The Catholic Church
and Iraq

Pope Warns Against War

Pope John Paul II spoke out Jan. 13 against a possible war in Iraq, saying military force must be "the very last option."

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II spoke out against a possible war against Iraq, telling Vatican-accredited diplomats that military force always must be "the very last option," even when motivated by legitimate concerns.

In an annual "state of the world" address Jan. 13, the pope said the future of humanity depends partly on the earth's peoples and their leaders having the courage to say "no to war."

"War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity," he said.

"And what are we to say of the threat of a war which could strike the people of Iraq, the land of the prophets, a people already sorely tried by more than 12 years of embargo?" he said.

"War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations," he said.

The pope said the U.N. charter and international law "remind us war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military options."

The pontiff's words, which came as the United States accelerated its military buildup in the Persian Gulf region within striking range of Iraq, were his strongest and most direct to date on the potential Iraqi conflict. In December, he made a general appeal to the world to "extinguish the ominous smoldering of a conflict."

In recent weeks, a growing chorus of Vatican officials has warned against resolving the Iraqi disarmament problem through war, pointedly rejecting the notion of a "preventative war" in the case of Iraq, which the United States suspects of harboring weapons of mass destruction.

In his speech to diplomats, the pope also for the first time personally denounced Russia's expulsions last year of a bishop and other Catholic clergy, which he said were "a cause of great suffering for me."

"The Holy See expects from government authorities concrete decisions which will put an end to this crisis, and which are in keeping with the international agreements subscribed to by the modern and democratic Russia," he said.

Turning to the Middle East, the pope deplored the "constant degeneration of the crisis" and said Israelis and Palestinians are called "to live side-by-side, equally free and sovereign, in mutual respect."

"The solution will never be imposed by recourse to terrorism or armed conflict, as if military victories could be the solution," he said.

Reviewing the world situation at the start of 2003, the pope said he had been "personally struck by the feeling of fear which often dwells in the hearts of our contemporaries."

He cited the threat of "insidious terrorism capable of striking at any time and anywhere," war in the Middle East and the threat of war in Iraq, social turmoil in South America, famine and conflicts in Africa, the spread of fatal diseases, and "the irresponsible behavior contributing to the depletion of the planet's resources."

"Never as at the beginning of this millennium has humanity felt how precarious is the world which it has shaped," he said.

"Yet everything can change," he added. "It depends on each of us."

He listed certain "requirements" that must be met "if entire peoples, perhaps even humanity itself, are not to sink into the abyss."

First among them was a "yes to life," particularly on the part of legislators.

"Abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, for example, risk reducing the human person to a mere object: life and death to order, as it were," he said.

Second, he called for respect for law, especially international agreements; he said such respect was the foundation of national and international stability.

"The world would be totally different if people began to apply in a straightforward manner the agreements already signed," he said.

Lastly, the pope said solidarity must be seen as a duty and called for an end to selfishness, "that is to say, to all that impels man to protect himself inside the cocoon of a privileged social class or a cultural comfort that excludes others."

"The lifestyle of the prosperous, their patterns of consumption, must be reviewed in the light of their repercussions on other countries," he said.

Sounding a note of optimism, the pope cited several examples of recent success stories built on trust and cooperation, including progress toward peace and reconstruction in the African countries of Angola, Burundi and Sudan. He condemned the start of conflicts in Ivory Coast and the Central African Republic and appealed to the combatants to lay down their weapons and work for peace.

Another success story, the pope said, was today's "united and enlarged" Europe now that the continent "has succeeded in tearing down the walls which disfigured her."

He repeated his appeal to European leaders to ensure that the European Union's future constitution includes recognition for religious freedom, "also in its social and corporative dimensions"; structures for dialogue between governing bodies and communities of believers; and respect for the juridical status already enjoyed by religious groups.

The pope said world leaders must recognize that the independence of states "can no longer be understood apart from the concept of interdependence."

"All states are interconnected both for better and for worse," he said.

In this regard, the pope said, two conditions must be met "if we are to avoid descending into chaos": rediscovery of the "paramount value" of "natural law" as the source of inspiration for civil and international law and professionally competent politicians who are honest, selfless and have strong moral convictions.

—Catholic News Service


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