for money, resources, dominion of peoples."

"I am not speaking of a war of religions. Religions don't want war. The others want war," Francis said.

Upon arrival at Krakow airport a pensive Francis was greeted by Poland's President Andrzej Duda, First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda and other state officials, and hundreds of faithful who had waited for hours to see him.

The Polish Army band played the anthems of the Vatican and of Poland. He then traveled in an open car through the city, waving at crowds as he headed to the Wawel Castle for the main welcoming ceremony.

In the evening Francis is to appear in the window of the residence of Krakow bishops, where he will be staying, and chat with some among the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world gathered for the World Youth Day celebrations that will run through Sunday.

"Let's live WYD (World Youth Day) in Krakow together!" the pontiff tweeted before departing from Rome, where he was bid farewell outside his Santa Marta residence by 15 refugees, new arrivals in Italy.

Just hours before Francis' arrival for the major Catholic event, groups of cheerful young pilgrims were seen in the streets of Krakow.

Relics of St. Mary Magdalene came to the St. Casimir Church from France for the duration of World Youth Day, and were displayed in a case by the altar.

"Their presence helps us concentrate on our prayers and brings us closer to God," said Nounella Blanchedent, 22, from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

She was one of the volunteers helping with security and logistics at the packed church, where a Mass was being held in French for pilgrims from France, Belgium and other countries.

Poland, a predominantly Catholic country remains proud of the late pontiff, St. John Paul II, who served as priest and archbishop in Krakow before becoming pope.

A sense of excitement was apparent in sunny Krakow on Wednesday with papal white-and-yellow flags and images of Francis and John Paul II decorating the streets. Stages were put up at many locations for concerts and other activities that are being held by and for the pilgrims in Krakow.

There was a heavy presence of police and other security forces across the city, as crowds were increasing everywhere.

"I have never seen so many people in Krakow, it's difficult to move around even though offices have closed (for the event) and many people have left the city," said Anna Gazda, 43, owner of a souvenir shop.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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