Pope John Paul II has spoken out strongly against war with Iraq, in an annual speech to diplomats at the Vatican.
The pope said a new war with Iraq would only harm ordinary Iraqis, already sorely tried, he said, by 12 years of U.N. sanctions.
In his annual "State of the World Address" to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, the pontiff said war is always a defeat for humanity and is never inevitable.
This was the first time since the current crisis with Iraq began that he mentioned the country by name. On previous occasions, he always spoke more generally about the threat of war.
Pope John Paul said war is not just another means that can be employed to settle differences between nations, adding that international law and diplomacy are the paths that should be pursued. He said the use of military force must be "the very last option."
The pope said those concepts are embodied in the U.N. Charter and international law. And, he added, the consequences for the civilian population could not be ignored, both during and after any military operation.
Pope John Paul's address to Vatican diplomats also touched on other issues facing the world.
He said Israelis and Palestinians should live side-by-side, equally free and sovereign, respecting each other. The pope said those involved must become convinced that a solution to the crisis cannot be imposed by terrorism or armed conflict.
Turning to Africa, Pope John Paul praised progress toward peace in Angola, Burundi, Congo-Kinshasa and Sudan.
He deplored what he called 'the grave incidents' in Ivory Coast and the Central African Republic. The pope called for people in both countries to stop fighting and follow their national constitutions to seek a resolution of their conflicts. And he praised the African Union for its efforts to resolve the continent's many wars and disputes.