Jesus is ‘the Prince of Peace’ (Is. 9:6). As St John Paul II said, war always represents a defeat for humanity. Yet the Church is realistic about the presence of sin in the world, including amongst her own members, which produces conflict. Thus, while individual Catholics may adopt a strictly pacifist position, the Church teaches that war in strictly defined circumstances may be justified as the lesser evil. The Crusades lasted for 200 years from 1095. The Crusaders’ motivation was complex. Some sought economic gain or military glory, but most were inspired by faith. Jerusalem had been occupied by Muslims for 400 years prior to the First Crusade but, on the whole, people of different faiths co-existed peaceably.
The Crusades were a response to the new Seljuk Turkish rulers who destroyed the Holy Places and disrupted pilgrimages. While the Church promoted the recovery of the Holy Places, popes and saints were horrified by the outrages committed by some Crusaders. Possibly the worst excess was the sack the Christian capital of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade as the Venetians exploited Byzantine rivalries. Far from condoning this, Pope Innocent III excommunicated those involved. While not denying the wrongs committed, the Crusader kingdoms were at times relative beacons of culture and tolerance.
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