A 25-Year Pontificate at the Service of Peace

Author: Cardinal Angelo Sodano


Cardinal Angelo Sodano
Secretary of State


Dear Brothers,

There are several sides to a prism. Taking a retrospective look at 25 years of the Pontificate of our beloved Pope John Paul II, thus far we have examined some aspects of this historical reality.

Our analysis would be incomplete, however, if we did not stop to consider, brief though it may be, the important contribution that John Paul II has made for the peace of the world in the last years of the troubled 20th century and at the dawn of the Third Christian Millennium.

Certainly, the Roman Pontiff is, first of all, Pastor of the Universal Church. To him Christ has entrusted a religious mission, which is one of protecting His Church, of which he has been established as Teacher, Priest and Pastor.

In the face of the plights of humanity, however, the Pope has sensed his responsibility to also be the Good Samaritan on the world's journey. It is a moral duty that is deeply tied to the pastoral mission and almost derives from it, according to the example of Jesus who, in the face of the people's need of his time, exclaimed: Misereor super turbam (I have compassion on the crowd) (Mk 8:2).

1. In His Predecessors' Footsteps

Doing this, John Paul II has continued and developed the work of his Predecessors, especially the work of the Popes of the tragic 20th century, who were faced with guiding the barque of Peter in an era devastated by two world wars: the war of 1914-18 and that of 1939-45.

Thinking of so much bloodshed, the mind inevitably turns to Pope Benedict XV who, already in 1917, was describing the First World War as "a useless massacre", and to Pius XII, who before the prospect of a second conflict, on 24 August 1939, let out his cry to those in charge of the Nations: "Nothing is lost with peace. Everything can be lost with war" (cf. Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di Pio XII, Ed. Poliglotta Vaticana, vol. I, p. 306). Thereafter, John XXIII dedicated his last encyclical to peace, Pacem in Terris, and Paul VI in his Speech at the U.N. shouted: "War never again!", or, as he stated literally in French: "Jamais plus les uns contre les autres, jamais, plus jamais!" (4 October 1965; cf., Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, Ed. Poliglotta Vaticana, vol. III, 1965, p. 511).

Inserting himself in the footsteps of his Predecessors, Pope John Paul II believed that making a contribution to peace in the world was one of his duties as Pastor.

2. In a Bipolar World

At the beginning of his Pontificate, John Paul II found the world still divided between different spheres of influence, as had already been decided at Yalta on the banks of the Black Sea, in February of 1945, by the work of the victorious Powers of the Second World War. As is well known, very soon after that tragic conflict, the two great victors - the United States and the Soviet Union — began to mutually accuse each other of not respecting the agreements of Yalta. The U.S.S.R. and its allies barricaded themselves behind what Churchill described as the "Iron Curtain". Then, in 1948, came "the Strike of Prague" and the Berlin Wall. A new tension was beginning, which the well-known American journalist Walter Lippman began to designate with the term "Cold War". It was a "Cold War" that was to last until 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the return to new democratic governments in Central and Eastern European countries.

The first 11 years of the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II unfolded in this way in a bipolar world, still tested by deepseated rivalries. It is true that already in 1978 the terrifying sight of the atomic bomb had passed, but there still remained "the equilibrium of terror". Several local conflicts were nothing but a war by means of representatives from the two empires. In that situation, the work of the Pope showed itself to be most necessary for calling those in charge of international life back to the urgent need of respect for human rights and of the necessity of justice in order to obtain an age of peace.

3. Fall of Communist Regimes

This was an insistent and courageous work of delving into the lives of people and into the consciences of men and women and of preparing the same fall of Communism with the advent of a new age of liberty and interior peace for many Nations which, until then, were laid prostrate under the yoke of implacable dictatorships.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was nothing more than a symbol of the collapse of a spiritual wall, which was much larger than that material one. The material wall had divided the same German capital into two with a barrier of 154 kilometres, but the spiritual wall was much more vast, which was knocked down also thanks to the constant work of John Paul II, who never ceased to denounce the absurdity of that system and to champion the people's rights to liberty, and, consequently, to social peace.

By now many historians have recognized the work of Pope John Paul II in favour of peace in Central and Eastern Europe; and such a work remains one of the greatest merits of the present Pontificate.

4. Relationship of Justice, Peace

Already in the first encyclical of his Pontificate, Redemptor Hominis, 4 March 1979, the Pope had identified in the respect for human rights the only path to securing peace between peoples. "After all", the Pontiff wrote, "peace comes down to respect for man's inviolable rights —Opus iustitiae pax [the work of justice is peace] — while war springs from the violation of these rights" (Redemptor Hominis, n. 17).

This connection between justice and peace, as between cause and effect, will thereafter constitute the focal point of the countless Pontifical interventions for the realization of peace in the world, both in the local and regional area and on the world scene.

Certainly, the Predecessors of John Paul II had already set out on such a guiding road. The Second Vatican Council then mapped out the way to follow in order to help humanity enter into a new era of peace. It is the way indicated by the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, in the famous chapter De pace fovenda et comunitate gentium promovenda (Fostering of Peace and Establishment of a Community of Nations, Part II, Ch. V).

Pope John Paul II then developed theprinciples established by the Second Vatican Council by placing certain new emphases upon them in order to render the Christian message ever clearer, and according to the different local situations.

5. Magisterial Interventions

In this regard, we could distinguish two aspects of the Pope's work: the aspect of his doctrinal Magisterium and that of his practical action for avoiding conflicts and promoting peace (as Gaudium et Spes' "de bello vitando" [Avoiding War] and "de pace fovenda" [Fostering Peace] were teaching).

The Magisterium of the Pope truly appears in many forms. First of all, I would like to cite all of his 25 Messages for the Day of World Peace, which is celebrated every year on 1 January. There are 25 appeals for peace, at its roots as well as at its fruits, mapping out the way to travel in order to obtain peace. Every year, the Pope has given the world a different leitmotif in order to instil the great principles for a universal peace. In the first years of the Pontificate, the great themes were developed: "To reach peace, teach peace" (1979), "Truth, the power of peace" (1980), "To serve peace, respect freedom" (1981), and just to pass on, then, little by little to the other aspects, as in 1991, "If you want peace, respect the conscience of every person", and in 1992, "Believers united in building peace".

The last two Messages then had a great reverberation: that of 2002 directly concerning the present grave problems: "No peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness". The one for this year, 2003, has sealed the previous Messages with the great theme: "Pacem in Terris: a permanent commitment".

A collection of these 25 Messages, which are directed to Catholics and all people of good will, will soon be released. They are Messages that constitute a sort of Christian primer for peace, which can only exist if the order established by God for men and women and for the Nations is respected.

A second vein of John Paul II's Magisterium concerns his Discourses to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. As is well known, beginning each new year, the Pope addresses the Ambassadors of the States represented, laying out some major lines of action for contributing to peaceful international coexistence.

They are Speeches that emphasize the concern of the Pastor of the Universal Church in order to make a contribution to promoting peace, justice and solidarity between the Nations.

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has already happily edited and published a collection in a recent volume entitled Giovanni Paolo II e la Famiglia dei Popoli [John Paul II and the Family of Nations] (Editrice Vaticana, 2002).

It is important to note that in these Discourses, the Pope is addressing not only the States, but through them, the Nations and peoples. Certainly, sovereignty in a political sense belongs to the States, but this sovereignty emanates from a moral and cultural sovereignty which belongs to the Nations and which derives from their history and their culture, and, in the final analysis, from the sovereignty of the human person.

6. The Practical Initiatives

In this 25-year Pontificate, together with the Magisterium of the Pope, numerous practical initiatives are found that foster a new era of peace in the world. Here is included the work of the Secretariat of State and of the Pontifical Delegations dispersed throughout the world. But here, above all, the personal work of the Supreme Pontiff has its place. Among such initiatives we can cite his international travels along with the personal contacts with the Heads of State and Government, with persons of learning and various proponents of civil society, even with Messages to National Parliaments.

In 102 trips outside of Italy, the Pope has visited 129 countries; I myself have had the joy of accompanying him on 51 such trips, and have personally been able to observe how these trips have had an influence on men and women of good will, helping them to make a more solid commitment in favour of harmony between peoples.

Among such visits, those held at the United Nations in New York and at the various Institutions of the U.N., UNESCO in Paris, the FAO in Rome, and the various specialized organizations in Geneva have assumed a special importance. The Message taken to the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Council at Strasbourg, 8 September 1988, is important, just as the one to the Commission and the European Court of Human Rights. Once again, the Pope solemnly proclaimed in front of that chosen Assembly that the rights of men "precede the States, which have the responsibility to assure that they are respected". They are rights, the Pope emphasized, that "transcend the same national boundaries" (Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, Ed. Vaticana, vol. XI, 3, pp. 1080-83).

In order to maintain contacts with those in charge of the Nations, Pope John Paul II thereafter promoted the institution of new Apostolic Nunciatures, which are considered to be true houses of international dialogue. It is enough to consider those erected in Central Europe, in the Countries of the former Soviet Union and in the Balkans. In that area, where until 1989 there was not one official presence of the Holy See, a good 26 Pontifical Delegations have since been established: from Vilnius to Tirana.

The States that have established diplomatic relations with the Holy See during these 25 years of the Pontificate of John Paul II are an amazing 82, which are added to the 92 preceding ones, so that as a result, today there are 174 Countries with which the Holy See maintains official relations. They are channels that always reveal themselves useful for fostering international collaboration.

7. Hot Spots of War

Speaking of practical initiatives that contribute to peace in the world, one could then expand upon some specific cases, even though it becomes difficult to choose. For the sake of this exposition's brevity, I shall limit myself to outlining the work of the Pope for four special areas that are well known to all: the Holy Land, the Balkans, Central Africa and Iraq.

I am well aware that there are many other cases in which the work of the Holy See has unfolded. I remember, in particular, certain conflicts that arose in Latin America, which I personally followed very closely.

Among these, I would like to recall the threat of war that arose between Argentina and Chile towards the end of 1978, but which was thereafter able to be avoided with Pope John Paul II's well-known work of mediation. It was the age-old controversy which circled around the Beagle Channel at the far southern part of the two Countries. With the patient work of the late Cardinal Samoré, the two involved Governments of Buenos Aires and Santiago were invited to bridge the opposing forces.

The work of mediation was long and difficult, but after a good four years of negotiations, a Treaty of peace and friendship between Argentina and Chile was able to be signed in Rome, on 29 November 1984, which, even now, happily continues and develops evermore.

8. For Peace in the Holy Land

As it is known, the present, dangerous tension that exists between the Israelis and the Palestinians began with the constitution of the State of Israel in 1948 and then worsened with the war of 1967 — the well-known Six Days War that upset the equilibrium in the Middle East.

When John Paul II reached the Throne of Peter, he found himself facing a painful situation which has continued throughout these 25 years of his Pontificate. The Pope has maintained close contacts with the disputing Parties throughout this difficult historical period and has undertaken many initiatives that would be too long to describe here. By way of summary, the position of the Holy See can be synthesized into the following points:

1) U.N. resolutions are to be respected, and in particular the well-known 242nd resolution of 22 November 1967, regarding the withdrawal of Israel "from occupied territories";

2) Both parties, the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples, have the right to their own State with well-defined borders;

3) The city of Jerusalem must enjoy a special status which is guaranteed internationally;

4) The humanitarian plight of the Palestinian refugees must be resolved, according to the principles of international justice and solidarity.

During the Great Jubilee of 2000, the Holy Father wanted to make a visit to the Holy Land, and on this occasion he appealed once again to the Parties in dispute to rediscover the path to reconciliation and peace.

"In this area of the world", the Pontiff affirmed at the beginning of that Jubilee Pilgrimage, "there are grave and urgent issues of justice, of the rights of peoples and Nations, which have to be resolved for the good of all concerned and as a condition for lasting peace. No matter how difficult, no matter how long, the process of seeking peace must continue. Without peace, there can be no authentic development for this region, no better life for its peoples.... Building a future of peace requires an ever more mature understanding and ever more practical cooperation among the peoples who acknowledge the one true, indivisible God, the Creator of all that exists. The three historical monotheistic religions count peace, goodness and respect for the human person among their most important values" (Jubilee Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 22 March 2000, p. 1).

Already in this Discourse, the Holy Father showed himself, as an English weekly magazine The Economist would point out a few days later (25 March 2000, p. 47), "a Pope for all peoples", capable of carrying "distinct messages to the Holy Land for its uneasy Hebrew, Muslim and Christian listeners; and all were happy to hear it". Arriving at Bethlehem's heliport, John Paul II again returned to the theme of peace and justice by affirming that: "The message of Bethlehem is the Good News of reconciliation among men; of peace at every level of relations between individuals and Nations. Bethlehem is a universal crossroads" for accomplishing the advent of a world worthy of man. Therefore, calling for "peace for the Palestinian people! Peace for all the peoples of the region!", the Holy Father noted that "the Holy See has always recognized that the Palestinian people have the natural right to a homeland, and the right to be able to live in peace and tranquillity with the other peoples of this area" (Address on Arrival in Palestinian Territories, ORE, 29 March 2000, p. 4).

While meeting with the religious and civil authorities of the State of Israel in Jerusalem, the Holy Father was able to carry out a work of peace and reconciliation with words and actions, by affirming, for example, that "the Church utterly condemns anti-Semitism and every form of racism as being altogether opposed to the principles of Christianity" (Address to the Chief Rabbis, Holy Land, 23 March 2000, ORE, 29 March 2000, p. 6); "History, as the ancients held, is a Magistra vitae, a teacher of how to live. This is why we must be determined to heal the wounds of the past, so that they may never be opened again. We must work for a new era of reconciliation and peace between Jews and Christians. My visit is a pledge that the Catholic Church will do everything possible to ensure that this is not just a dream but a reality" (Address to Israeli President Weizman, 23 March 2000, ORE, 29 March 2000, p. 7). And while visiting the memorial of the Shoah, John Paul II said, among other things: "The Church rejects racism in any form as a denial of the image of the Creator inherent in every human being (cf. Gn 1:26)"; hence, hoping for a new relationship between Christians and Jews, he affirmed: "no more anti-Jewish feelings among Christians, or anti-Christian feelings among Jews, but rather the mutual respect required of those who adore the one Creator and Lord" (Address at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, 23 March 2000, ORE, 29 March, p. 7).

By now, the highly-valued symbolic actions with which John Paul II has accompanied his words of peace between the peoples of the Holy Land belong to history: with his personal witness, with the example of his own person; with humility, respect and a spirit of dialogue, he has visited the symbolic places of the two peoples in conflict, the Palestinians and the Israelis, that is, the Palestinian refugee camp Deheisheh, the Mausoleum Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Memorial), together with the Mount of the Mosque or the Temple, and the Western Wall (the so-called "Wailing" Wall). At the same time, as the Holy See has continued to do for the last 50 years, John Paul II has not tired of proposing again both to the attention of the sides still in conflict (the Israelis and the Palestinians) and to the International Institutions, the need to grant an internationally guaranteed special status to Jerusalem, symbolic city of peace: "It is not reasonable", the Holy Father affirmed in a Speech to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See (11 January 1999), "to put off until later the question of the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, towards which the followers of the three monotheist religions turn their gaze. The parties concerned should face these problems with a keen sense of their responsibility" (Annual Address to the Diplomatic Corps, 11 January 1999, ORE, 13 January, p. 2).

9. For Peace in the Balkans

A second important moment of the Pope's actions for peace is established through his work for peace in the Balkans.

From the beginning of the crisis in the former Yugoslavia, which broke out following the political elections of 1990, first with the open warfare in Croatia (1991) and then immediately after with the other devastating war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992), the Pope vigorously recalled the ethical and juridical principles already consolidated in International Law: on the one hand, Croatia and Slovenia had the right to choose their own destiny, recognized by the very Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; and on the other hand, the Government of Belgrade had the right to follow such a situation without, of course, resorting to the use of arms against their own people. War, the Holy See always insisted, can never be considered a means to resolve controversies between peoples.

Already at the beginning of this most serious political crisis that broke out in the heart of Europe and which very soon assumed the characteristics of a fundamentally ethnic war, John Paul II strongly intervened, appealing for respect for the rights of every person and of every national community. He then called on those in charge of the different Republics of the former Yugoslavian Federation to search for upright and peaceful solutions so as to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the peoples of the former Yugoslavia. But the Holy Father, well aware that in that explosive situation a reconciliation of souls was needed to heal the deeply ethnic and religious wounds of hatred and opposition, directly addressed many times all believers in God and the religious Leaders of the three communities existing in the different Republics of the Balkan region: Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim. In the space of less than one year alone — from 30 January 1991 to 13 January 1992 — the Holy Father intervened a good 37 times in the first phase of the Yugoslavian crisis.

"In these tragic times of suffering and distress in some parts of the world, as well as in your own homeland", John Paul II affirmed on 30 January 1991 at the outset of the crisis, while addressing a group of Croatian pilgrims present at a General Audience, "I invite you to pray to God for peace, for the rejection of the temptation to distrust and to rivalry, for respect for fundamental human rights and respect for the dignity and the rights of peoples. The way leading to the future is that of dialogue and discussion on points of disagreement, mutual respect, cooperation and solidarity" (Crisis in Yugoslavia. Positionand Action of the Holy See [1991-1992], Quaderni de L'Osservatore Romano, n. 18, Città del Vaticano, Libr. Ed. Vaticana, 1992, p. 29). In three Messages sent, respectively, to Ante Marković, President of the Federal Council of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; Franjo Tudjman, President of the Republic of Croatia; and to the President of the Republic of Slovenia (ibid., pp. 32-34), the Holy Father expressed a firm rebuke to stop using force through the creation of conditions for the resumption of dialogue. During the Prayer of the Sunday Angelus on 21 July, from the Pontifical Palace of Castel Gandolfo, the Pontiff, stressing the need that "peacemaking initiatives must be promoted between the Serbian and Croatian populations", affirmed with great clarity and foresight: "A more extensive armed conflict between these two peoples would, indeed, be a pointless catastrophe for Yugoslavia, one which would have grave repercussions in Europe" (ibid., p. 36).

In order to avoid such evils, at least two additional initiatives of the Holy Father can be mentioned, among others: namely, his long and fraternal letter sent to His Beatitude Pavle, Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the announcement of the meeting of prayer and fasting in Assisi (9-10 January 1993), "in order to fervently pray for peace in Europe, and especially in the Balkans".

As it was during the war in Bosnia with its tragic events of "ethnic cleansing", so also at the time of the analogous and horrifying conflict involving Kosovo, John Paul II did not cease to raise his voice to call the parties back to reason. On 22 April 1999, for example, while receiving in the Consistory Room a distinguished delegation of the Nobel Peace Prizes, he affirmed: "How can we fail to renew a vigorous appeal for an end to the ethnic conflicts in the Balkans and the clash of arms, for a return to dialogue and respect for the dignity of all persons and all communities, in the name of fundamental human rights!" (Address to a Group of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, 22 April 1999, ORE, 28 April, p. 1).

A few days earlier (18 April 1999), John Paul II had written a personal letter to Alexis II, Patriarch of Moscow and of All-Russia, before leaving for Belgrade (20 April). Expressing his solidarity for all victims of the conflict and assuring his prayers for peace, the Pope affirmed: "All who profess the Gospel of peace have the duty of declaring with one voice that every form of violence, ethnic cleansing, deportation of peoples and their exclusion from society cannot be considered as a way to reach civilized solutions to problems which can only be resolved by procedures that respect the law. All too often violence seems the easiest formula for resolving difficult situations" (Letter to Russian Patriarch, 18 April 1999, ORE, 28 April, p. 2).

Two years earlier, the Holy Father had visited the "martyr" city of Sarajevo (12-13 April 1997). The pilgrimage, objectively risky and very courageous, marked the highest and most expressive, symbolic moment of his long and painful participation in the drama of the war that broke up the Balkan area of Europe. With that Visit, which took place while the fighting continued in the half-demolished city, the Holy Father made the words he repeated many times during the decade of "ethnic cleansing" carried out in Bosnia and Herzegovina come alive: "You are not abandoned. We are with you. We shall always be with you".

In the same spirit of the "pilgrimage of peace", the exact one of the evangelical figure of the "Good Shepherd" who is careful to heal the wounds of his flock, again the Holy Father recently visited Croatia (2-9 June 2003). He had already previously visited Slovenia (May 1996 and September 1999). Reciprocal forgiveness and reconciliation were the two main points that he expressed in these meetings; on these foundations a well-ordered social life is being reconstructed in the five Republics that arose after the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia: Serbia-Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia.

10. For Peace in Central Africa

A third international scenario towards which John Paul II's peacemaking effort has been directed is Central Africa. One of the most serious problems that has actually turned the African Continent upside down in these last 10 years has been the ethnic conflicts in the Great Lakes Region (Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo [Zaire]). The horror of the fratricidal war between the Tutsis and Hutus began on 7 April 1994, the day following the murder of the President of Rwanda and Burundi. The war, carried out unfortunately even by groups that were in large part Christian, caused a terrifying bloodbath with almost a million deaths and 2 million refugees: a true massacre in just a few months. As the war continued in the midst of the general indifference and passivity of the international community — a fact scandalous in and of itself! — the Holy Father raised his voice of condemnation like a storm and invited those blinded by incomprehensible ethnic hatred to peace. The first time, he did this in a completely unique situation, namely, the solemn inauguration of the special African Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 10 April 1994. In the Homily of the Holy Mass celebrated in the Vatican Basilica, the Holy Father said: "The tragic news from Rwanda is causing us all great suffering. A new unspeakable drama: the murder of the Heads of State of Rwanda and Burundi and their entourage; the Head of the Rwandan Government and her family slaughtered; priests and Religious killed. Hatred, revenge and the bloodshed of brothers and sisters everywhere. In Christ's name, I beg you, lay down your weapons, do not let the price of redemption be in vain, open your hearts to the Risen One's imperative of peace!" (ORE, 13 April 1994, p. 1).

In the same Post-Synodal Exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa, published on 14 September 1995, John Paul II expressed all his concern for the tragedy of the war that was tearing Africa to pieces. With the same Fathers of the Special Synod for Africa, the Pontiff pointed out that the Continent "for some decades now... has been the theatre of fratricidal wars which are decimating peoples and destroying their natural and cultural resources.... This very sad situation", the Pope added, "in addition to causes external to Africa, also has internal causes such as 'tribalism, nepotism, racism, religious intolerance and the thirst for power taken to the extreme by totalitarian regimes which trample with impunity the rights and dignity of the person. Peoples crushed and reduced to silence suffer as innocent and resigned victims all these situations of injustice'” (n. 117). Among the "external" causes that have added fuel to the African tragedy of fratricidal wars, the Encyclical Ecclesia in Africa clearly indicates also the trafficking of arms: "Those who foment wars in Africa by the arms trade are accomplices in abominable crimes against humanity" (n. 118).

Among John Paul II's other numerous Interventions concerning the plight of Central African populations, I can recall another three, as time does not permit me more. On 12 December 1996, when the situation had become especially grave and devastating in the Province of Kivu (Western Zaire), hundreds of thousands of refugees were "lost" in the uninhabitable forest in the Great Lakes Region, and while receiving 11 new ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, including the new ambassador of Rwanda, the Holy Father reaffirmed the "urgent necessity" of working zealously to reconstruct the troubled African Country.

A little more than 20 days later, at the conclusion of the solemn Eucharistic celebration of the Solemnity of the Birth of the Lord, in the Message Urbi et Orbi, the Pope stated: "At its very heart, in the region of the Great Lakes, this young Continent is experiencing, amid the general indifference of the international community, one of the cruellest human tragedies of its history. Thousands and thousands of people — our brothers and sisters — wander, displaced, victims of fear, hunger and disease; they — alas! — will not be able to feel the joy of Christmas. No one can remain indifferent before this scandal, which words and pictures can only faintly begin to describe. To resign ourselves to such violence and injustice would be too grave a rejection of the joy and hope which Christmas brings. God becomes man and tells us once again that hatred can be overcome, that it is beautiful to love one another as brothers and sisters" (Urbi et Orbi Message 25 December 1996, ORE, 1 January 1997, p. 1).

By way of summary, the Pope's work regarding Africa has been that of reminding those involved to abandon the road of hatred, while making an appeal to the international community to help that Continent take up its journey of peaceful coexistence.

11. For Peace in Iraq

In this synthesis of the work carried out by the Pope at the service of peace, both directly and with the help of his collaborators, I would like to briefly illustrate how much has been done to avoid the recent conflict in Iraq and to speed up its termination, once the hostility had erupted.

The Holy Father's action for preventing and averting this second conflict in Iraq, which began last spring and is still very far from reaching a peaceful end, was timely and insistent. Day by day, John Paul II followed the development of the situation. With prophetic courage, he even tried direct mediation by sending, as his personal representatives, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray to Baghdad and Cardinal Pio Laghi to Washington, to bring messages of peace to the respective Presidents Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush, inviting them to reflect before God and before their own conscience on the possible ways of resolving the dispute in order to protect the primary good of peace, founded on justice and international law.

John Paul II also reaffirmed the decisive "No" to war, per se, in his Speech at the beginning of this year to the representatives of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See who were received in an Audience in the Clementine Hall (13 January 2003), for the traditional exchange of New Year greetings. "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 of the all-too-numerous conflicts which continue to hold hostage our brothers and sisters in humanity". Furthermore, considering the specific case of Iraq, the Holy Father's expressed "No" to the war in that "land of the Prophets" has reaffirmed without a shadow of a doubt that: "War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between Nations. As the Charter of the United Nations Organization 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" (ORE, 15 January 2003, p. 3).

It is unnecessary to mention here the events' development, well-known to all. During the night of 20 March, the bombing of Baghdad began. The "insanity of war" unleashed all its devastating force. That night of March 2003 signalled "a sad day" for the world. The Holy Father's sorrow for having "burned" the remaining space for peace poured forth into the entire declaration of the Vatican Press Office, issued on 20 March:

"The Holy See has learned with deep pain of the development of the latest events in Iraq. On the one hand, it is to be regretted that the Iraqi Government did not accept the resolutions of the United Nations and the appeal of the Pope himself, as both asked that the Country disarm. On the other hand, it is to be deplored that the path of negotiations, according to international law, for a peaceful solution of the Iraqi drama has been interrupted. Given these circumstances, it was learned with satisfaction that the various Catholic institutions in Iraq continue to perform their activities of assisting those populations. To contribute to this work of solidarity even the Apostolic Nunciature, headed by Archbishop Fernando Filoni, will remain open in this period in its office in Baghdad".

Six months have passed since the end of the conflict, and the unfolding of events in Iraq is demonstrating that if it is easy to win war, it is not as easy to win the cause for peace and justice. There remains, however, one fact worthy of mention, one which very attentive observers of international politics have highlighted: the repeated, pondered and passionate Speeches of the Holy Father against the war in Iraq have made it so that, even among the Arabic peoples or adherents of Islam, this war has not been perceived as a "Christian war" against Muslims, and it has nothing at all to do with a religious war of the West against the Muslim world.

12. Conclusion

In these 25 years of his Pontificate, the Pope has always proclaimed the Gospel of peace to the world and has worked concretely to translate it into practice. In my report, I emphasized the work of the Pope regarding four hot spots of war. I could have cited the initiatives taken prior to many other conflicts. In the journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, an article recently appeared entitled "Le Guerre Dimenticate (The Forgotten Wars)" (LaCiviltà Cattolica, 2003, III, pp. 498-498). Here, 20 troublesome conflicts on various Continents are cited. Perhaps they are wars that have been forgotten by public opinion, but not by the Church. The Church repeats to all people through the voice of the Holy Father: "Opus iustitiae pax" (The work of justice is peace), and once again, "Opus amoris pax" (The work of love is peace)! The Church works for this every day. For this she prays to the Lord with the words of the liturgy: "Domine, dona nobis pacem" (Lord, grant us peace)!

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
26 November 2003, page 8

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069