Social Action Office

Pope John Paul II:
Why I say no to war

Pope John Paul IINever as at the beginning of this millennium has humanity felt how precarious is the world which it has shaped. I have been personally struck by the feeling of fear which often dwells in the hearts of our contemporaries.

An insidious terrorism capable of striking at any time and anywhere; the unresolved problem of the Middle East, with the Holy Land and Iraq; the turmoil disrupting South America; the conflicts preventing numerous African countries from focusing on their development; the diseases spreading contagion and death; the grave problem of famine, especially in Africa; irresponsible behaviour contributing to the depletion of the planet's resources; all these are so many plagues threatening the survival of humanity, the peace of individuals, and the security of societies.

Yet everything can change. It depends on each of us. Everyone can develop within himself his potential for faith, for honesty, for respect of others, and for commitment to the service of others.

That is why choices must be made so that humanity can still have a future, and therefore the peoples of the earth and their leaders must sometimes have the courage to say "No".

I say: NO TO WAR! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity.

International law, honest dialogue, solidarity between states, the noble exercise of diplomacy; these are methods worthy of individuals and nations in resolving their differences. I say this as I think of those who still place their trust in nuclear weapons, and as I think of the all too numerous conflicts which continue to hold hostage our brothers and sisters in humanity. Bethlehem reminds us of the unresolved crisis in the Middle East, where two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, are called to live side by side, equally free and sovereign, in mutual respect.

Faced with the constant degeneration of the crisis in the Middle East, I say to you that the solution will never be imposed by recourse to terrorism or armed conflict, as if military victories could be the solution.

And what are we to say about 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? War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations.

As the charter of the United Nations Organisation and international law itself remind us, war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations.

All states are interconnected both for better and for worse. For this reason, and rightly so, we must be able to distinguish good from evil and call them by their proper names. And history has taught us time and time again that it is when doubt or confusion about what is right and what is wrong prevails that the greatest evils are to be feared.

If we are to avoid descending into chaos, it seems to me that two conditions must be met. First, we must rediscover both within states and between states the paramount value of natural law, which was the source of inspiration for the rights of nations and for the first formulations of international law.

Second, we need the persevering work of statesmen who are honest and selfless; in effect, the indispensable professional competence of political leaders has no legitimacy unless it is connected to strong moral convictions.

It will always be possible for a leader who acts in accordance with his convictions to reject situations of injustice or institutional corruption, or to put an end to them. It is precisely in this, I believe, that we rediscover what is today commonly called good governance.

The material and spiritual wellbeing of humanity, the protection of the freedom and rights of the human person, selfless public service, closeness to concrete conditions: all of these take precedence over every political project and constitute a moral necessity which itself is the best guarantee of peace within nations and peace between nations.

May all of us who have gathered in this place, which is a symbol of spirituality, dialogue and peace, contribute by our daily actions to the advancement of all the peoples of the earth, in justice and harmony, to their progress towards greater happiness and greater justice, far from poverty, violence and threats of war.

From an address at the Vatican to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, 13 January 2003:

Bethlehem! The Holy Land! The tragic enduring tension in which this Middle Eastern region lives makes more urgent the search for a positive solution to the fratricidal and senseless conflict which has shed blood for too long.

It requires the co-operation of all who believe in God and who know that true religious feeling, far from setting individuals and peoples against one another, urges them to build together a world of peace.

From New Year Homily, 1 January 2003:

As an essential part of its fight against all forms of terrorism, the international community is called to undertake new and creative political, diplomatic and economic initiatives aimed at relieving the scandalous situations of gross injustice, oppression and marginalisation which continue to oppress countless members of the human family.

History shows that the recruitment of terrorists is more easily achieved in areas where human rights are trampled upon and where injustice is a part of daily life.

From an address welcoming Kathryn Colvin, the new British Ambassador to the Holy See, 7 September 2002:

The religions should not be used as a tragic excuse for enmities which have their origins elsewhere.

No one has the right to call upon God to justify their own selfish interests. I ask all religious leaders to reject all violence as offensive to the name of God and to be tireless promoters of peace and harmony.

From an address in Muslim Azerbaijan, 22 May 2002:

The dire consequences of the tragic events of September 11 are still with us.

The spiral of violence and armed hostility in the Holy Land - the land of our Lord's birth, death and resurrection, and the land held sacred by the three great monotheistic religions - has increased to unimaginable and intolerable levels.

From a speech to the Papal Foundation, 8 April 2002:

To all of you I say: together we must firmly oppose the temptations of hatred and violence which give only the illusion of resolving conflicts while causing real and permanent damage.

Instead, forgiveness, which can appear to be weakness, demands great spiritual strength and guarantees long term advantages.

From the Angelus New Year Prayer, 1 January 2002:

There is no peace without justice, and no justice without forgiveness.

New Year world peace message, 2002:

We must multiply our efforts for peace. One cannot stand idle in front of terrorist attacks, but equally one cannot stand idle in the face of the war now appearing on the horizon. There is no need to resign oneself almost as if war were inevitable.

Dear friends, offer your experience to the cause of peace, an experience of true brother/sisterhood which leads us to recognise in each other brothers/sisters whom we should love unconditionally.

Only this is the path which leads to peace, dialogue, hope and true reconciliation.


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