The Pope today issued his strongest message yet in opposition to possible war in Iraq, telling Vatican diplomats that military force must be "the very last option."
John Paul said a renewed conflict with Baghdad would only harm ordinary Iraqis, "already sorely tried" by UN sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Amid a massive buildup of US forces in the Gulf, the Pope called for stepped-up diplomacy and dialogue, saying war is not inevitable.
"War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations," he told the Vatican's diplomatic corps in his annual speech at the start of the new year.
"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."
The pontiff's speech, delivered in the frescoed Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace, marked his strongest message yet in opposition to war, and it was the first time since the crisis erupted that he has publicly mentioned Iraq by name.
Previously, the Pope has only referred in general to the threats of war and, in his Christmas message, called on the world to "extinguish the ominous smouldering of a conflict."
In his speech, the Pope also touched on other issues facing the world, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as what he called the risks to the dignity of human life, including abortion, euthanasia and human cloning.
January 13, 2003
The Irish Examiner