Discussing on the flight from Kazakhstan to Italy on Thursday the moral degradation of the West, particularly concerning the advance of legal euthanasia, Pope Francis said the region has taken the wrong path and that killing should be left “to the animals.”

“It is true that the West degenerates,” the pope said during his Sept. 15 in-flight press conference in response to a question about the loss of values in the West, and in particular to the push for legal euthanasia in France, Italy, and Belgium.

“It is not, at this moment, at the highest level of exemplariness … The West has taken the wrong paths,” the pope said.

Pressed on the problem of euthanasia, Pope Francis said: “To kill is not human, period. If you kill — with motivation yes — in the end you will kill more. It’s not human. Let’s leave killing to the animals.”

Pope Francis visited Kazakhstan Sept. 13–15, participating in the Seventh Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, an interreligious summit, and visiting the Catholics and public officials of the Central Asian state.

In the course of the in-flight press conference, the pope also addressed the Russo-Ukrainian War and Ukraine’s right to defend itself, relations between the Holy See and China, and critiques that participation in the Kazakh interreligious congress risks indifferentism.

Regarding religious freedom concerns in China, and especially Hong Kong, Pope Francis said: “To understand China takes a century. And we don’t live in centuries. The Chinese mentality is a rich mentality, and when it becomes a little sick, it loses its richness. To understand, we have chosen the path of dialogue.”

“There is a bilateral Vatican-Chinese commission that,” he said, “is going well.”

“It’s slow because the Chinese pace is slow. They have an eternity to move forward. A people of infinite patience. But of the experiences we had before we think of the Italian missionaries who went there and were respected as scientists. We also think today of the many priests or believers called to Chinese universities because they value culture,” he said.

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“It is not easy to understand the Chinese mentality but it should be respected. I always respect. And here in the Vatican there is a dialogue commission that is going well, Cardinal Parolin is chairing it and he, right now, is the man who knows most about China and the dialogue with the Chinese. It’s a slow thing but always steps are moving forward.”

The pope cautioned against “classifying” China in a democracy-antidemocracy binary, “because it is such a complex country with its rhythms.”

“And it is true that there are things that seem to us to be undemocratic, that is true,” he added.

“More than classifying, I try to support the way of dialogue,” the pope said. “In the way of dialogue so many things are clarified. And not only of the Church but of other areas; but for example the extent of China, the governors of the provinces are all different, also there are different cultures inside of China, which is a giant. Understanding China is a huge thing, but don’t lose patience, it takes a lot. But we have to go with dialogue.”

Turning to Ukraine, the Holy Father said that arming the country “can be morally acceptable,” recalling that “to defend oneself is not only lawful but also an expression of love of country.” He affirmed the right of a nation to defend itself when necessary.

Discussing dialogue with Russia, Pope Francis said that “it is always difficult to understand dialogue with the states which have started the war … It is difficult, but we should not dismiss it, to give the opportunity for dialogue to everyone, to everyone. Because there is always the possibility that with dialogue things can change, even offering another point of view, another point of consideration.”

He continued: “But I do not exclude dialogue with any power that is at war, even if it is the aggressor. Sometimes dialogue should be done like this, but it has to be done. It stinks, but it has to be done. Always one step forward. The hand outstretched, always, because with the opposite we close the only reasonable door for peace. Sometimes they do not accept dialogue — it’s a shame — but dialogue always goes forward, it’s at least offered. And this is good for he who offers.”

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On the risk of indifferentism, Pope Francis said that “if there is no dialogue there is either ignorance or war. Better to live as brothers; we have one thing in common, we are all human. Let’s live as humans, with good manners: What do you think, what do I think? Let’s agree, let’s talk, let’s get to know each other.”

Elaborating on his discussion of the degeneracy of the West, Pope Francis asked, “What has the West lost, to forget to welcome?” He noted its need for population growth, considering “the demographic winter which we have. We need people, both in Spain, in Spain especially, but also in Italy.”

To this end, he emphasized the need to welcome, promote, and integrate immigrants.

The pope cautioned against populism and said the West “may be … expiring a little bit.”

“But we have to take the values back. Europe should take the values of the fathers who founded the European Union — those great ones,” he said, having referred earlier to Ven. Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, and Alcide De Gasperi.